In Monster Rancher Advance 2, you're a "rancher" of sorts but instead of
herding up Texan cattle or EDS felines, you're dealing with monsters.
Situated on Age Island, you're responsible for spearheading attempts in
breeding monsters, training them and then pitting them in battle against
others. Assisted by your executive assistant Holly (female intuition),
you set out after a short introduction to accomplish the dreams of every
good monster rancher.
In your attempts to create a fighting machine and also foster good work
ethics in your monster, Monster Rancher is not unlike the Pokemon series
or Black and White on the PC with the exception that Monster Rancher
conducts itself in a turn-based setting. You basically issue one task
per week and the game proceeds on weekly increments. Holly will inform
you of your monster's status and then you can decide what to do with
your monster. Similar to titles of this genre, you're allowed to pamper
your monster, reward it or punish it for its performance on a week-to-week basis. And because your monster's upbringing is unique, the
treatment it gets will become part of its identity. A megalomaniac
tyrant of a master will breed some very evil monsters.
Your monster won't exist in isolation though. You can choose to
introduce it to another monster and hope it picks up some traits from
them. A very lazy and spoiled monster, for example, might become more
diligent if it interacted with a more studious monster or vice versa.
Monster Rancher even allows you to import monsters from this title's
predecessor, enabling you to have more monsters in the mix.
All of this caring and rearing, sadly, only points to inevitable
violence against other monsters. Like most of the current world
leaders of today, overt action is the only outlet for your efforts.
Combat is essentially lining up an assortment of moves that work at
certain distances and then hoping your combinations, place on the field
and monster's inherently good (at least I hope they are when you pitch
it into combat) attributes will overcome the opponent. It's difficult
to really describe it but you really only have to "push" the other
monster off the field to win. This isn't Mortal Kombat where fatalities
and limb severing is needed. But all in all, it will take some time to
catch on to how combat works.
The part that will grow on you will be the interaction between you and
the monster. The developers have instilled a lot of detail in rendering
emotional attributes to the monsters. Many of their responses are
convincing. They'll actually be unhappy when they start losing fights
and there are certain rites of passage that a virgin monster will often
have to go through before it becomes molded into a memorable being.
Maybe after a string of losses, your monster will actually start working
to improve itself.
I found this part the most enjoyable in the game. It's unfortunate that
everything must boil down to tournaments and battles though. The week-by-week observation of your monster can be repetitive but because you
have (and will develop) a vested interest in the monster's progress, it
neuters the criticisms of watching the same repetitive training
animations over and over again.
A game so amiable to the handheld format is tough to find. One area of
improvement that would help Monster Rancher is possibly a quick battle
mode where you can pair different monsters against each other. The
beginning of the game involves a significant tutorial portion. Holly,
for example, babbles a lot and in the traditional two or three line
Japanese style dialogue - that means a lot of scrolling and buttons
pressed before you get to the meat of the game. A battle scenario
builder would have been a great help in improving what's on the table.
In terms of affability, Monster Rancher certainly has it in spades. The
music and visuals, particularly around the resort-like Age Island, are
pleasing overall. How affable it is to a market run rampant by Pokemon
is another question altogether. Despite its best attempts to explain
the concept of monster breeding through the story, veterans will be able
to get into Monster Rancher quicker than newcomers. The learning curve
for winning battles, moreover, will make the trigger-happy demographic
even more impatient with the game.
My father criticizes me quite often for bearing an unusual love for
artificiality. Artificial aquariums, Sony Aibos and an affinity towards
the vision presented in Spielberg's A.I. makes me a lover for anything
and everything artificial. But this is something that you either love
or hate. If you think spending time incubating something that "doesn't
exist" is dumb, then Monster Rancher will likely strike you as a futile
timewaster. If you can actually harbor some affection for 0s and 1s,
silicon and pixels, there just might be a rancher in you.