Survival Rations 03 – Monster Taming

Hello and welcome to Survival Rations 03! Today we’ll be looking at 3 different games in the RPG sub-genre that is Monster Taming! You’ll get a brief origin story, and then a little something from each game. Keep reading to the end, and drop by our Facebook community afterwards to join in this week’s poll!

What are Monster Taming Games?

When Pokemon Red and Green were pitched to Nintendo in 1990, creator Satoshi Tajiri envisioned a homage to insect collecting. Nintendo was sceptical, but Shigeru Miyamoto would go on to convince them to move forward with the games. The first generation of Pokémon games was released between 1996 and 1999 for the Nintendo Gameboy and Gameboy Color. They went on to sell more than 46 million copies worldwide, becoming the bestselling Gameboy Games of all time. In the 26 years that have followed, Pokémon has become the single largest multimedia franchise in existence.

With a top-down perspective, 151 monsters to collect and a fun adventure, this was the origin of Monster Taming. Many titles such as Monster Rancher, Shin Megami Tensei, and Digimon share some key gameplay features. Examples include taming/befriending new creatures, raising and evolving them, and battling against others as in wider Role-playing Games. The genre has evolved into many styles and focuses, some of which we’ll explore here.

While many similar games have followed, at least one pre-dated Pokémon: 1994’s Robotrek for the SNES. This Enix RPG has mixed reviews due to its overall presentation, but I spent many childhood hours enjoying it. Players had to find, earn and invent parts to improve their 3 robots. While doing this, they must battle to stop evil from gaining universal domination. It’s a hidden gem with a younger target audience and a comical tone.

Building a team – Monster Sanctuary

In a nutshell, Monster Sanctuary is Monster Taming meets Metroidvania, and it’s a beautiful combination. Developer Team17 has catered to fans of multiple genres with this game. It’s simple enough to earn eggs but rarer monsters require grinding and combinations which may prohibit younger players. Monster Sanctuary has an impressive 111 unique creatures which make for plenty of customisation in the 3v3 battle system.

Monster Sanctuary comes off primarily as a Metroidvania game but does not neglect Monster Taming. The controls are simple, and as a 2D platformer, you’ll mostly be running and jumping to explore. The world opens up as you progress and it’s clear that your creatures are not just weapons. Explore Abilities rely on taming specific monsters who augment your movement and abilities, meaning utility is preferential to cuteness.

With a rank of 80 on Metacritic, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed my time with Monster Sanctuary. It took me around 40 hours to complete the story, which is slightly above the reported average. Despite taking my time there are many secrets waiting for my next session. At any time outside of combat, you can open the menu and save. This is perfect for shorter sessions, though the gameplay is very addictive.

Digital Monsters, Real Fun – Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth

As we pass the 23rd anniversary of Digimon heading to English-speaking audiences, it seems fitting to look at this one. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth and its sequel came to the Switch in 2019. This was just 4 years after releasing on the Playstation Vita and PS4. Developed by Media.Vision, this 5th entry into the Story series has 341 obtainable Digimon and much more to offer.

Cyber Sleuth‘s 3rd-person 3D design looks awesome and with partners following you around, it’s just like playing the anime. This is an ambitious game and it’s right at home on the Switch. Rather than feeling like a retro-inspired game, this feels and behaves like a modern home-console RPG. Simply put, this 200+ hour romp through the digital world packs a lot in.

Summoning new partners is simple and it didn’t take long to have my first DigiEggs. Once you have these, you raise them until you’re ready to evolve/devolve or return them to their data form. Battles use 3 key types of Digimon: Virus, Data and Vaccine in a sort of Rock/Paper/Scissors system. Each Digimon has a type and can change between evolutions. The deeper strategy is in picking partners based on their current and potential types. Digimon have diverse movesets so it’s possible to cover multiple types with one partner!

This has the heaviest focus on narrative out of these 3 games. Cutscenes and story sections are frequent and detailed, but this is intended to be a story. As with most Monster Taming games you can save at any time outside of battle, which is a plus. This does make shorter sessions possible, but if reaching a chapter-end you may find it harder to leave. Reviewers at Metacritic currently score this at 76/100.

Gotta catch ’em all! – Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl

I’d probably kick myself if I didn’t mention a game in this series.

These remakes were released in the golden age of 2021 reboots and remasters. ILCA promised a faithful remaster of the 2006 Nintendo DS games and a host of improvements/minor changes. My experience with Brilliant Diamond was good all-around despite a current Metacritic score of 6.5/10 for the double pack. One of these additions was an autosave which triggers upon entering buildings, routes and similar. I chose to disable this when playing, but it makes the experience even easier to pick up and put down.

Returning to an Isometric top-down view was a great choice despite recent entries (Sword/Shield, Legends: Arceus) having full 3D designs. The controls remain simple with D-pad/Stick movement and the face buttons for menu navigation and selection. The story is standard Pokémon fare, with 8 gyms to conquer and a goal of becoming league champion. HLTB.com lists these as having an average of 27 hours of playtime for the story, but well over 200 for 100% completion.

With 493 total pokemon and the ability for rematches against tougher teams, the game doesn’t truly begin until after the story. I’ve racked up 216 hours by finding, trading and training teams for the Battle Tower, and enjoying showdowns with friends. There are some pokemon and events which only appear on given days so planning is needed to get to 100%.

Serving Suggestions – How do these games fit in?

I recently posed this question in our Facebook Community: “What is more important to you in shorter gaming sessions?”. The majority said that “ease of picking up and putting down” was essential. A surprising second place though was a powerful story.

If you’re looking for an easy game to dip in and out of, then Pokémon or Monster Sanctuary are great! Cyber Sleuth isn’t bad but the story focus makes it harder to drop, I’d recommend it more for the lore-lover. All 3 games have easy-to-learn controls, a great roster, and pack value into the mix as well.

If you have a long journey ahead of you I would recommend picking up any of these 3. They all fit well within the genre and give a good experience. The only downside to both Cyber Sleuth and Pokémon is that they don’t evolve beyond their respective franchise links. Meanwhile, Monster Sanctuary uses a blend of Metroidvania, Monster Taming, and old-school RPG combat to really shine.

Written by
Hello Spoony Bards! I’m Chris. I’ve been gaming ever since I was able to hold a controller, from blockbuster AAA experiences, to Indie one-person efforts. My favoured genres tend to be Survival-Horror and JRPGs, but I'll play anything once! Happy trails!

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