Monster Rancher DS Review for Nintendo DS

Monster Rancher DS Review for Nintendo DS

Circle of Life

As an old-school gamer, one of the coolest things I’ve seen come along for the medium is simulation games. After many years gaming on the PC, I was bowled over by series such as Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. Tecmo has now resurrected one of its own creations from this niche collection of franchises, but is Monster Rancher still relevant for today’s gaming masses?

Monster Rancher DS screenshot

Monster Rancher DS does have a story, but alas, it’s not one most folks will likely care about. You’re a new monster rancher registered at the Bomba Academy, and as luck would have it, you’re assigned an assistant who just so happens to bring with her a storied past. The plot is barren of any depth whatsoever, and even fans who ranched on the original PlayStation may have a tough time overlooking the terrible dialogue and lackluster presentation.

Though the title Monster Rancher seems to suggest a collect-‘em-all fest similar to Pokémon or Dragon Quest Monsters, this latest adventure for DS is a more laidback experience full of minutiae and repetition. There’s a fair amount of strategy and doodling to keep players busy, but the game isn’t very engaging.

If you’re new to the series, Monster Rancher is pretty much a pet-training simulator. You’ll focus on a single monster, train it to raise individual attributes (speed, defense, power, etc.), feed it, oversee its general health, battle it (of course), as well as have it participate in various other activities. Your monster can essentially perform one type of activity per week, and as the months pass by, your pet ages to maturity. Once your monster ripens to an old age, you’ll then want to freeze it, so that it can later be combined to create an even more powerful, new creature. After this circle of life is complete, the entire monster-nurturing process starts all over again.

There’s obviously a segment of the gaming community who go in for this sort of thing (myself included), but much of the actual process of nurturing your monster is streamlined to the point of making ranching a pedestrian affair. Training sessions consist of deciding which stats you want your monster to work on, but you don’t actually play through any sort of mini-games in order to earn those stats; you press a button, and the outcome is decided for you.

Monster Rancher DS screenshot

In terms of raising monsters, your main role is merely that of a babysitter. You’ll decide what to feed your monster each month, and if your assistant suggests a monster is getting fat, you’ll know to feed it leaner vittles during the following month. Monsters also tire from training and other activities, so you’ll need to balance rest, diet, and supplements accordingly.

All this training isn’t just for show, of course, and you can schedule your monster to compete in upcoming battles marked on your calendar. Competitions vary in rank, with S-ranked battles being your main goal as a monster rancher.

Monster Rancher DS screenshot

Monster Rancher has a simple but mildly enjoyable combat system that’s controlled via the DS touch screen. Monsters go head-to-head in small arenas, and you can move your monster backward or forward by touching and holding specific points on the battlefield. There are three attack ranges, and setting your techniques strategically is important to success in battle. In order to attack, you simply tap on the opposing creature.

In spite of having a wide arsenal of techniques, combat itself isn’t all that exciting. Monsters can become confused or fired up, but battles are mostly a matter of move, hit, rinse, and repeat. The animations don’t do much to spruce up scuffles, either. I was greatly disappointed that after hours of play, the combat never really evolved into anything more than a simple butting of heads.

Monster Rancher DS screenshot

When you’re not training at the ranch or mixing it up in the ring, you can visit various town sites to take on extracurricular activities or address your shopping needs. You can stop by the guide building to have your monster perform drills, which use up an entire month of their activity time. Drills consist of uber-simplistic Mario Party-style game where you roll a die and move around a game board. You can gain or lose attribute points, nab extra turns, or engage in non-tournament battles. If your monster performs well, there’s a chance it will learn a new battle technique. Like most of Monster Rancher DS’s other elements, however, drills are a barebones addition that demands little involvement from the player.

In addition to drills, monsters can go on errantry, where you’ll attempt to walk your monster along a path in search of hidden items and other wandering monsters. Neither the drills nor the errantry are all that compelling, and the payoff doesn’t always seem worth the high cost of your time, money, or your monster’s meager energy.

When it comes right down to it, there are a lot of different elements in the game that will keep your monsters busy, but there isn’t actually that much for you, the player, to be entertained by. You’ll summon a monster by either doodling on the touch screen or mumbling something into the DS’s microphone, take the creature back to the ranch, mold its lifestyle, battle it, freeze it, and then repeat the process over and over in hopes of one day unlocking S-ranked battles and becoming the ultimate monster rancher. Interaction with your monsters is minimal, and their lack of personality makes it difficult to grow attached to them.

A humdrum presentation doesn’t really help the game much, either. The monster models look and animate fine, but the backgrounds are boring and blocky. All character interaction is done through text and still images, and the artwork is generic, not to mention uncomfortably creepy at times. As the seasons change, you’ll experience a bit of variety in terms of snow and lighting, but you’ll otherwise see the same few environments repeated throughout.

In keeping with the game’s bland visuals, the audio is also dull and repetitive. The same battle themes, ranch melodies, and sound effects are recycled constantly, and most of what’s on offer here is hokey.

Monster Rancher DS isn’t a bad game; what it does, it does fine. It’s what the game doesn’t do that left me disappointed and bored with the experience. Rather than engage the player with mini-games in order to train your monsters, you’re made to sit and watch uneventful, in-game cutscenes. The environments are cramped, uninspired, and the variety is sparse. It’s hard to imagine the same development house that gave us Hotel Dusk worked on this latest addition to the Monster Rancher series. The game does little to move the franchise forward, and except for a bit of nostalgia and some fleeting novelty, there’s little here to love.

The monster models look good in 3D, and the animations are enjoyable. The environments are blocky, and there’s a lack of variety overall. 3.5 Control
The stylus control works well, both in and out of battle, though combat has its quirks. It’s what the game doesn’t ask of the player that may cause many to lose interest. 2.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The monsters’ blurbs are generic and uninspired, and the sparse selection of themes is trite at best. 2.5

Play Value
There’s ample variety in terms of what you can have your monsters do, but as the player, you’ll be doing a lot of watching and waiting. The game isn’t broken in any way; it just isn’t all that engaging.

2.9 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Generate Your Own Monster: Draw a picture into the “Magic Field” or speak into the microphone in “Incantation Mode” to generate a unique monster! Unlock a secret method of creating monsters as you play through the game! You can even combine your favorite monsters to create a new, more powerful monster!
  • Train To Become Legendary: Find the best strategy to raise your monster on a weekly basis by giving proper rest and training. Battle tournaments will test how good you are!
  • Bring Out The Rivalry: Check out the improved training and management features of monster breeding as well as the ability to fight rival breeders in the game!
  • Battle Rounds: Using a new battleground system, choose attack techniques that are “short,” “medium,” or “long” range, allowing for a variety of strategies. Staying out of your opponent’s range or tricking them into pulling back so they trap themselves makes each battle unique!

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