Monster Rancher DS Review
By - Richard J.
Back in 1997, Tecmo unleashed a "virtual monster simulator" to the world. Being on the PS1 allowed for Tecmo to take advantage of the PS1's ability to play CDs. Any readable CD you could stick in the PS1, could be turned into a monster for you to train. This gimmick turned the game into a hit. Now with the Nintendo DS having a bunch of new gimmicks, it was a no brainer for the Monster Rancher series to come to the DS. Instead of popping in CDs to create monsters, you can now draw on the touchscreen, or talk into the microphone to create monsters. While this sounds great, do these new system gimmicks make for a good Monster Rancher game?
Being a "Virtual Monster Trainer", there isn't any type of over-arching plot with everything you do. There is a progression to the game through and each calendar year, and climbing ranks. Various NPCs also pass through your ranch offering and providing you various services. These can be considered as a light plot, but this is far from an intriguing narrative. However, an intriguing narrative is not something I want in my "Virtual Monster Trainer".
Everyone who picks up a copy of Monster Rancher DS will be picking it up for its gameplay. From the minute I loaded the cartridge in my DS, I was instantly reminded of Tamagachi pets. You start the game by entering the "academy" where you are given the choice of two books. Each provides you with a different Nintendo DS gimmick in order to create a monster. One supports drawing on the touchscreen, and one supports talking into the microphone. You are free to draw or say whatever you want. Doing so, will result in you summoning a monster. I have a hard time deciding on whether the monsters are just randomly generated, or if certain patters trigger certain monsters. I originally assumed that the monsters were generated randomly, just like the Monster Hunter games on PS1. But while messing with the drawing aspect, I drew a star, and then inverted the pallet ( this swaps the open space with the virtual ink, and vice versa). Doing so resulted in me created a Gold Golem. My house wasn't structured to hold such a massive monster, so I had to give him up. Yes, I did cry like a little girl at a pet store; unable to buy that cute bunny.
Once I had enough space to hold this monster, I went back to the academy and drew a very similar sketch. Once again, a Golden Golem appeared. While this has not been thoroughly tested, I do stand by my theory.
As I briefly mentioned previously, depending on the size of your monster, you either add it to your encyclopedia, or take it home to your ranch. The reason why you must leave some behind is that you initially have a small stable in your ranch. After a while, you are able to pay for an upgrade which provides room for larger monsters. Luckily the upgrades are quite cheap, so you aren't left with a giant mortgage. I'm looking at you, Tom Nook.
Once you have your monster, you must raise him to be strong. Once a week, your monster comes out from his stable for you to take care of him. Luckily, the in-game time instantly shifts to the same time each week, once you are done training your monster.You can train, walk, Battle, and allow your monster to rest. Also, once a month, you must choose what to feed your monster.
This seems like a lot, so let's attack this one piece at a time. Most of your time spent with your monster will be training. Selecting to train will show you eight attributes of your monster. These are your basic strength, speed, intelligence, etc. Once you have decided what attribute you wish to improve, you can initiate the training. This is where the developers missed a huge opportunity.
Each training exercise is the AI carrying out the training. Instead of having you the player swipe the touch screen, speak into the microphone, or do a quick time event, the developers completely cut the player out. Doing any kind of action in the game would have been better than watching your monster train, without any interaction on your part.
Once your monster finishes it's training, it will receive added "experience" points -- if you want to call them that -- along with one of four ranks. The ranks are as follow:
Fail - No points gained.
Success - Normal amount of points gained
Success? - Monster cheats, but still gains the normal amount of points
Excellent - Extra amount of points gained
If your monster receives "Fail" or "Success?", you are presented with the opportunity to scold them. On the flip side, if your monster achieves excellence, you are able to praise them. Following along with these is crucial to have a well behaved monster.
Next up is resting. Despite your monster staying in the barn all week before you go to train it, some days it is too tired or stressed. When this happens, you simply tell it to rest, and the game moves to the next week. It is crucial that you allow your monster to rest when it is over exerted. Failing to do so will result in a lack of performance from your monster.
Once you feel that your monster is strong enough, you can enter into battle tournaments. You will start at an "E" ranking and will only be able to fight in E ranked tournaments. The more you fight, and the more your monster grows, the more ranks you will climb. Fighting in Monster Rancher DS is very simple. You face-off in a one-on-one match with your opponent. Each match has a one minute timer, but a KO can result in the match ending before the one minute limit.
