Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX
Review by: Paul Acevedo
Back in the 1990s and early 2000s when Pokemania was running rampant, Nintendo’s Pokemon series faced competition from Bandai’s Digimon and Tecmo’s Monster Rancher games. Digimon has stuck around all these years, but Monster Rancher hasn’t seen a new console release since Monster Rancher DS. Perhaps it’s time for a comeback, seeing as how Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX has just arrived on Nintendo Switch and Steam.
The big difference between Monster Rancher and Pokemon/Digimon is that Monster Rancher isn’t an RPG; it’s a simulation/breeding game. At the outset of each game, players will name their trainer and then be given an assistant. The assistant, like all NPCs, is represented by cute anime-style portraits when speaking. Players must then recruit a monster either from the market or shrine. The market sells a few basic monsters, but the shrine is where this series gets interesting.
Long ago in the world of Monster Rancher, an angry god trapped countless monsters inside of magical disc stones. By taking these stones to a shrine, humans can release monsters to keep as pets. The original Monster Rancher games read actual audio CDs and then generated monsters based on each disc’s unique data. The Nintendo Switch doesn’t have a disc drive, so instead, this collection (regardless of platform) uses a searchable database for monster generation.
Searching for an artist will either bring up a list of that artist’s albums (each one capable of summoning a different creature) or fail to find results. My casual searches for bands like Bad Religion did not produce results, but the Legend Cup website lets users select a monster and then see a list of albums that will generate that monster. You can also select the Random option to be given a random album that will then generate a unique creature. The database could certainly use more artists; it’s frustrating to search for favorite bands only to get no hits. Still, generating monsters randomly or from albums listed on Legend Cup manages to be enjoyable and unique despite the game’s limitations.
Having acquired a monster, players must then train and care for it from week to week. All non-battle interactions take place via menus. Training consists of various short-term drill and jobs that boost specific stats, as well as long-term trips that provide big stat gains at the expense of 4 weeks of in-game time and the monster’s energy. Battles, which primarily take place during scheduled weeks of the in-game calendar, are simple but dramatic, providing a welcome dose of excitement between all the training and management.
Monster Rancher 1 and 2 DX offers mildly enhanced ports of the original PSOne games. These games don’t look visually improved to my eyes – the intro FMVs are grainy 1:33 videos and the polygonal graphics are quite rudimentary by Switch standards. Enhancements include an optional remixed soundtrack, optional faster game speed (which you’ll want to leave on), additional slots for saves and monster storage, and 27 new monsters.
High-level success will require a lot of research outside of the game. The in-game help text is enough to get players started, but not much else. A pair of hardcore cutesy monster breeding games with dated graphics won’t be for everyone. Still, the depth of the gameplay and variety of monsters contained herein will enthrall a certain kind of gamer – like me!
Our Rating: 4 out of 5