A couple of years ago, Atlus created a game called Monster Rancher, in which players were able to create, collect, and battle with monsters "born" from the data on any sort of CD. The game was a highly addictive bit of fun, and shortly thereafter, two similar games, Monster Seed and Dragon Seeds followed. However, because the developers of these two games tried too hard to wow players with either too much in the way of plot or visuals, these failed to capture the simplicity the first game. Genki, a developer known for some decent corridor mech shooters and the Shutokou Battle racing games, has come up with a new game, the RPG Jade Cocoon, which promises players a great story, as well as the ability to create a few million monsters! That's right, folks, rather than raising the main character to near superhuman status, like in other RPGs, this game's focus is on the care and feeding, if you will, of the assorted "minions" that you capture throughout the game.
You play as Levant; a young man who wants to be a Cocoon Master, like his father before him. Trouble is, his father abandoned him and his mother some years back, so you can imagine that the job carries a bit of emotional baggage for Levant. Additionally, insect-like warriors are causing big trouble outside his small village, and as Cocoon Master, Levant must use his skills to end their threat. Now, this sort of story would seem just plain dull in most any other sort of game, but Jade Cocoon's writers, artists and musicians have created an amazingly detailed, albeit small world thriving on the power of myths and old legends. There are only a few other characters in the game, but they all share a wealth of information that pulls you into the story, thanks to the aforementioned writing, as well as some of the best voice acting I've ever heard.
As a Cocoon Master, Levant isn't exactly a Charles Atlas type, but his ability to use captured and "tamed" minions more than makes up for this. Yes, it sounds like Nintendo's Pokemon games, but with meaner, more powerful monsters rather than a preset bunch of overly cute merchandising tools. You start off with a few, not too powerful minions, which can be combined and raised into others. While it's entirely possible to finish the game without spending a lot of time doing this, the process soon becomes so addictive that you end up seeing just what sort of behemoth you can come up with next. Combat takes place upon contact with an enemy, then, Lepant can either fight it out on his own, or can whip out whichever beastie is appropriate for the occasion, and get busy. There is no auto battle option- the player must make all the choices, then sit back and watch what happens. When a monster is weakened enough, you can have Lepant pull out his flute, and attempt to capture it. If you're successful, the creature ends up "cocooned", and you have the option of saving it, or taking it back to the village, to have it processed in a number of different ways.
The game's world isn't very large; other than the one village, there are four areas to explore each one with its share of hazardous enemies. There are also a couple of puzzle-based dungeons to wander around in as well, and the beautifully detailed pre-rendered environments do an excellent job of giving the player a good sense of place, although you're a bit limited in where you can go in them. There is also a two-player mode that requires each player to have a memory card with stored minions in order to compete against each other. My one complaint has to do with the repetition of some dungeons later in the game, which seems a bit cheap. The game isn't particularly difficult, but those of you looking for one of those long, world-spanning adventures, or the other end of the spectrum, a Zelda-esque action RPG, just may be a little disappointed. This is one of those "smaller" games that should rightfully gain a wider audience, but since Final Fantasy VIII is just a little while away, most people will probably overlook it, in favor of Squaresoft's epic. This is too bad, because Jade Cocoon deserves at least a little of your time.
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