Monster Rancher 3


    Anyone who has never played one of Tecmo's Monster Rancher games could be excused for comparing the series to Pokémon, but the differences become obvious after some time spent with the game. While Pokémon encourages would-be monster trainers to be promiscuous and gather as many creatures as they can, Monster Rancher requires players to settle down for a life-long relationship with one at a time. The result has always been a deceptively deep and playable simulation with more in common with Harvest Moon than Nintendo's juggernaut. Now, the series' third installment has arrived on the PlayStation 2, and though the core concept may be in danger of growing stale, Tecmo has refined the basic gameplay and graphics more than enough to keep old fans interested and possibly draw in some new ones.

    The premise of MR3 remains the same as the previous games; players take on the role of a neophyte monster breeder and attempt to work their way up the tournament ladder with their adopted pets. Getting there, however, requires a lot of hard work. As they rise through the ranks, players must control every aspect of their monster's life. While a great deal of the game is taken up with simply training the monsters, the more compelling aspect is when the game requires you to learn their personalities. Some creatures are playful and lazy, others are more serious and hardworking, but all can become champions if the proper training is applied.

 R.I.P. Fishey
Fish out of water.

    If all this sounds like the previous games, that's because it is. But even those who have spent their time with the first two will find a much changed Monster Rancher here. The most obvious improvement is in the graphics. The previous games had graphics that were often just functional at best, but the move to the PS2 has done the series a world of good. Tecmo has applied the oft-used cel-shading technique to great effect, and the game is often a dead ringer for the animated series that was based on it. MR3 is still small in scope, however; most of the time is spent simply watching your current monster train or battle. But the leap in graphical quality is also accompanied by a huge improvement in the monster design. The roster of Monster Rancher favorites has been revamped, ditching most of the less inspired designs in favor of a more cuddly and likable cast. The monsters that remain from the old games have been slightly tweaked in the more cartoonish style of MR3. The end result isn't just that the game is better looking -- it's also much easier to care about your charge when you're able to forget it's a simple collection of polygons. As before, the creatures express their moods and feeling through their animation, and the new graphics make them much more lively and endearing.

This one is so easy, it almost could have been in our contest.
Crouching Tiger-dragon.

    The monsters themselves are still randomly generated with Disc Stones. Once again the game will read any audio, data, or game CD and create a unique monster based on the disc's attributes. But whereas the first two games confined players to CD-based media, MR3 adds game and movie DVDs to the mix. The monster creation process also has gotten considerably streamlined with the addition of a new encyclopedia. This special book will keep track of one of each type of creature that you come across while rifling through your entire collection. More importantly, you can use any of the records to immediately regenerate that monster, meaning that the huge annotated lists necessary for obsessive players of the previous games are now obsolete.

    But the actual generation of monsters is just as addictive, perhaps even more so with the addition of DVDs. Though every disc will generate one of hundreds of types of monsters with unique stats, some will create a creature unique to that disc alone; these usually have a thematic relation to their source. Tecmo has done a wonderful job of choosing and designing these special monsters; even a moderately-sized game or DVD collection results in a few interesting surprises.

 ~Land of the frogs / A most sacred place~
Amphibian Paradise

    The basic flow of the game is still the same -- adopt a monster, raise up its stats through various training exercises, and throw it into battle -- but, oddly, there's no real ranch in this Monster Rancher. Instead, players can raise their monster in one of five elementally-themed locations. Each one offers different training exercises; long exposure to a single area can even change a monster's basic attributes and appearance as it grows older. None of the locations offers quite the wealth of options seen in the single setting of the past games, but the sheer variety makes up for it. All the locations feature unique characters, rival breeders, and story elements to break up the normal training routine. You don't really miss the old ranch once you have a few areas unlocked, but being confined to one area at the beginning of the game can be very restrictive. Luckily, the new areas open quickly once you start moving up through the ranks.

    Monster Rancher 3 does away with the errantry missions and adventures of MR2 in favor of seasonal "ventures." Once every four months, breeders are given the chance to have direct control over their monster and explore the surrounding area for a limited time. During a venture, monsters can learn new skills, level up their old ones, and discover new training methods and items. Other than the horrible camera system that's used during the ventures, the system works well and makes acquiring new skills much easier than it was in previous games.

So *that's* what those look like!
She knows us too well.

    Monster breeding has also changed for the better. Monster Rancher 3 no longer gives the option to combine two monsters; instead, every creature leaves behind a Monster Heart when it dies. Giving the heart to a new monster offers all of the advantages of breeding the two together, giving the new monster stat boosts and new skills, and almost none of the disadvantages. The system let players take the bulk of their progress on to the next generation without having to go back to square one to level up a proper breeding partner, and it speeds the pace of the game considerably.

    The battle system is the one core element that Tecmo has left relatively untouched. Players are again given limited control over their monster during combat to move the creature around the arena and execute attack based on range. The interface, however, has been reworked. Instead of using the shoulder buttons to switch between attacks, one ability is now mapped to each of the four face buttons at each range. Combat is much more intuitive because of this small change, but unfortunately each monster is now limited to those four skills.

Sam VS The One-Eyed Monkey Thing

   The multiplayer mode, one of the most addictive aspects of the series, is universally improved. No longer are players confined to simple one-on-one battles. Instead, you now have the option to set up full tournaments with up to ten players, and variety of rules and handicaps can be used to customize them. Registering a monster for versus mode is also much easier, as the game now saves special versus data rather than reading from the main save. This means you can now take a creature into multiplayer battles without having to send it off to hibernation. The game even offers to save a creature's data right after its death.

    Monster Rancher 3 isn't quite the same leap in quality as was seen in the move from the first game to the second, but it comes close. Longtime fans may be upset with a few of the more drastic changes, but they almost all result in a more polished, intuitive, and playable game. Add in the vastly improved graphics and Monster Rancher 3 is arguably the best Monster Rancher to date. It may combine monster breeding and cel-shading, two trends that have become incredibly overused, but the game that lies beneath is as addictive and unique as ever.

Preview by Zak McClendon, GIA.
Monster Rancher 3
Developer Tecmo
Publisher Tecmo
Genre Breeding RPG
Medium DVD-ROM (1)
Platform Sony PlayStation 2
Release Date  03.14.01
E3: Monster Rancher 3 impressions
100 screenshots
17 monster designs