While Pokémon has largely remained dominant since the start of the monster-catching craze that began in the 90s, there has been a huge number of other inventive and unique games in the genre more than worthy of your attention! We’re showcasing five of them here, an eclectic mix of games you should check out if you’re looking for a different take on monster raising mania. Let’s go get ‘em!
5. Other Life: Azure Dreams (Azure Dreams)
- System: PlayStation
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami
- Release Dates: JP: November 13, 1997 NA: June 30, 1998 EU: December 1998
While Konami isn’t widely associated with RPGs, when they do make them, they’re almost always something special. Azure Dreams combines elements from dungeon crawlers, dating sims, lite town building, and monster collecting into this intriguing cult favorite PlayStation RPG. The game takes place in the desert town of Monsbaiya which is built around a giant tower full of monsters. After his monster taming father disappears on an expedition, Koh enters the tower himself and meets a familiar of his own, a monster called Kewne who can speak. The two embark on a journey to find out what happened Koh’s father, grinding their way through the many floors of the tower, capturing monsters and finding treasures along the way. Azure Dreams is notable for its genre mashups, having the player character level up and fight alongside their monster companions, and having a distinctive retro art style.
4. Dragon Quest Monsters (Dragon Warrior Monsters)
- System: Game Boy Color
- Publisher: Enix
- Developer: Tose
- Release Dates: JP: September 25, 1998 NA: January 27, 1999 EU: January 25, 1999
Arguably the best and most influential JRPG series of all time, Dragon Quest got its own monster collecting spinoff series with Dragon Quest Monsters. In this first game, the story follows sister and brother Milly and Terry from Dragon Quest VI as children. When Milly gets captured by a strange monster called Warubou, Terry rushes to her aid with the help of good monster Watabou who takes him to the Kingdom of GreatTree. To save his sister, Terry becomes a Monster Trainer and enters the Starry Night Tournament to try to win the prize of a wish from the king of GreatTree.
Dragon Quest Monsters features charming Akira Toriyama-designed monsters and the main series’ classic combat system, with battles up to 3 vs 3 at once, along with a rich breeding and monster combination system that adds a lot of mechanical variety. The series has received numerous installments with the most recent being Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 in 2016, all of which are well made and worth checking out, especially if you already love Dragon Quest!
3. Rakugaki Ōkoku (Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color)
- System: PlayStation 2
- Publisher: Taito (JP) Agetec (NA)
- Developer: Garakuda-Studio, Taito
- Release Dates: JP: March 20, 2002 NA: June 24, 2003
Although it isn’t without its flaws, Magic Pengel is one of the most unique games on the PS2 as a whole, not just among monster RPGs. In this colorful adventure, you play as a doodler, a person who can use the titular Pengel, a cute fairy creature with a paintbrush-like tail, to draw your own magical creatures to battle for you. In terms of gameplay, the combat is pretty basic but the ability to literally draw your own creatures in 3D and see them brought to life and animated is really technically impressive and a lot of fun. The world, story, and character designs are also top-notch, brought to life with the help of Studio Ghibli in one of their rare forays into video games. While a little clunky in some respects, Magic Pengel’s originality and charm make it a must-play for monster RPG connoisseurs and fans of cute games in general. Its action-rpg sequel Graffiti Kingdom is also fantastic!
2. Digimon World
- System: PlayStation
- Publisher: Bandai
- Developer: Bandai, Flying Tiger Entertainment (English reprogramming)
- Release Dates: JP: January 28, 1999 NA: May 23, 2000 PAL: July 6, 2001
You were probably expecting Digimon at some point as the giant multimedia franchise has probably been Pokémon’s main rival for collectible monster dominance since the early days. While there are many games in the Digimon series, we think that the original Digimon World represents one of the most interesting takes in the genre, which is why we’re mentioning it here. In this game, you are a kid who gets whisked away to the Digital World, tasked with restoring File City to its former glory after many Digimon have begun to lose their memories and become feral. Unlike a lot of other RPGs, Digimon World actually bases many of its mechanics on the original virtual pet toys that began the series. Your partner digimon must be fed, trained in an actual gym, and even taken to the bathroom; they age and eventually die and reincarnate to become a new baby form and the complexity of the commands you can give them is based on how smart they are. Digimon World is something of a flawed gem with its grindy stat training and strange combat system but it’s also incredibly atmospheric with a fantastic soundtrack and interesting world to explore which has made it a cult hit. This game was also given an enhanced remake called Digimon World: Next Order for Vita and PlayStation 4 in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
1. Tamamayu Monogatari (Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu)
- System: PlayStation
- Publisher: Genki (JP) Crave Entertainment (WW)
- Developer: Genki
- Release Dates: JP: December 3, 1998 NA: July 29, 1999 EU: July 25, 2000
Another PlayStation RPG! Jade Cocoon is set in a fantasy world that feels very reminiscent of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke which makes sense because this is another game Studio Ghibli was involved in, famous character designer Katsuya Kondo in particular. You play as Levant, a young cocoon master whose job is to capture mostly insect-like creatures called minions so that they can be purified by his village shaman to be used in battle, fused together to create new forms (which actually combine to be a visually distinct creature!), or woven into silk for money. With an intriguing world, intricate designs, and a rich and dark backstory, Jade Cocoon is a fascinating game that makes up for its simple rock-paper-scissors style monster combat and some plot hiccups with its personality. It also notably has almost every line of dialogue fully voiced which was pretty rare for the time and largely still holds up. A sequel set 100 years in the future, Jade Cocoon 2, was also released in 2001 for PlayStation 2.
Well there you go, 5 great monster-collection games to check out if you’re in the mood for something different! What would be your picks for solid ‘mon experiences? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below and be sure to stick around for more of all things awesome, niche RPGs and otherwise! See ya~!