This is Leone, a baby Hare Hound from Monster Rancher 2. As the closest in-game approximation to a dog, Leone is understandably beloved. In this photo, he is playing with his trainer, and he is happy. Unfortunately, these carefree days are to be short-lived. He doesn’t know it yet, but in the year 1160 on the fourth week of September, Leone will become a pile of dog memories, gasping for breath in the arena, as a miniature hellthing named Darnielle turns him into a red, spreading pool.
ALBUM REVIEW: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS – BEAT THE CHAMP
The Mountain Goats is essentially one troubled, shouting man named John Darnielle, and I’m told this record is about wrestling. For our needs, this information is valueless. Just as you would never ask what a bed or a sandwich is ‘about,’ the professional Monster Rancher has no interest in the meaning or intent of pretty much anything. She values results alone. She doesn’t ask if a record is about fighting; she asks, ‘Can this record fight?’ Confused? I’ll step back. For those unfamiliar, Monster Rancher 2 is a combination RPG/Life Simulation game that focuses on the breeding, training and battling of virtual monsters. Employing the magic of physical media, Monster Rancher 2 uses the PlayStation to scan your favourite albums and turn them into things with faces. This, for example, is the face of Beat the Champ:
And what a face it is. Immediately upon seeing this tiny devil bird, I feel safe and protected by the wisdom of this band. Why? Because this is a Draco Hopper.
And what album aside from Beat the Champ makes a Draco Hopper? The soundtrack to Mortal Kombat II. The Mountain Goats nailed it. This is a physical manifestation of fighting, and it only knows how to do two things:
So what now?
You probably don’t know this, but Monster Rancher 2 was designed for actual crazy people. Although the game did manage to achieve moderate success with healthy, rational children who weren’t allowed real pets, it was the endlessly patient, detail-obsessed neurotics who truly embraced it.
Here, we have an excerpt from Monster Rancher Metropolis user DarkPhoenix’s training method, and while I don’t expect you to understand (or even read) this information, I do think the shape and density of the following nightmare-paragraph are pretty indicative of the kind of mania that is required to excel in this game:
“When you decide to send your monster to errantry bring your monster out on the 1st week of the month. Save, and give it a Nuts Oil, and send it on the errantry. ****Make sure that your monster learns a tech on the errantry****, if not, then reload. Once it returns, immediately freeze it and bring it out on the 4th week, give it a Nuts Oil, then rest it, then resume the training pattern. Make sure to space your errantries about 2 months of raising time apart to give your monster a chance to recover. Also, you may want to begin working up the Official tournament ladder at this time. If you decide to so , bring it out, give a Nuts Oil, then battle, and makes sure you give it another Nuts Oil the next raising week after the tournament. When you monster changes size again, you’re at Stage 3.”
The essence of this method and most others boil down to results manipulation: specifically, the administration of special items, followed by the saving and resetting of the game until the desired effect is achieved. For the purposes of this review, I will not be doing these things. Normally, because I am insane, I would. But we’re here to find out what our boy Darnielle can do on his own. In contrast with the human John Darnielle, whose singular pleasure is strumming an acoustic guitar very hard, this red baby seems to mostly enjoy cheating.
Truthfully, this isn’t very surprising. Draco Hoppers are notoriously uncooperative fiends. When they aren’t cheating their way through training, they’re clawing at the dirt, procuring wet bones and shoes.
Aside from being sort of creepy, this also leads to my item inventory being full of soggy yard trinkets. Ultimately, I’m unsure as to whether Darnielle is trying to thank us or ‘freak us out.’ Judging by the stuttering, nervous response of my assistant Colt, it’s pretty clear how she feels about this behaviour. Well intentioned or not, Darnielle is a weird, scary baby.
“Jaws dropping at ringside / In the blood tide / When the fireball hits ” – Fire Editorial, Track #7
I can say here with confidence that Darnielle was unprepared for this tournament. Slogging through his training was a nightmare, and he still hadn’t learned any moves aside from HOOK and JAB, but he’s here to fight. So let’s fight. Our first opponent is Nats, an E Class Hare. As far as stats go, he’s a fair step above our boy. Not to mention faster, more resilient, and armed with a wider variety of attacks. It’s a shame to open a tournament with a loss, but I was prepared to do so anyway. Somehow, this happened instead.
And so it began.
