Monster Rancher 3
Third in the Monster Rancher series, this is the first time that Monster Rancher has seen the PS2 system, taking full advantage of the many advances that have been made over the original PlayStation. A very complex tamagotchi style program, you'll be called upon to create a monster and raise it from birth to death, using your monster as a gladiator style fighter along the way. Featuring impressive graphics for the series, as well as a lot more plot development than the previous two games, Monster Rancher 3 makes an impressive addition to this family of titles.
As a new trainer in the Monster Rancher universe, you'll get introduced to characters such as Fleria, the assistant (who for some reason refers to you as her apprentice, thanks to an in-game plot point), and your rival, Gadamon. They're all Tochikans, the native race of people in the Monster Rancher 3 universe. Expert monster trainers, they control the Shrine, the temple that you'll need to use to create your monsters. One of the best features of all the Monster Rancher games is that you can create a monster using a CD. The game scans your CD, and creates a random monster based on the data found there. Because the Monster Rancher 3 is a PS2 game, the PS2 DVD-ROM drive lets you use DVDs in addition to the normal CDs you've always been able to use.
With a light plot, and extremely cute style monsters, Monster Rancher 3 might be a hard sell for fans of the original Monster Rancher games, but the various improvements that it has made transitioning to the PS2 make it well worth playing. It still has a large selection of monsters that you'll be able to raise for competition, from the Durahan, an animated suit of armor, to the Beaklon, a strange creature that looks like a cross between a rhino beetle and a lobster.
As you progress through the game, you'll start out at the bottom rank, E, and you'll have to fight your way up through the ranks to get some of the truly impressive hidden creatures. There are plenty of battles you can send your monster to fight, almost all of which have cash prizes, giving you the spending money necessary to purchase accessories and food for your monster. Naturally, as you beat each rank of tournament, the average difficulty of the fights will go up, forcing you to rely on your monster breeding skills to prepare your monster for the next event.
Each of the monsters in the game has a unique set of statistics and advantages. If you raise a Naga, you'll need to take into account the fact that they're very disobedient. Raising a Golem usually means increasing its physical strength, playing to the natural advantage the Golem has in strength. With over twenty different types of monsters, each with five different breeds (one for each training area) and usually a special breed or two, you've got more monsters than most people know what to do with.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The first thing you'll need to do is create a monster. You can take one from a CD or DVD, called a Saucer Stone in the game. You'll get a nice little animation of the monster's creation and then, if you've never created this type of monster before, you'll get to enter it into your encyclopedia. Later, you'll be able to retrieve a creature straight from the encyclopedia instead of using the CD again, a noted change (for the better) from the Monster Rancher 1 or 2. Once your creature is ready to go, you can take it to your training area and raise it. Unlike the first two games, you've got five different training areas to choose from. Naturally, at first, you've only got one available, but as you take your monster to higher and higher ranks, you'll unlock all of the areas for training. Each area has special advantages and disadvantages to training, which leads us to the next step. Training.
Training your monster is a difficult balance of rest, nutrition, and exercise. Every battle, training, or rest session eats up a week of time, and you'll need to learn a good balance to give your monster a long life. Each training area has different exercises that you can perform, which lower or improve your monster's statistics. You've got Life, Power, Intelligence, Speed, and Defense, all of which are necessary for a strong monster. Life dictates how long you can last in a match, while Power and Intelligence determine the strength of your attacks, with power fueling physical attacks, and intelligence backing energy attacks. Speed lets you both dodge attacks and land blows, and Defense determines how tough and damage resistant your monster is. When you train a monster, these stats are changed, usually improving one a small amount, or improving one a large amount and reducing another a small amount.
All the while, you can use items to improve your monster. At the beginning of each month, you can give a monster different food, which can improve or detract from its nutrition, as well as cater to the monster's desire for a particular food. If you get the chance to purchase Ran Ran, sold at the change of each season, you can feed it to your monster to let it find the 'Light of the Earth,' small areas inside each training area that can contain special items and accessories. Accessories are items you can put on your monster to change its appearance and alter its statistics. The first accessory that you get is a Mask that lets you use a picture from the Sony Picture Paradise as your monster's face.
