When walking by Tecmo's booth at E3 1999, Monster Rancher 2 didn't exactly jump out amid the bright lights and everpresent buzz of the show floor. Despite that, I immediately gave the game a play, as the first title was a charming and original sleeper hit that had managed to compete with the mighty GoldenEye for my dorm's time after its release. An incredibly enthusiastic Japanese man (later discovered to be Tecmo President Isamu Fukada) was soon extolling the game's virtues, and it turns out he had good reason to be so excited: Monster Rancher 2 is one of those all-too-rare sequels that captures all the things that made the original great while adding a healthy number of refinements and new features.

    For those still uninitiated, the Monster Rancher series revolves around placing CDs into your PlayStation to create a "random" monster from nearly 400 types, then training and caring for those monsters while preparing them to fight in various tournaments. While there is a finite number of monsters, different cds will always produce monsters of differing stats, making for a truly random selection. You will spend hours upon hours going over your cd collection, you will start a list to remember what created what, and you will bug your friends and neighbors for their CDs to test as well. Monster Rancher is a perfect example of a simple concept that is brilliant enough to support an entire game.

Bouncing eyeball

    While that concept may remind you of Tamigotchi or Pokémon, Monster Rancher takes many of the best elements of each to build on its unique way of creating monsters. Like Tamigotchi, you only train one monster at a time, making the attachment you feel to the monster infinitely stronger than when you have a party of six or a stable of 200. You are allowed multiple monsters, with each simply taking up additional save space, but the game encourages you to focus your energy on one at a time.

    Basic training mechanics carry over from the first game, but with a more involved structure and more dramatic results. Learning techniques isn't as random an experience as before, and the benefits from training are more immediately apparent, especially from the "Errantries" that see your monsters leave for a month at a time. A weekly and monthly calendar governs both training time and tourament schedules, and the attentive trainer will take advantage of discounts on supplies and training while keeping a keen eye out for when the next major tourney is going to take place.

And on the second day...
Playing creator

    The battle system consists of manuvering your monster back and forth from that of your opponent, with the distance between you affecting what types of attacks are available for use. Standard RPG battle conventions hold true, with intelligent monsters being better at magic and strong monsters using mainly physical attacks. The more successful your monster is, the higher your rank as a Monster Rancher goes, and the more options and monsters become open to you. Character designs are fairly well done, and while they don't have the sheer charm of Nintendo's Pokémon, they do seem uniformly suited for battle. You won't often find yourself wondering how some limbless plant creature expects to inflict any damage on an opponent. All the favorites from the first game reappear, including the eyeball-like Suezo and extremely angry Hopper rabbits, with multiple monsters that can only be found under very rare circumstances.

    Otherwise, graphics and sound fall somewhere between functional and irrelevant. You'll barely notice the music or sound effects while madly commanding your monster in battle, and neither get in the way at all. During battle, attack animations fit the monsters' personalities perfectly, with character models that are expressive and colorful. Outside of battle, the music is generic-yet-relaxing, while the graphics are clean and sharp despite needing little more than to be text-based. The monsters themselves are entertaining enough while being trained, wandering around your farm doing silly and charming things to show what mood they may be in.

    If the first Monster Rancher was notable mainly for its innovation in how the player obtained their monster, the second is notable for how the interaction with that monster has improved. Through both increased numbers and intelligent addition of details, Tecmo has allowed the player more options in raising their monster without turning the game into a micromanagement nightmare. Fans of the first title will not only be able to use their old monsters, but will find plenty of new strategies awaiting them. Those of you who have yet to play Monster Rancher are set to find an immersive and entertaining experience truly unlike any other.

Review by Ed McGlothlin, GIA
Monster Rancher 2
Developer Tecmo
Publisher Tecmo
Genre Breeding RPG
Medium CD (1)
Platform Sony PlayStation
Release Date  02.25.99
Monster Rancher cartoon to debut
2 movies
4 monster designs
North American box art