Previous games in the Monster Rancher series may have been grander in size or graphical splendor, but Monster Rancher Advance may be the greatest entry yet for a number of reasons.
The Monster Rancher series originally debuted on the Sony PlayStation, a year before the Pokémon craze truly caught on in the United States. The premise was an intriguing one--breed, train, and battle with monsters that you unlock by tapping into the hidden information found in your everyday music and game CDs. Endearing (and highly marketable) characters like Suezo, Mocchi, and Golem propelled the series into relative popularity among the rapidly growing "monster breeding" segment, prompting the release of a cartoon, a collectible card game, and an action figure series. At its heart, however, the Monster Rancher series has always been about thoroughly enjoyable games where players are compelled to hunt for obscure media in order to unlock powerful monsters and then develop a bond with their newfound digital companions. You might think that much of the charm of the series would be lost in the translation from Sony's disc-based systems to the cartridge format of the Game Boy Advance, but Tecmo has come up with an incredibly addicting formula in this compact version of Monster Rancher that, while not as robust as some of its predecessors, brings you a series of innovative changes in unison with all the elements that made the previous games so entertaining.
In Monster Rancher Advance, you play as a seasoned rancher on the Isle of Age, which is located in the world that has been home to the series since its inception. You are challenged to revitalize a dilapidated ranch belonging to your two new assistants, the brother and sister team of Zest and Aroma. To restore the Isle's ranch to glory, you'll need to raise a powerful monster and compete in a series of competitions, bringing in both cash and acclaim. Competing in official AGIMA tournaments will allow you to win increasingly larger monetary awards, which are necessary to purchase the food and items needed to properly raise monsters. To break up the routine of constant training and battling, frequent events will occur, including include stray monster attacks, cheesy love affairs, and a generous helping of sibling bickering.
Despite the somewhat entertaining story elements of the game, the focus is definitely on the training and battling of a multitude of unique monsters. While other games in the series used CDs or DVDs to unlock hidden monsters, Monster Rancher Advance derives its creature information from words and random combinations of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. At first you can start with four-digit alphanumeric combinations, like "Guns," which reveals a sub-breed of mocchi, and "Thug," which unveils a rose-hued golem named peachie, but as you progress through the game, larger combinations become available to you. The word "Monster" produces an feline nyamo, while "Ninja" generates a special creature--a black-clad chaser sub-breed with incredible statistics! Tecmo has seen fit to include many special monsters that are unveiled using both obscure and predictable keywords that may be found through trial and error or discovered on mysterious tablets within the game. This system of monster generation bestows upon players a veritably limitless potential for experimentation and removes the barriers that kept players without a sizable multimedia collection from tapping into all the hidden treasures of the previous games.
Raising monsters is simple enough in theory, but a lot of strategy is involved in raising a champion-class combatant. Every month, your monster is fed one of a variety of foods, which are rated for nutrition and taste, both relative to the current season and your monster's personal tastes. Keeping your monster's diet nutritious will allow it to perform well during training, while giving your monster food it enjoys will make it happier and more loyal--although spoiling your monster is also a consideration. Each monster is also rated in a series of categories, including power, accuracy, intelligence, speed, and life. These traits can be improved in a number of ways. AGIMA runs a training hall where a teacher will fight a mock battle with your monster, giving it a chance to earn both a sizable stat increase and knowledge of a new attack. Your monsters will gain experience after doing well in competition. Most often, however, your stats will be increased by training with available coaches, who themselves are specialized in one or two of the traits. Easier exercises will raise a single stat moderately, while tougher challenges will raise one stat greatly, raise another moderately, and reduce a third. To make matters more intriguing, the initial coaches provided by AGIMA are only ranked 400 out of 999 in their specialized trait, so your monsters won't receive the best training possible from them. Many players will find that in order to fully maximize their monster-raising capabilities, they'll need to raise monsters with the intent of turning them into coaches to replace the ones provided by AGIMA. Not all players will go this route, instead choosing to dive right into competitive play, but that's part of the beauty of Monster Rancher Advance--you get out of it as much as you put into it. There are plenty of rewards for diligent players who dedicate hours to developing their stable of monsters, while more casual gamers will be thoroughly enamored with the challenging combative elements.
- Player Reviews: 3
- Game Universe:
- Monster Rancher DS (DS),
- Kaite Shabette Hajimeyou! Monster Farm DS (DS),
- Monster Rancher 4 (PS2),
- Monster Rancher Advance 2 (GBA),
- Monster Rancher Advance (GBA),
- Monster Rancher 3 (PS2),
- Monster Rancher Hop-A-Bout (PS),
- Monster Rancher Explorer (GBC),
- Monster Rancher Battle Card: Episode II (PS),
- Monster Rancher 2 (PS)