Guest Author - James Shea
The fifth game in the Monster Rancher series, Monster Rancher EVO takes the series in a bit of a new direction. While it includes many of the gameplay features used in other Monster Rancher games (raising and battling monsters), EVO also introduces a new one: the main character of the story is a performer in a circus, and his monsters are used in his act.
The main character is Julio, who plays an accordion to accompany the acrobatic act of his monsters in the circus. His original monster runs away, but luckily a magic-using girl with the ability to make monsters out of magical disks appears and joins the circus. She gives him a new monster, and the setting for the game is set - getting more disks to make better monsters, and raising up the ones that are born. Julio also takes missions in towns, moving ahead as the circus progresses. On a week-to-week basis, Julio must decide what the circus will do, which monsters to train, and so on. Monsters can become overworked if trained too much, but won't be as motivated or capable if not trained enough.
The circus shows are the main mode of gameplay. There are three different minigames within the circus - one where you hit colors as they fall, one where you pick out the different colors, and one where you press buttons in the right order. Depending on how well you do on these, your monster will grow more capable and powerful. This leads into the monster battling part of the game; the stats accumulated through training and circus shows are also used for monster battles. The battles are fairly simple; each monster has attacks for both close-range and long-range. Attacks also carry status effects.
One of the other neat things to do with the game is use CDs or DVDs to create monsters. You can generate a new monster by talking to the magic woman who creates monsters and asking her to make one from a CD/DVD. Put any CD or DVD into the PS2 when instructed; the PS2 will scan the disc. Replace the Monster Rancher EVO CD when prompted and you will be given a brand new monster.
The graphics are decent; there's a really wide variety of monsters and monster-types to get. The characters and art are all pretty high end, and the only thing that gets kind of boring is the backgrounds. The music is bright and energetic, with a lot of circus-like themes.
This game was a pleasant surprise, a departure from the usual fight-breed-fight theme of the old Monster Ranchers. The circus aspect was definitely welcome and unusual.