Why were the opponents conceding before we started fighting? Why was an unprepared toddler-bird crushing everyone in its very first tournament? Because this is face of Beat the Champ, and it is hellish.
In the finals, Darnielle went on to face Leone, one of the few monsters brave enough to stand their ground. And we know how that ended. Ultimately, Darnielle left the arena with a perfect score and a couple hundred bucks for his troubles. When we returned to the ranch, he slept for a week, ate some pills and a leaf, and promptly got back to work. Invigorated, Darnielle was finally training like he really cared. His victory in the arena changed something in him. Maybe it’s because he finally found something he’s good at. Or maybe he had just developed a thing for a dog blood.
“Nameless bodies in unremembered rooms / run howling through the carnage when the wolfbane blooms” – Werewolf Gimmick, Track #9
For the following six weeks, Darnielle’s life became a looping GIF of three phrases: SUCCESS, GREAT!, K.O.
To say that Darnielle was unstoppable would imply that anyone had even tried. In a few short months, he had transformed from a tiny, frightening wolf-bird into pretty much the exact same creature but with an even stronger capacity for doing violence. What’s really wild is that he never lost. Not a single match.
“Everybody’s got their limits / Nobody’s found mine” – Choked Out, Track #5
After a certain point there was only so much good that could come from Darnielle eating special pills and punching rocks (which, if I haven’t mentioned it, is pretty much what his training consisted of exclusively), so it was time to push forward. At four years and three months old, Darnielle was leaving my boring, bone-filled ranch for the fiery wastes of Kawrea. The important part? He’s going alone. In Monster Rancher 2, when your monster is alone, it is alone in the truest and most absolute sense. You cannot control its actions. You cannot affect the gameplay. You just sit and watch. This disconnect can be frightening, especially when your monster is faced with a situation it may not survive.
This was one of those situations.
Darnielle was fucked. A wild enemy is a random occurrence, and there’s no stopping it once it has started. The Blue Phoenix is one of these rare enemies, and she is a straight murderer. This fight would mark three new experiences for Darnielle: fear, loss and the complete destruction of his own body.
“I lift right off into space / I can see the future / It’s a real dark place” – Choked Out, Track #5
This hospital stay seemingly lasts forever. The ranch is quiet. Winter passes. He returns home in time for his 6th birthday, and our assistant Colt sings a song to him that’s as bleak as it is kind.
“I try to remember what life was like long ago / But it’s gone you know” – Southwestern Territory, Track #1
Refusing to leave the tournament scene, Darnielle insists on continuing to fight. Unfortunately, the children at the arena have moved on. They ask themselves, ‘Who is this slow, red bird and why are we watching him wrestle?’ A boy in a John Cena t-shirt spits on him from the rafters and double high-fives his father. This isn’t the game Darnielle grew up in. It’s over, and he knows it. Colt takes me aside after the fight and says what we both were thinking.
THE FINAL YEARS
“I need justice in my life / Here it comes ” – The Legend of Chavo Guerrero, Track #2
Darnielle isn’t well. He never fully recovered from the fight with the phoenix, and the mood around the ranch is dark. At night, I hear him whispering to himself in the barn. Come morning, I find him pacing back and forth, pounding on his chest. Eventually, he takes action. He wants to train again. He asks for it.
He wants to go back to Kawrea.
Colt is unequivocally opposed to this idea. Initially, I side with her, agreeing to keep Darnielle at home, napping and drinking the olive oil he requests nearly every afternoon—that is, until I remember what we’re doing here in the first place. Darnielle is old, but he’s still a fighter. So let’s fight.
The following footage documents Darnielle’s final trip to Kawrea, and his second encounter with the legendary Blue Phoenix.
No arena, no prize, no audience. Only revenge. Colt and I both fall to our knees crying as we welcome Darnielle back home. He punches a rock, eats a leaf, and falls asleep. The next morning, the inevitable.
Darnielle is dead.
An old man that I sort of know gives a very dark and formal lecture about mortality, and that’s that. The world crumbles as Darnielle is buried as a champion.
THE MOUNTAIN GOATS – BEAT THE CHAMP
FINAL RANK: S CLASS
On this record, a young John Darnielle apotheosizes the fighting heroes of his childhood, beseeching them to deliver the justice he felt was missing from his life. Monster Rancher 2 gives him a chance to take that justice for himself, and he does.
Curious about what monsters live in your favorite album? Send requests to @RancherReview and I’ll take them to the Shrine.