Once you've trained your monsters, you'll be able to take them to the arena to fight. You can choose to let your monster fight, or give it directions yourself. Although it is easier to let it fight, you won't get the best performance unless you control the monster. Each monster has a series of attacks it can use to damage the opponent, all of which you can train up the same way you train skills, with a special area that you'll find when using the Ran Ran. You can gain new attacks as you teach your monster, which is a vital key to success. Each tournament sets you against all opponents, usually consisting of another three monsters, up to seven other monsters in some of the larger tournaments. Fighting consists of moving between three different range categories and using the attacks you've got available at each of those ranges. There's a score called Guts, which fuels your attacks, an abundance of which helps you hit the other monster more easily. If you manage to win, you gain cash and occasionally prizes.
As you raise your monster its bond to you will increase, improving the speed with which it learns under your tutelage and how easily you can control it in a battle. Living only a few years at the most, the day will come when your monster passes away, and leaves behind a monster heart, a special item that you can give to your next monster to increase its statistics and carry over all of the advancement your previous monster faced.
You can play two-player, head-to-head, monster fighting. It isn't the most interesting thing in the world, as the meat of the game comes from raising your monster, but I'm glad they put it in regardless. If for no other reason than at least to beat your friends and prove how good a trainer you are. In the VS Mode for Monster Rancher 3, you can play with up to ten monsters at once, in an elimination style tournament.
Using a combination of Cel-Shading effects and traditional textured polygons, this version of Monster Rancher looks stunning. Your monster will be rendered in an extremely cartoon-like fashion, lacking the severely polygonal look of the previous Monster Rancher titles. Some of the monsters can end up looking a little overly cute, but for classics like the Hengar and the Golem, the effect adds a lot to their impressiveness. The graphics in the rest of the game are fairly good, with 3D backgrounds and 2D NPCs that popup occasionally to give you advice. All in all, Monster Rancher 3 might not press the abilities of the PS2, but it certainly makes the most of what its got and presents the nicest looking Monster Rancher game ever.
Without any dialogue or voiceovers, there isn't much to listen to in Monster Rancher 3. What little that's there is good though, with soft music keyed to each of the five lands that you can raise your monster in. The sound effects are simple, but are suited to the different actions that create them. When you've upset your monster, he'll make an appropriately angry sound and if you've made him really happy, he'll make little grumbles or squeals of excitement. Using my expensive speakers instead of the TV didn't seem to make any difference on the quality of the sound, so don't worry about missing out on anything by lacking a really nice sound system.
Originality / Cool Features
Whenever you scan in a disc to create a monster, you'll get a chance to enter it into your encyclopedia. This means, unlike the previous games, you need never pull out a CD twice, as everything that goes into your encyclopedia can be recreated without need for a CD. This makes it a lot easier to pick and choose the monsters you want, since they'll be right in front of you to begin with. The coolest part about the encyclopedia is that you can use it to trade monsters with your friends, mixing and matching until you've got a great set.
Relation to Previous Installments in Series
Tecmo gets better each time, improving on the original Monster Rancher game. While this version has a much more 'cutesy' look, and gameplay that adds to the original while removing certain key features, it definitely improves greatly on the original. I must admit, I've always been a fan of raising Hengar, which are small floating machines that transform into a humanoid mecha, but I'd never been so happy to have one for a monster until I saw it chicken walk across one of the stages in Monster Rancher 3.
Monster Rancher 3 rocks. That's all that needs to be said. However, just to clarify, this game has really satisfying gameplay that should please even the most jaded gamer. Not exactly a difficult game to play, Monster Rancher 3's strength lies in its replayability, given that you can literally raise monster after monster, getting a different experience each time, unlocking little extras like special items and unique monsters. With good graphics and a fairly unique way of portraying the creatures, Monster Rancher 3 is good for both its own unique gameplay and its improvement on the original Monster Rancher titles. Designed for kids and teens, this is definitely a title any PS2 game fan can get a kick out of.