Part 17: An Exercise in Futility, Part 2.52Yr. 4Mo. 1Wk.
This update is going to be entirely out-of-character mechanical stuff; I'm not going to bother with the italics for that reason.
Once you've advanced the plot this far, Philia drops by the ranch, blushing like a dating sim character. (In some ways, including the ratio of male to female characters, it reminds me of a dating sim, but without the actual... dating... parts.) She's here, however, to introduce a few new mechanics.
The big one is Countering. See, in order to launch an attack, you can press X, O, or Square, and up until now which one you pushed didn't mean squat. However, now, if the defender correctly guesses which one you picked...
...he can hit you right out of it. It's a change I don't much care for on the whole; it makes several styles of monster raising less effective, including high-Speed monsters that never get hit, 'glass cannon' monsters, and monsters with high-performance but high-cost attacks. The ideal monster, under the countering system, is one with high Defense and/or Life (so it can repeatedly take hits) and a lot of low-cost attacks (so it doesn't lose much if one is countered).
The game helpfully tracks the last five button presses (attacks and counters) for both you and your opponent as an aid to predicting what will come next. Of course, a system like this is only useful if your opponent isn't simply choosing button presses at random. To that end, the game also introduces a few mechanics to try to get you to use patterns.
One is that the three buttons now do different things. An attack with the O button now does less damage but is more accurate (compared to the X button attack), while an attack with the Square button is more powerful but less accurate.
Another is that, if you use the same button multiple times in a row, your accuracy and damage receive a combo bonus. Unfortunately, that bonus won't help you if you're knocked out of an attack, so ultimately it's best to avoid falling into a pattern as much as possible.
Against humans, anyway. If the computer actually tries to predict what you're going to pick, I've seen no evidence of it. Sadly, this also means that its own responses are either totally random or at least have the appearance of randomness, so all in all this mechanic is a pile of fail. It's a permanent addition to battles, though, so might as well get used to it.
On the flip side of new mechanics that suck comes Teetee, explaining mechanics we've been dealing with for ages. Specifically, the team battle system.
We'll start getting access to tag tournaments at some point, but we've been dealing with switching team members ever since Natsu and iScream first set foot in Togle Caves. Only now does the game actually explain how to switch partners...
...and how to activate Team Up attacks, which is something that would have been helpful to know some time ago. Not that it's really been worth the wait. In order to execute a Team Up attack, you have to stand still long enough for it to activate, launch an attack from that range (without having something like Bullish status interfere), and have the attack hit. Your reward? One of your teammates jumps in and hits them for some extra damage. You'd be served just as well, if not better, to burn through all your Guts and, if they're not dead yet, switch to your partner and have him attack for a while.
There are four big changes, as I count them, between Monster Rancher 2 (often called the best of the series) and Monster Rancher 4. Being able to raise more than one monster at a time is pretty sweet; the other three changes, though, are mixed at best. The increased level of plot means you sometimes have to jump through hoops, as we've been doing, just to get to the next part of the game. Adventuring can get very repetitive very quickly, its randomly-generated floors not unlike the dungeons in .hack. And countering... well, you've just read my opinion on countering.
Still, it's a good game at heart, which is why I'm LPing it for you. The improved graphics are cool, there are some interesting monster types, and being able to raise multiple monsters adds a lot to the gameplay. I hope you've enjoyed reading my LP so far, and I hope you continue to do so!