When you think about monster catching games, chances are Pokémon will be at the top of your list of references. It wasn’t the first and it certainly won’t be the last, but it definitely popularized the genre on a global level. Speaking of genre, there’s many ways to categorize Pokémon and those like it. It’s not always about catching monsters, but sometimes it’s more about summoning them or using monsters to power up your heroes. Sometimes it’s just about the concept of collecting alone. Now I could just as easily make a list of games very much in line with Pokémon’s core mechanics, but where would the fun be in that? Sure it’d be hilarious to bring up Animorphs, based on the Scholastic Book series, which is supremely like Pokémon on the Game Boy Color, but I wanted to make a list of games I deeply believe are better in many ways to Pokémon.
I challenged myself and looked for broader connections. Games you might scoff at me for including, but weak comparison or not, they are all fantastic games. That said I stayed away from the mobile stores of iOS and Android devices because I could create a list of blatant clones from Korean and Chinese “developers,” but that’s an article all its own. Seriously, I’ve played some head scratchers in my days that are still up on those stores with barely any names changed. The Pokéballs on these guys I tell ya. Anyway, enough explaining, time to go catch some monsters!
15 Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
Let’s begin with the obvious comparison of Digimon vs Pokémon. Both anime adaptions began airing nearly around the same time, 1998-99, in the U.S. and my young adolescent brain of eleven couldn’t get enough of the monster battling action, but there was one thing that separated my enthusiasm: video games. I never sat down and actually played any Digimon game, because reviews always seemed poor compared to Pokémon and I started to grow out of Digimon. A lot of buzz was swarming around Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth getting localized, so when it finally came over I gave it a shot and I was hooked from minute one. It’s repetitive and there’s not much to dungeons, but man alive does it feel good to grind with those Digimon. Plus the story has a cool, detective edge to it.
14 Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
I will admit Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a terrible title and one that's easy to make fun of, but that’s pretty much all of its flaws. First of all this game is gorgeous thanks in part to Studio Ghibli, the famed anime film company, who produced the cutscenes and influenced the game’s gorgeous design. It stars a young boy, Oliver, who is transported into a fantasy realm where he believes his mother has been taken. Battles take place in a 3D battle arena after touching an enemy onscreen. Oliver and his two human companions can summon familiars, who can then be swapped out for other monsters, or the humans can battle as well. It’s sort of similar to Bandai Namco’s Tales Of series. It’s the type of combat I think works well for a monster catching RPG. Also, did I mention how beautiful this game is? Seriously!
13 Yo-kai Watch
The easiest way to categorize this series would be to call it a Pokémon game with only ghosts. These creatures are based heavily on Japanese folklore, hence the name. Instead of using balls to catch Yo-kai our hero, Nate, can befriend Yo-kai and gain their special medals, which, when placed in his special watch, will summon them into battle. Players can have six Yo-kai equipped at a time, but three can only be on the screen at once. A simple turn of the dial below will swap out Yo-kai on the fly. Monsters then auto-battle, but a special gauge will fill up wherein players can execute a special move via a quick mini game. A twist in the mechanics and a lighthearted story with plenty of puns makes Yo-kai Watch very li-kai-ble.
12 Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
With all of its spinoffs, I’m surprised it took so long, seven games to be exact, for the franchise to adapt some form of monster catching. Anyway, in this adventure, Sora and Riku dive into dream worlds in order to awaken them back to reality by activating their sleeping keyholes. Instead of facing off against hordes of Heartless, you instead battle Nightmares, but you aren’t alone thanks to the assistance of Dream Eaters. These cute little critters can be equipped to aid in battle along with granting both Sora and Riku abilities such as boosting attack power or HP via a skill tree. If that wasn’t enough, you can play with your Dream Eaters by petting them, giving them treats, or even participating in a variety of mini games, which will strengthen your bonds. They may not be as cool as having Goofy, Donald, or any other Disney character on your team, but they sure are adorable.