Your monster has the ability to learn three different types of attacks. Close, mid, and long ranged. Moving your character back and fourth on the battle field, closer to, or further from your opponent will determine which move you are able to do. Unfortunately, the developers only allow you to move up or down on the huge battlefield. Being able to move left or right, and even diagonally, would have brought much more strategy to the game. Also only being able to do offensive moves destroys any hope of strategy. Monsters can avoid attacks, but even for your own character, that is completely left up to the AI.
Each time you attempt an attack, it removes some "guts" from your reserve. Throughout each battle, you continuously gain guts, which in turn you can use to perform attacks. These are essentially Monster Rancher DS' version of attack and magic points.
Each monster has its own set of health points. Depleting these points before time runs out will result in a KO. However, if a battle lasts for the entire minute without a KO, then the monster that has taken the highest percent of damage loses. This opens an interesting aspect to the gameplay. The HP of the monster doesn't necessarily matter, unlike other monster battling games. As long as there isn't a KO, there is a high possibility that a monster that has significantly lower HP could win a battle.
If all of this gameplay seems too difficult for you, Monster Rancher DS allows for the AI to take over all of your battles. While this does sound horrible, I found myself using it often. Being able to select a battle, go do something, and come back a few minutes later to see the results of the battle. My only complaint with this is that it doesn't allow you to select AI battle for an entire tournament. Having to continuously select the next battle in a tournament is a little frustrating when you are trying to get something done, while also training your virtual monster.
Finally, you can take your monster for walks. This is called Errantry and allows you to collect items and fight monsters in the "wild". This turns out to just be a path that your monster will walk along until it gets to tired. While this sounds like a great feature, its execution fails miserably. Instead of allowing you to take full control of your monster, the game allows it to run around like a chicken with its head cut off. You can attempt to give it guidance towards items using the touchscreen, but that always resulted in my monster running around in a circle, then wandering its own path in the opposite direction. If you thought this couldn't get worse, guess again. The items you can gather aren't very good, and are definitely not worth the time and effort. Not to mention that there are barely any monsters in the wild.
Apart from all of this, you can also give your monster items, or take it to town and combine it with another monster to make a super monster. Or if you're just fed up with him, freeze him in the lab and create a new monster at the academy.
Overall, this gameplay is fun and quite addicting despite its flaws. If you can over look the flaws, and want a DS game to get addicted to, then you shouldn't hesitate to consider Monster Rancher DS as your next purchase.
The graphics in Monster Rancher DS are exceptional for the handheld. All of the monsters -- along with the environments -- are fully rendered in 3D. Of course, the town map, and the bottom screen of the DS are always 2D, but that is to be expected. This isn't the best game I have seen on the Nintendo DS, but it does stand tall among some of the best.
Sound wise, Monster Rancher DS is mediocre. While none of the audio is ear-splitting -- or terrible enough to turn off your sound -- none of it is great enough to turn up the sound, nor is it memorable. Also, there is absolutely no voice-acting, which is disappointing.
Monster Rancher DS has a surprisingly vast amount of replay value. Featuring an unlimited amount of single player monster training, and both offline and online multiplayer, Monster Rancher DS is a game that you could have in your DS for a while. Both offline and online multiplayer includes two player battles, and two player monster combining. But there is a downside to this. For some reason, all of my attempts to connect to the Nintendo WiFi connection to battle/combine with a random player failed. It seems that no one is buying this game, or everyone who bought it is avoiding online play. Unless the online community turns, you are going to have to either stick playing offline with friends, or trade Friend Codes over message boards.
When it all comes together, Monster Rancher DS is a pretty good game. It has incredibly fun and addictive gameplay, along with great graphics and a ton of replay value. Unfortunately, there are some big flaws with the gameplay, and the audio is mediocre at best. Despite its faults, Monster Rancher DS is a game that can become quite addicting. I feel that a game like this would be perfect for a more portable system like the iPhone, where you could pull it out for a few minutes, raise some stats on your monster, and then continue on with your day. Still, I can recommend this game to many Nintendo DS owners. I was closed-minded about it at first, but I gave it a try and ended up really liking. I recommend that you do the same.
- Fun and Addicting Gameplay
- Fantastic Graphics
- Great Replay Value
- Some Huge Gameplay Faults
- Mediocre Audio
- Barely Has an Online Community