Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Monster Rancher is one of those old games that really hits me right in the nostalgia. Back from the old era of the PS1, we got this nifty title gifted to us by our friends at Tecmo called “Monster Rancher”. Now here we are, with Monster Rancher 1 and 2 DX available as a nice little package on the Nintendo Switch, hopefully fulfilling that empty pocket of nostalgia or retro desire in your heart.
Both Monster Rancher titles play similar to each other, with mostly small balance adjustments or tweaks to certain aspects, so I will be discussing Monster Rancher 1 and 2 as a package deal here. In both games, you take the role of a newly inducted Monster Rancher, essentially what a Pokémon breeder would be if they actually trained their monsters in the more literal sense. You’re given an assistant, and off you go to get your first monster! You can pick one up either at the market or the shrine, and then your Ranching truly begins!
Taking your newly minted monster back home, you start up a training plan. Or, well, if you have any experience in the series you do. Newcomers will probably flail a bit until they find out what works. Your monster can do a series of different jobs, all of which affect their stats. The game takes place in year long periods where each week you can give your monster a different job/training task. There are also month long excursions to train certain stats as well, which may have your monster learn new skills or find items for you. Once you’ve trained up your monster a bit, it’s time to enter it into a tournament battle! You can choose either an official battle or unofficial, and while the main goal is to win all the official tournaments to increase your rancher rank, the unofficial battles will be a solid source of income.
So now you’ve trained your monster up, you’ve spent a number of in-game years with them, seen them grow and blossom into a creature of legend, you’re sitting at a B ranking, two steps from the top. Then you get an old age warning. Yup, that’s right, your monsters can grow old and die. So you take your beloved companion and take them to the lab to freeze them in cryogenic sleep. and then you start again, this time with more knowledge, a better training plan, more items! But for some reason, the stat growth just isn’t the same. Where you would earn 5 power and 4 Tec with your previous monster, now you’re earning 2 power and 6 Tec. But why? Well, it turns out each monster has their own stat gain modifier, so now you get to revamp your training selections in order to make your new monster blossom.
Once again though, you get that dreaded old age warning, so now you have two frozen monsters. But what’s this? You can combine them? For better starting stats? Yes please! And so off you go, once again training a new monster, and so is the Monster Rancher way. I’d like to take this moment to point out that Monster Rancher really gets you invested in your creatures. Unlike in Pokémon where you can just go out and catch a whole lot, level them, and then resign them to a box for a lifetime, in Monster Rancher you can only ever have one monster out at a time, although you can have a few frozen. If you also take into account how you manually train up your monster’s stats, you start to build a connection to your little buddy in a way I’ve never had in other games in the same vein.
Now, before I get into how the battles actually work, I’d like to bring attention to the most unique feature Monster Rancher had when it came out on the PS1: the Shrine will produce a Monster from other discs. Yes, that’s right, you could go to the Shrine, slap in a music CD, other PS1 game, heck, any CD really, and the game will produce a monster for you based on the CD. Some even had special monster types depending on what CD you put in! For instance, putting the Monster Rancher CD in for Monster Rancher 2 would give you a special typed creature. Unfortunately that system is no longer possible, although there is now a large database, where you can either pull from at random, or manually type in your CD info and see what pops up. Some of the old info still works (yes, I’ve tried it), while some may have been altered or adjusted for this release, but it’s still an interesting system nonetheless.
Once you’ve trained up your monster, it’s time to enter it in a battle competition! This is done through an interesting sort of minigame style combat. You can get up to 4 skills based on distance from the enemy, provided your monster has learned a skill to fill that distance slot, and you can get others to use as special attacks to replace the basic attacks. Each attack has a “Will” rating that’s required to attack, and your Will will regenerate slowly during battle. It’s an interesting struggle between trying to go for the big moves with a high Will requirement, or a bunch of smaller moves. If the combat isn’t really your thing, you can tell your monster to do what it wants, which NORMALLY works alright.
Monster Rancher is full of the little aspects that make you fall in love with it, from the cute animations of having your monster work, to the way the monsters can run away if they get too stressed out, fail a task, or not listen to you in battle if the loyalty is too low. There are also Monster types that you need to unlock, either through fusing a type first, or completing little mini side-quests. Monster Rancher isn’t without its faults, as it can be frustrating if your Monster fails too often, and in battles hit rates will probably be pretty low, so if the enemy gets a few lucky hits and you get nothing, it can be frustrating. Yes, I may have missed 5 times in a row on a 68% hit rate, and the enemy hit me 4 times on a 20% hit rate. No, I’m not salty about that. Shut up. Monster Rancher 1 and 2 also haven’t really been improved a whole lot since their initial release. I really would have liked to see a bit more improvement for this release, but I am still glad I can play these games again after losing my discs so long ago.
Overall, Monster Rancher 1 and 2 DX is a great package with a bunch of nostalgia. While the disc system isn’t really intact anymore, it does still provide a large range of options and a bunch of creature combinations. Monster Rancher is a series that you really feel yourself getting invested in, whether it be the ranching, the battling, or even just watching the animations.
Monster Rancher is easy to pick up, put down, and really starts to take off when you start experimenting with different ways to customize your monsters. If you have any nostalgia for the titles, or are looking for something a little more old-school, Monster Rancher will be sure to pique your curiosity.Score: 8 / 10