It’s been a good decade since this series saw the light of day, so I was surprised to see Koei Tecmo resurrect it seemingly from nowhere. They may not be full-on remasters, but an enhanced port available on modern platforms is more than we have already.
Okay, so while I may have been familiar with this series – I never actually played any of the original games, this would be my first crack at it. And I gotta say, I went in expecting something like Digimon or Pokémon (two games this franchise gets compared to A LOT), but got something completely different. It’s much less a full-on adventure RPG and more so a life simulator RPG.
The vast majority of the gameplay is done through menus, where you will be directing training for your monsters, managing a small inventory of goods, and coming up with more monsters. Coming up with a new monster at the shrine is perhaps what this game is best known for. Back in the day, you would have to physically insert music CDs into your PlayStation and hope that the game’s mystery algorithm would spawn a powerful monster from it.
Because most people don’t have optical drives nowadays, the new method is simply looking up an album by name and artist – no need to have the actual album beforehand. I think this is a good workaround to maintain what made the original games unique, but adapting for modern platforms. It’s always fun to go through your favorite albums and see what monsters spawn from them – my first monster, for example, was a small pixie spawned from Rick Astley’s piano rendition of “Never Gonna GIve You Up”. I wouldn’t recommend doing the same because that monster was some hot garbage and I struggled to get into the game until I got to my second monster, but it was a fun time regardless.
Anyways, each in-game week acts as a “turn” of sorts, where you give your monster one instruction and pray that it succeeds in doing so – because each monster has its own personality and will sometimes fail or shortcut training. Each time it does succeed though, its stats go up – and that’s basically what these two games revolve around.
You will spend hours clicking through training menus and getting these monsters ready for battle, oftentimes repeating the same set of inputs over and over while you wait for your monster to reach a certain stat level. There is stuff to break up this monotony, but I would be lying if I said that the core loop wasn’t tedious – there’s practically no argument against it.
The point of all of this is to win battles, which are NOT menu-based and actually take place in real-time. They’re simple mechanically, but play out VERY fast and you’ll need to know what you’re doing to clear them. Again, there’s a lot of repetition involved because you will be going through a lot of these battles, but seeing training pay off and having your monster one-shot another with a single slap is always satisfying.
What really saves the game though is its complexity. Because despite these seemingly simple training exercises and battles, there is a lot going on under the hood here. Stress levels, loyalty, stat gain modifiers, monster type combinations, lifespans, unique techniques – I could go on. To give an example: In Monster Rancher 1, I settled on the goal of creating a Stone Ape.
Well, I didn’t know at the time that that would be quite the journey. First, I had to get a monster to C-class by winning a D-class tournament. Then, during the 2nd week of July, an NPC would come to my ranch and ask to go on an expedition. Once accepted, you and your monster head out and you need to find a specific shrine on this expedition map that has the POSSIBILITY of containing a magic banana – the item you need to spawn an Ape.
Fortunately, I had trained a monster to a high intelligence stat beforehand and this only took me three attempts to find. Once found though, I had to separately raise two monsters in such a way that their nature became “spoiled” – easily achieved by feeding them a lot and letting them sleep. Combining two spoiled monsters with the magic banana results in an ape – at which point you can then combine the ape with a golem for a small CHANCE of getting a stone ape. This took a ton of separate save reloads, but after some hours – I had my Stone Ape, which I promptly named Stone Monke.
This process was both a pain and a testament to what makes this game unique – it’s not all just menus, training, and battles. And honestly, I kinda liked it. It is repetitive for sure, but it’s charming in its own way and the hours flew by while I was playing. It is definitely not something I can see myself powering through to the end, but spread out over some months and yeah – I’ll probably end up completing both of these provided I don’t get distracted and spend hours chasing a specific monster like my Stone Ape – but I guess that’s just part of the fun.
Okay, so that’s the gameplay. Story-wise? Well, there’s nothing there. This is one of those games where the story is but a mere handful of lines scattered throughout, nothing to really note there.
Graphically, well, both were originally PlayStation 1 games and that kinda reflects here. Koei Tecmo didn’t give them the full remaster treatment, but they are at least upscaled and display properly at modern resolutions – it ran fine and looked fine on my 1440p monitor.
The PC version comes with a launcher where you can adjust a grand total of three settings: fullscreen toggle, window resolution, and controls. It’s a bare-minimum port, but that’s par for the course from Koei Tecmo. It at least works though – in my many hours of playing all I had was one crash (there is an auto-save though so I didn’t lose any progress).
Controls are also surprisingly good. I didn’t change any of the defaults and had no issues swapping between controller and keyboard/mouse, depending on what I was feeling at the time. The game has full mouse support and can actually be played entirely using just that – no keyboard necessary. That’s because I believe these two ports are based on the iOS, Android, and Switch versions released in Japan last year, where touch controls were a must. That and the tutorials in the games themselves say things like “touch here” or “touch this”, so it’s kinda obvious.
For someone that has never played the series before, Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX is a nice package to have. It ports both titles to modern platforms, enhances their visuals and playability a bit, and stays true to the disc-swapping mechanic of the original with its own unique interpretation. The gameplay is tedious at times, but I managed to already dump hours into it despite that, leveling up my monsters and getting sidetracked by other objectives like trying to spawn a specific monster. It’s not an easy recommendation to make, but it’s one I might throw out there if you like monster collecting games.
Quote: Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX is a nice package to have. It ports both to modern platforms, enhances their visuals, and stays true to the disc-swapping mechanic of the original with its own unique version.
Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX retails for $30 USD on Steam. It is also available on Switch.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.