Monster Rancher > Pokemon
Don’t take that the wrong way. I loved me some Pokemon back in the day when Red and Blue first came out. I lost interest in the series after Silver and Gold, mainly because I lost interest in portable gaming around that time (I’ve yet to buy a DS and doubt I will.), but I have no beef with Pokemon. And Jigglypuff might just be my all-time favorite cute mascot-type character.
Despite liking Pokemon, my all-time favorite monster-raising game series back in the heyday of such games was Monster Rancher.
My friends and I were obsessed with the first game in the Monster Rancher series. We rarely bought multiple copies of a game. For games like Soul Edge, we’d just use one person’s copy and play it when we hung out. If someone ever wanted to play a game, we’d just borrow it and lend the guy another game that he wanted to play.
That wasn’t the case with Monster Rancher. Once we saw a friend’s copy in action and saw what the game was about, there was a Cold War-like arms race where everyone had to get their own copies. I think we ended up with three or four copies in our little group of friends. We did this because everyone wanted to raise their own monsters on their own time and have them ready to go up against everyone else’s monsters. Even people who didn’t own the game or didn’t even own a PS1 bought their own memory cards so they could save their own monsters (You couldn’t fight against monsters on the same memory card). That’s the level of competition that the game created amongst my friends.
I think the main thing that appealed to my friends, other than the “OMG MY SUEZO KICKED YOUR GOLEM’S ASS!” factor, was the level of customization present in the game. A lot of this came from the fact that monsters were “born” out of CDs.
You could go to a “monster shrine” in the game, and at this shrine you would place a “monster disc” on the altar. From that disc, a monster would be born. In real life, this meant that you could insert a CD into your PS1, and the game would “read” this disc and somehow derive a certain kind of monster from the CD’s info. This led to entire nights where we’d bring over our CD collections and run them through the monster altar to see what we’d get. It was an enthralling experience, waiting to see what new monster combination would come out.
For the record, my favorite monster was a half-pixie half-cape Angel that came from my copy of Elton John’s Princess Di tribute single. Yeah, I owned that damn thing. Fuck you for laughing. That Angel kicked major ass.
Then there’s the fact that there was a bit more to the fights in Monster Rancher than Pokemon’s RPG-like fights. Granted, there wasn’t that much more, but the fact that movement and distance factored in to Monster Rancher’s fights (Some monsters had better distance attacks, some were Zangief-like melee masters.) made the fights feel a good deal more strategic.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that almost all of my friends had PS1s, while I believe I was the only one who owned a Gameboy at the time. Hence why we got into Monster Rancher and never really bit on Pokemon.
That period where we were obsessive with Monster Rancher was a little fleeting. There was a time when one of my friends, then unemployed, literally spent days playing the game. He’d wake up and play the game all day. The only breaks he’d take were to eat and do all that “daily” stuff. But that was short-lived in the long run. Eventually we found other games that’d take up all of our time (Final Fantasy Tactics filled that niche well.) and the Monster Rancher arms race came to a close. We tried out future games in the series, and we got brief kicks out of them, but nothing captured that insane, obsessive magic that came with the first game.