11 Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
By all accounts, the Shin Megami Tensei games seem to be one of the first implementations of acquiring monsters to aide you in battle. The first of which was Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei on the Famicom in 1987. Flash-forward thirty years and the latest game, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, is its finest iteration of the formula yet. It’s a straight up sequel to its 3DS predecessor, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and while combat is virtually the same, there’s one big difference. Heroes from the first entry used demons to enhance their skills, but were not active in battle. This time around there’s one human party member with the other three slots dominated by said demons. The best part out of these games and spinoffs is the ability to fuse monsters together in order creates more powerful ones. It exists on fan sites, but just imagine it happening in a real Pokémon game.
10 Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance
Speaking of demons, the Disgaea series just keeps on getting better and better in terms of mechanics. The first game, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, will always be my favorite in terms of a well-rounded experience due in part to the story, but the monster functionality in Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is the best yet. The bulk of your team will primarily consist of class-based demons such as fighters or various forms of mages. At least that’s how I always used to roll, because normal monsters had fewer abilities in battle, such as not being able to carry anyone. I shunned them from accompanying me in battle until the Magichange mechanic, which transforms monsters into weapons during battle, was introduced in Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice. After that I always contain a healthy balance between class members and monsters. Pokémon could try this too, as there’s already Honedge, which is literally a sword Pokémon. They’re halfway there!
9 Kartia: The Word of Fate
I had a strong urge to put Final Fantasy Tactics on here, but like I said in the intro, I wanted to place one game per series here, so I found another strategy RPG from Atlus that looks like a Final Fantasy game. That’s because the art was drawn by longtime Final Fantasy vet, Yoshitaka Amano. Unlike Disgaea, where every team member is important in combat, characters on your side can summon hordes of monsters via magical cards, Kartia, to aide in battle. These monsters, or phantoms, can die endlessly, but if a hero dies, then that’s the end of the match. It’s relatively unknown today as Kartia: The Word of Fate is hard to find and has only been re-released on Japanese PSN stores. If you can find a copy, give it a shot!
8 Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
The Dragon Quest series has incorporated some form of monster catching since Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride debuted on the Super Famicom in 1992. From there a spinoff series, Dragon Quest Monsters, was started on the Game Boy Color to further these mechanics back in 1998. Anyway Dragon Quest V was ambitious past monster taming, as it takes place over thirty years of the protagonist’s life and you can even marry, as the name would hint at. Unlike the games before it, your party will mainly consists of monsters. If a monster liked your performance during combat, it will ask to join you after, but it’s random so there’s no way of improving your odds other than grinding. That said, your party will fill up relatively fast before you know it.
7 Pocket Mortys
Okay so I said I wouldn’t include mobile games on this list and it’s technically not a “monster catching” game, but it was too hard to resist discussing. Pocket Mortys is based on the insanely funny Adult Swim show, Ricky and Morty. In this game, an evil organization of Ricks are gathering Mortys from other dimensions in order to take over the world or something like that. It looks and pretty much plays like Pokémon, but with little boys taking the place of critters, a pedophile’s dream. Joking aside, please don’t swarm in here government, every version of Morty looks and battles slightly differently. There’s a scrappy looking Morty, a Morty with a mustache, and so forth. Yes it’s a blatant rip-off of Pokémon, and it's hard to say that it's actually better, but it's all in good fun and we wanted to shout it out here.
6 Suikoden II
Now that I already brought up Pocket Mortys, there’s another human collecting adventure I wanted to include that contains the spirit of a monster catcher behind it: Suikoden II. Each game in the Suikoden series is its own story that takes place in a different part of their world’s timeline. The one thing that doesn’t change is that every protagonist must collect the 108 Stars of Destiny: fated warriors on the side of good. These heroes can be either party members,or used to stock your castle in order to aid in variety of other ways such as cooks, shopkeepers, and so forth. It’s tricky to get all 108 Stars of Destiny, but they’re more meaningful acquisitions than a bunch of monsters you’ll probably never touch only to say "hey, look I caught them all." Suikoden II is the best in the series and thankfully, unlike Kartia, it’s now available on PSN after a long plea to Konami from fans.
