Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That’s a saying I’m sure many of you have heard before. It applies to anything and everything, which assuredly includes video games. We saw dozens of these when Nintendo’s Pokemon games released on the Game Boy. More unique than Pokemon but somewhat similar was Tecmo’s Monster Rancher series. In these games you collect and train monsters, with your goal being a strong bond with your new buddy, and a national championship under your belt. Though I would personally never draw a direct comparison between these two, I could see how one might.
I wasn’t always this weary of comparisons. I would see a platforming game and immediately associate it with Mario. Any and every RPG had to be a Final Fantasy style game, and all others were, well, other. If I played something vaguely similar first, it became the precedent for what was to come (for better and for worse). Perhaps you can then imagine my thought when I saw the cover for Monster Seed.
A mysterious solo symbol graced the cover. If you wanted to know more, you had to look at the back of the case. You were greeted with images of summoning monsters, and promises of the next great monster collecting RPG. How could I not pick the game up and at least give it a try? It was looking like it’d be a cross between Pokemon and Monster Rancher. And that, even without the CDs spawning monsters, sounds fantastic!
After maybe 15 years of sitting on the shelf, I finally popped in Monster Seed for a playthrough and was immediately reminded why I shouldn’t hold games in high regard if I haven’t played them. Not a terrible game, I can safely say Monster Seed is not a good game. Take away the comparisons to Pokemon and Monster Rancher and you’re left with a boring monster training RPG that runs slow and leaves a lot to be desired. Inklings of creativity in the battle system try hard to carry the game but crumple under the weight. Slow and clunky, the game just doesn’t live up to any sort of expectation you might have for it.
Take for example the monster summoning. An area in town can do it for you, and you can use a titular monster seed combined with a specific reagent to summon a certain monster. This sounds great on paper, and a novel way to replicate monster summoning from other games. However, there aren’t enough types of seeds or unique summons to make the process as exhilarating the fifth time as it was the first. And definitely not the tenth. Or the twentieth. It’s minor, but it’s part of the experience that adds up to a less than stellar game.
Combat could have saved the game, but it too falls short. A surprising tactical grid system allows you to move around and summon up to three monsters to use in battle. You can give them general commands on how to act like aggressively or defensively, and you yourself are a participant in battle and can run up and hit the opponent too. Speaking of which, your goal in most battles (at least the early ones) task you with defeating your opposing monster trainer. The person. In a weird choice they have HP that needs to be depleted. There are several instances where you can viably punch your opponent into defeat instead of using a monster to fire blast them or whatever.
I wouldn’t say a game like Monster Rancher has the most gripping narrative, but at least there’s something there to lure you in to liking your monster pals more. Or at the very least understanding what your might be fighting for. With Monster Seed I think there’s some sort of war going on? Or some big bad running around threatening the land? An introduction mission you must fail sets this up, but then there isn’t a mention of them in the following town or area. Your’e kind of left in the dark on what the plot might be until much later in the game, and by then I was so bored I didn’t care any more. A collection of side characters show up but are flatter than a piece of parchment and don’t have any memorable notes. It’s a shame really, as there’s so much potential to have fun, scary, weird, and friendly folk populate this world. But like everything else in the game it falls woefully short.
Monster Seed was a game I wanted to like. I really wanted to like it. But there just isn’t a redeeming quality I can see. 20+ years later the game is still playable, but why would you want too? The combat is creative at first but becomes mundane and dull early on. The potential for a variety of summons and abilities are held to a surprisingly low threshold. Visually the game looks fine, but without an interesting cast of characters there is not a redeeming factor to actually play the game when you could easily be playing something else (and something better). Sorry Monster Seed, you’re going back on the shelf.