When Pokemon first debuted, I was a diligent trainer. I soaked up every single bit of monster-collecting lore that I could possibly cram into my mind. I even took up the trading card games, namely Pokemon's, and became an "official gym leader" at the Books-a-Million near me. They said I was obsessed. I said I was just focused. With Pokemon Sword and Shield on the horizon, I wanted to take some time to talk about another monster-collecting franchise that's near and dear to my heart: Monster Rancher.
When I discovered Monster Rancher, I became equally entrenched. Monster Rancher never attained the massive popularity that Pokemon enjoyed, but I found it just as fascinating. When I happened upon its card game adaptation on the PlayStation (the sequel), I knew that I must obtain that masterpiece to cart around with me in a portable fashion.
One fateful day I made a pilgrimage to E.B. Games (back when it was still separate from GameStop) to pick up the Water Blast expansion for the Pokemon TCG, and my eyes fell upon Monster Rancher Battle Card GB – a curiosity, since it was actually for the Game Boy Color. Mom pleaded with me not to trade in six of my beloved Game Boy titles I packed around in my Game Boy-shaped carrying case, but I was an obstinate little so-and-so, demanding that I trade them in RIGHT NOW in order to receive that little morsel of gaming goodness.
Mom relented, figuring I would learn my lesson about impulse buys and trades early on in life, so six Game Boy carts and 20 bucks later, I walked out of that store with my Pokémon expansion and a brand new game. Oh, yeah. Livin' the life.
Monster Rancher Battle Card Episode II
The Monster Rancher card game is deceptively simple: build your deck according to which monsters consume the least guts (attack points) and which can unleash the most destructive attack on an opponent's monster. Guts are obtained by discarding unwanted cards, and attacking via your monster of choice's card description will deplete guts. Save up more guts, and enjoy explosive damage. It was a very simply and enjoyable venture to learn, but it took quite a bit of strategy in order to progress throughout the game.
While it didn't take the dedication to learning that Pokémon did, it incorporated simple entertainment with some of the cooler parts of the Monster Rancher universe – obviously, the monsters. I'd take a Pixie over a Pikachu any day.
Stepping into the shoes of an aspiring champion card battler allowed me to waste time like nobody's business. After creating a character you could explore ruins, towns, villages. There, you'd find new cards, equipment, or move up the ranks in the card battle league. Earning new cards and downing your enemies became such an addiction that it became hard for me to stop. Like the Pokemon TCG Game Boy title that was released soon after, taking the cards on the go was gaming nirvana.
Monster Rancher Battle Card GB
Monster Rancher Battle Card GB was nowhere near the game Monster Rancher Battle Card Episode II ended up being, but as my first taste of the universe's card battling, it never left my Game Boy. Of course, the graphics were absolutely terrible. Sprites had little or no detail, and environments were completely banal. Your character would move erratically, as if the frame rate were dropping sporadically, and simply walking would find random opponents suddenly in front of you. Obviously, bad game design.
Exploring ruins was exactly like checking out the villages. The localization was laughable, and for an "E" rated game, a few "damns" slipped through from time to time. It was almost like when I watched Outlaw Star on Toonami and Gene let loose a "BASTAAAAAARD!" all of a sudden. I was shocked, to say the least. How could that slip past? The translators must have been terribly lazy to replace inoffensive curses with ones that could get a younger player in trouble.
The story was mediocre at best, and incredibly hard to follow. All you knew was that you wanted to be the best Monster Rancher card game player in the land. Not difficult, but in this day and age people inevitably require more substance. The game had no other real draws save for the engaging card battles. Still, it entranced me.
To this day, I'll fire up my ice purple Game Boy Color and mow down some digital competition before bed. It's a guilty pleasure that serves as a fantastic gateway drug into the wonderful world of card battlers. If you end up picking this up, be prepared to shell out the cash for Episode II on the PS1.
Then, it's onto Pokemon Sword and Shield for you this November 15, I'm sure…but think of the classics for just a moment, will you?