The lights are on
The Pokémon series has tasked us with catching them all since its inception in the ‘90s, a tradition that continues with the solid Pokémon X and Y entries. Hunting down critters that also fight for you can be an enthralling prospect, so much so that some diehard fans of the mechanic may need to look to other series for satisfaction. On the flip side, potential monster hoarders may like the concept of Pokémon but be turned off by the kid-friendly aesthetic or threadbare story. We’ve herded together a selection of other games that share Pokémon’s core collection hook but feature a different look and feel.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
Square Enix’s latest Final Fantasy installment received criticism for its linear game design and confounding story, but its battle system stands as a point of pride. In Final Fantasy XIII, players cycle between party blueprints that feature varying class types like spellcasters, mages, fighters, etc. Extra paradigm options are unlocked in Final Fantasy XIII-2 (read the review) by capturing monsters roaming around the world. Swapping between and leveling up creatures adds diversity to the otherwise static team of Serah and Noel. Teaming up with a chocobo or behemoth is a fun treat for longtime fans of the franchise.
Shin Megami Tensei Series
The Shin Megami Tensei series predates Nintendo’s Pokémon debut and lets players capture and train demons instead of cuddly critters. Some of these demons can only be persuaded to join your side through a show of force or careful conversation choices. These dark entities can be leveled up and even fused together to create stronger beings. The SMT series’ modern setting and mature tones strike a sharp contrast with Pokémon’s jolly nature. Varying boss encounters and endings open up depending on how chaotic or lawful you are throughout the game. If you’re interested in the series, check out our review of the most recent 3DS entry, SMT IV. SMT’s demon-catching and leveling system also bleeds into the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series through the strengthening and fusing of different Persona creatures.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
This PS3 title combines traditional JRPG gameplay with the colorful visuals of Studio Ghibli, which may be appealing enough by itself. Ni no Kuni also infuses this combination with a deep monster-catching mechanic. Any creature you encounter can be beaten down and charmed into joining your team. These monsters can then fight in place of or alongside your party members. Similar to SMT, they can also be fused together to create more powerful hybrid creatures. The endearing Mighty Mite (pictured at the top of the article) is among the first creatures you can recruit, and nurturing the cute little swordsman over dozens of hours can result in a satisfying bond. Read our review to see if it’s right for you.
World of Warcraft
As if Blizzard’s MMORPG wasn’t enough of a time sink, the developer injected a pet-battling game that can be accessed by each of your characters. Players can purchase a pet, name it, and begin scouring Azeroth for wild critters to fight. Instead of Pokéballs, wooden cages are tossed on weakened monsters. Captured pets can be either sold or added to your roster. Leveling up your little buddies, hunting down new animals, and fighting other players in World of Warcraft is the kind of extra wrinkle that keeps players subscribing.
Dragon Quest Monsters Series
This offshoot of the Dragon Quest series puts players in an indirect combat role. The protagonist catches and breeds monsters and pits them against other creatures roaming the world. The Dragon Quest Monsters series began with the series’ early tradition of a first-person view, but switched to a third-person 3D perspective with Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker on the DS. Players send out up to three monsters to do their bidding, including the iconic Slimes and other oddly named creatures, like PillowRat. Check out our review on DQM: Joker 2 to learn more.
Monster Rancher Series
Like the other games here, Tecmo Koei’s Monster Rancher series involves battling monsters against one another, but adds in more of a sim focus. Players manage their monsters by making them do chores or sending them off for training. Once your creature is in fighting shape, they can be entered in tournaments where they battle other monsters. Like a parent watching their child flail wildly during their first karate match, players don’t directly control the action. The PlayStation and PlayStation 2 Monster Rancher games also have the unique feature of reading music CDs and generating a monster based on its audio. For example, a Christmas album may produce a monster wearing a Santa suit.
Rune Factory Series
Similar to Monster Rancher, this spinoff of the Harvest Moon series puts an emphasis on sim management. Like the Harvest Moon series, players still grow crops and enhance farm tools, but monsters are acquired instead of livestock. New monsters can be recruited and conquered in dungeons; they can even fight alongside you in battle. The fusion of Harvest Moon farm tending and dungeon crawling offers a unique twist on monster catching. Read up on Rune Factory 4 for the 3DS to see if it’s your thing.
Fossil Fighter Series
Artdink’s series of critter-collecting games is about as blatant as Pokémon rip-offs get. But in Fossil Fighters and Fossil Fighters: Champions, players must excavate and clean up dinosaur fossils using the DS’s touchscreen. This extra paleontology step separates it just enough from the Pokémon series that would-be Jurassic Park scientists may want to give it a shot.
These are just a few samples of other games that offer the Pokémon flavor of collection. Did we miss any that you recommend?