In the past, the whole training cycle served the purpose of preparing your monster for a series of regimented tournaments, which play a smaller role in EVO. Your monsters will still do plenty of fighting, though most of it will be in the adventure mode, which serves as a basic dungeon crawl through the areas surrounding each town you visit. You'll fight your way through wild monsters, pick up treasure chests, and take care of a variety of sundry quests for the people in town. Every time you best a wild monster, your monsters earn a little bit of anima, which is just fancy talk for the ever-present RPG convention of "experience." Anima points can be cashed in for new abilities or traits, making it a necessity since your monsters will start out their lives with a very limited number of attacks.
Up to three of your monsters can enter combat at once, regardless of the number of opponents you're facing, so there's definitely power in numbers. The combat is a familiar amalgamation of turn-based and real-time RPG combat. You can freely move your monsters forward and backward on the battlefield, and their relative distance from their opponents determines what kinds of attacks they can dish out. Performing an attack drains a shared pool of "guts," which is slowly but surely refilling itself as the fight progresses, so the speed at which your guts meter refills will determine the pacing of the fight. You can speed up the regeneration of your guts meter by arranging your monsters so that all three are lined up side by side. The fights definitely get a bit more interesting as you further develop your monsters' abilities, but they still tend to run a bit on the slow side, and even with the large, rotating cast of opponents you'll face, there's definitely monotony to the process. One of the interesting, persistent twists in past Monster Rancher games was deciding whether you would directly control your monster before it entered combat, or if you'd just let its training and fate decide the outcome, and it's something that has been sadly ironed out of EVO.
The aesthetic of the Monster Rancher series has gone from blocky and utilitarian to flamboyantly cartoonish over the years, and EVO deviates yet again, taking on a style that's one part Cirque du Soleil and one part Final Fantasy, a combination that is likely a first. Despite its modestly sized environments and some bland texturing, it does a decent job of setting a uniquely derivative tone, and it has the most fully realized world of any of the Monster Rancher games. For the work that went into refining the game's visual style, EVO still seems to rely on the same cheaply synthesized sound design that the series has been leaning on since the beginning, though this time around it's occasionally spiked with poorly pronounced English sound bites.
Scouring your media collection to see what sorts of monsters you can divine from it is still ultimately what makes Monster Rancher intriguing, not a limp cast of characters and a suite of peripheral tasks that distract from the fundamentals of monster husbandry. Rather than piling on additional, irrelevant features, Tecmo should be figuring out how to make the core disciplines of the series more accessible if that's how it really wants to see the Monster Rancher series evolve.