5 Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was the first game in the franchise to adapt the Super Metroid formula and make something all its own by including RPG elements, thus creating the Metroidvania genre. It’s still fantastic, but I would argue Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is a better version, mechanically, of that formula. This is a direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow. In it, Soma Cruz continues his struggles against the forces of evil that want him to become the next form of Dracula. Cruz is armed with a vast array of weapons and the ability to learn new skills via absorbing monster souls. Every creature in the game can be copied except for the final boss and human enemies, and there are three types of monster souls that can be equipped: Bullet, Guardian, and Enchant. Bullet is like a magic spell, Guardian summons a creature to power you up, and Enchant boosts your stats passively. Some souls are more useful than others, as are some are harder to gain, so like Dragon Quest V it’s a grind, but one worth pursuing in order to get the most of what Dawn of Sorrow has to offer.
4 Dark Cloud 2
Similar to Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow’s soul absorption mechanics, Monica, one of Dark Cloud 2’s two protagonists, can transform into monsters. Monster badges can be obtained via buying them in shops or simply unlocking them via the story. There’s only twelve in the game, with each monster representing a type of class pattern, but it was a nice counter move for this sequel by focusing on just two party members with abilities to make it seem like they have more. Monica can turn into monsters, while Max has a robot he can pilot. It’s still gorgeous on PS2 thanks to the cel-shading, but it’s also available as a PS2 classic on PS4 with upgraded visuals and trophies too. It’s not easy, believe me, but it is very good.
3 Skylanders Imaginators
Technically this is a monster catching game in the realm of Pokémon Go, taking place in the real world except replace Pokémon on your phone for toys you have to buy in a store. Skylanders Imaginators is not my favorite Toys to Life game in the genre, with that love belonging to the canceled Disney Infinity series, but it is the best one in my opinion, if only for including Crash Bandicoot. I do respect what Toys for Bob and ActiVision started and I can definitely see the appeal of buying new toys to unlock new areas of the game corresponding to fighting and elemental types. It gets pretty expensive though. Imagine what Pokémon Red and Blue would have been like if you had to buy all 150 Pokémon. With that said, it’s not inconceivable since Amiibo are here to stay.
2 Nights of Azure
This is a pretty fun, although repetitive hack and slash game from Koei Tecmo. Our protagonist, Arnice, is a monster slayer trying to save the life of her friend, Lilysse, from being scarified to the Nightlord. It’s a basic action RPG, except you can summon creatures unlocked through cursed items by infusing blood into them. Arnice can have four monsters equipped to her at once, with them acting on their own unless you use one of the four-map buttons to activate their special skills. It gets pretty intense fast, there’s a certain amount of backtracking and grinding involved, and it looks like a PS3 game on PS4. However, if you like the Dynasty Warriors series, another fine Koei Tecmo series, and always wished for some form of monster assistance with them, then you can’t get much better.
1 World of Final Fantasy
The most recent game to ape the Pokémon series is also currently my favorite for myriad of reasons. The problem I have with most Pokémon games is that there are too many monsters and not enough reasons to switch out your team. Usually, once I get a good well-rounded set of creatures, I stop and grind from there. This Final Fantasy spinoff doesn’t have that many creatures to collect, first of all, and because each dungeon is themed around a certain element, it’s wise to switch around monsters frequently. There’s not one creature I didn’t try out for a good amount of time, not just in terms of strategy, but each monster has an ability board that will strengthen our heroes Lann and Reynn. The story may be a little convoluted, but I love it regardless. For fans of both Pokémon and Final Fantasy, this merger is the one to get.