Monster Rancher Battlecard Reviews
In the mid- to late-Nineties, Pokemon and its ilk were in high demand. Each notable franchise that would utilize a similar collectibility of monsters for battle would bring something new to the table: Digimon made its mark in the Tamagotchi-style electronic virtual pet market, Monster Rancher allowed the player to create a wide variety of monsters by having the PlayStation system read any kind of CD, and Yu-Gi-Oh! took it another direction entirely by having the monsters function simply as glorified card pieces (initially, at least) in an all-consuming game. Yu-Gi-Oh! was so popular that each of the other mentioned Pok-e-likes also dabbled in its direction, Monster Rancher following entries like 1998's Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters and Pokemon Trading Card Game and releasing around the same time as 1999's Digimon Digital Card Battle. Being the last in line, Monster Rancher Battle Card GB did something unheard of: it created a full-blown journey for its card game, to some success.
Battle Card GB takes place in the same world as the other games in the series, focusing on the children who aren't yet capable of maintaining and training real-life monsters. They've reconciled this imbalance by playing the harmless game "Battle Card" in ruins where adults aren't allowed and the competition is mandatory. Though this game tries to be on a larger scale than other games based around card gaming, there isn't the same RPG-like immersion into the plot as what one might want. It's just as well, because it's about the card game in the end. What really hurts the game is its rough translation, as characters frequently have dialogue that's awkward and just doesn't flow to any fluent English speaker (non-fluent English speakers are on their own). Also problematic is the game's tendency to abbreviate actions in the battle screen, which is a good space saver but leaves things up to trial-and-error for a player's first battles while still trying to grasp the rules of the matches.
Rather than having the player use real-time CDs to determine the monsters that will be in his or her party as per Monster Rancher tradition, a character will ask the player a series of "Yes/No" questions to pinpoint the battle card player's personality. Based on this, one will start with one of three decks each based around a team of three different monsters: the Miracle Team (Suezo, Tiger, Gali), which is geared for making comebacks; the Speed Team (Hare, Mocchi, Dino), which is set up to have the first attack; and the Powerful Team (Golem, Pixie, Naga), which is focused on wiping out enemies in one move. By beating other card battlers the player can earn all 155 cards in the game.
Card battles themselves are about destroying the opponent's three monsters. A coin flip decides who goes first, each player draws 5 cards, and the turns and phases begin. First the player uses attack cards to have monsters deal damage to their combatants, as well as miscellaneous cards to bring about a variety of effects. Using cards requires Guts, which can be accumulated one at a time during the Guts Phase by discarding one's hand. The opponent then does the same thing; when attacked the player may use Defense Cards (which also cost Guts) to curb such efforts. On the next turn, one's hand is renewed to 5 cards once more and thus the battles play, until all monsters on one side are knocked out or one player's deck runs out come draw time. The awkward translations and lack of a proper tutorial at the game's beginning make getting into dueling somewhat confusing, but once the rules are learned, the fast-paced battles are lots of fun and don't get old despite there only being 9 kinds of monster cards used by enemies. Though deck building is encouraged by NPCs, it's fairly easy to coast through the game's entirety with one's starting deck.
Monster Rancher: Battle Card GB marks the first attempt in the genre at creating a full adventure to set up the card battles. As either a boy or a girl, the game begins in the town where just about all of the non-confrontational interaction with other characters will take place. Here, cards can be created from in-game collectible discs or paint at the Card Shrine and Card Studio respectively, battles and trades can be set up with friends by way of cable link at the Dock, new dungeons can be unlocked by battling through the ranks in the Battle Arena, characters can be talked to and give hints, and missions and rewards can be received from mentioned characters. To begin with, only three ruins/dungeons are accessible, though by climbing to higher classes in the Battle Arena three more are unlocked, and then by finishing the missions with Master Class the final dungeon is opened up as well. Each ruin consists of six floors - five consisting of randomly-generated dungeon maps littered with Rival Breeders (some of whom are aggressive and others of whom won't initiate a battle unless spoken to) and Guardians (which pop up suddenly whenever the main character walks upon the wrong spot by a treasure chest), and a sixth floor where the Descendant of that particular ruin's builders will be available to challenge. Rivals and Guardians give the player three randomized non-monster cards upon defeat while Descendants offer a disc which turns into a card once taken to the Card Shrine; after losing a certain number of times (the number starts at 3 but can be increased) within one ruin, the main character will be kicked out and will have to start from square one.
The effort to make a full experience around card battling is admirable since most card battle video games completely skip over any sense of adventure, but the result of making the dungeons change every time they're played is that no special thought is put into their design and they become less interesting and memorable than in that of a well-planned RPG. There are a number of items which can be collected, including ones affecting card battles when equipped and ones that help to overcome obstacles in the ruins, but the former isn't necessary because as stated the duels are easy throughout the game and the latter isn't too crucial because the items collected from besting the obstructions in out-of-the-way rooms in the maps aren't anything important. There's a New Game+ mode to be taken advantage of as well, with an emphasis on using different started decks, resulting in obtaining the last card to be attained in the game.
Though released ten years later, Battle Card GB doesn't look too different from the likes of The Final Fantasy Legend, albeit with color thrown into the mix. The graphics give it the general early RPG look, while a title like Pokemon Trading Card Game, released a year earlier, has that distinctive aesthetic comparable to its series. The graphics are perfectly fine, of course, and despite its simplicity of detail there can be no confusion about what is being displayed. The music as a whole isn't anything memorable, though the intro theme is quite heroic.
Monster Rancher isn't the gem that other efforts such as Pokemon Trading Card Game are, as its sloppy dungeon format and poor (though not unreadable) translation holds it back. However, the quick-as-lightning battles and adventure aspects make for some real fun nonetheless. A sequel, Monster Rancher Battle Card: Episode II, was released for the PlayStation four months later, with more emphasis on story and less on adventuring. Tecmo may have had the last input into this genre of all the Pok-e-likes, but their entry remains the largest.
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