Monsters seem to have become a major staple in video games over the last two decades haven’t they? From the big to the small, the ugly to the downright adorable, the gaming community has seen all kinds of strange yet wonderful creativity come from the sub-genre of Monster Raising games. Of course when we hear the word Monster Raising video game, Pokémon is normally the first thing to come to mind for a lot of people. Which I personally feel is a shame. Pokémon is a fun series and its popularity is not undeserved, but that doesn’t mean that other monster raising games (or other franchises), should be kept out of the limelight. From the classics such as Digimon, Monster Rancher and Dragon Quest Joker to the underappreciated marvels such as Jade Cacoon, there are tons of games to try out if you find yourself in the mood to raise and train monsters. Yet, sometimes you have to wonder, what is it about this sub-genre that keeps bringing people back? Sure some games of this type are targeted to kids, but that hasn’t stopped teenagers or even adults from having a good time. If that is the case, then what is that addicting quality to a good monster raising game that continuously makes gamers pick these games back up, even after years have passed? Let’s look at some common traits these games share to find the answer.
1) Monster design: If the monsters don’t look appealing or act in unique ways, then there isn’t a good chance a player is going to want to spend their time raising them. Letting a player choose what kind of monster they want to take care of gives the player a chance to be sucked into the fantasy of the setting and what choices they would make in order to get by. With more monsters, the player is given much more control about what their play style will be so they can fit the game to play out as they want. This also includes the idea of evolution/combining feature in Monster raising, which can not only make monsters stronger but changes their appearance to better suit the player’s desired style. Monster Rancher took this idea a step further by having the monster’s appearance and stats be determined by the number of values on any kind of compact disk (CD). A clever method of creating an almost infinite amount of monster combinations for the player to work with. However, the looks and skills of the monsters themselves are not enough.
2) Setting and background: Like every video game, the player needs a clear goal to work for. If not, the game is going to become very boring very quickly. While Pokémon is the most popular monster raising franchise, its setting and overall plot seem to fall short (though recent installments such as the Black&White generation are showing improvement). The common goal for most monster raising, is to simply find the right combination of monsters and skills that can overcome any and all obstacles presented in the game.
A challenge made more epic when the stakes to build this ultimate team are made much higher or given a purpose. One example stems from Digimon franchise where the purpose to building your team is to prevent/stop the destruction of both the virtual world of the Digimon and the real world. Jade Cacoon takes this one step further by not only giving the player a purpose to move forward in the game (saving the protagonist’s town) but also giving an in-depth backstory of the ancient forest, monsters and how they need each other to survive.
3) Battle Mechanics/Strategy: In order to make your team stronger and overcome the main obstacles, battling other monsters is inevitable. This is normally where most gamers can get bored with a monster raising game, due to the repetitive battles that need to happen in order for their monster team to grow stronger. That being said, one of the major charms of monster raising is using your customized monsters and discovering new strategies during combat. In certain battles (such as the gym leader battles in Pokémon) your team is put to the test of strength and endurance, where a single decision can turn the battle in your favor or in the favor of your opponent. If the player has worked hard on getting the team ready for their trial and succeeds, you get as just as much adrenaline as you would from every other video game (though maybe not as much as horror). A good majority of combat in these types of games is turned based, but that is not to say that it cannot branch out into different mechanics. For example, Ni no Kuni may not be advertised as a monster raising game it shares plenty of similar elements. However, what it does differently is adds a new twist on the combat, making it more real time. This makes battles much more challenging as you need to be able to command your monsters (or familiars) to attack and defend more carefully. Hopefully with new innovation, new titles will make battle and strategizing much more fun than in years past.
Looking back, playing a monster raising game is a lot of work, from the customization, to the grinding, breeding, combining, evolution, improving stats, specializing elements and more. Yet despite this, some gamers, myself included will continue to buy these games even though they are really all the same. Why play a game that seems to be more work than fun? Simple, maybe because it is work that we have fun doing. According to Jane McGonigal, author of “Reality is Broken” video games provide a challenging work that we choose to take on, as a result it can be a lot more rewarding. All the work you put into raising your team of monsters clearly shows in how well they perform and unlike in real life, these results are immediate. Unlike in real life, where the results of our hard work may not always be apparent to us, video games like monster raising titles allows us to work hard, succeed and be rewarded. In truth, that may have been their main appeal all along. No matter how much people say they’ve outgrown games like this, that desire to see work rewarded still exists. As long as it continues to do so, the monster raising sub-genre will continue to grow.
Looking for a good Monster Raising game? Here are a few recommendations