During the ’90s there were many unique video game ideas that came to market but perhaps one of the most unique relied not on just the player’s skill to play, but also their CD and game collection as well. Koei Tecmo’s Monster Rancher series originally debuted in 1997 and brought a unique take on monster raising and combat to the platform. The series saw quite a bit of success but eventually faded away with its last console release fifteen years ago. Now what better way to celebrate the series’ upcoming 25th anniversary than to bring the original two games to new platforms. With Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX arriving on the Switch and offering a handful of improvements, is this classic a worthwhile nostalgia trip or perhaps a first try for those who never had a chance before?
Long ago god created creatures to help humanity but left unchecked, these beings became problems of their own. As such they were sealed away inside discs and instead given to humans as monsters that could be summoned and raised, with monster trainers becoming the most popular proffession in the world. Now, for the most part, that is the only real storyline that Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX has as both experiences are kept fairly simplistic with players beginning as a fresh faced monster trainer who has been assigned an assistant, with the first game being Holly in the FIMBA region and the second being Coltia in the IMA region.
There are some small little developments that occur as players train their monsters and raise up the ranks in both games though, in the first release this is once again kept to a minimum and focused solely on upgrading the ranch while the second game does feature a few little developments here and there as well as the ability to unlock a special encounter from time to time. It is worth noting that the English translation for the game does still appear to be a bit rough around the edges to the point that it doesn’t appear to have been updated from the original release.
As mentioned before, one of the key aspects that always set Monster Rancher apart was the fact that players could use their very own CDs to summon monsters into the game. This would involve going to the shrine, opening the PlayStation and generating a monster from that disc and seeing just what type of creature would be contained on your favorite CD. These could be anything from music CDs to other PlayStation games and it would always be a fun time creating a list of what CDs may have held your favorite creature type. Obviously since there is no way to put a CD into the Switch, Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX both have to make use of an alternate summoning system.
Now players will still enter the shrine and instead be prompted to search for a CD by either entering in a title or the artist and pulling up every CD included in the game’s database and choosing from one of these to summon. Similar to the original, these can be soundtracks, band CDs, and PlayStation games as well but it is worth noting that while many popular artists and games are included, there is a surprising number of popular artists and games from the time period missing entirely from the database which is a bit disappointing.
It is also worth noting that in both games players will often run into an issue where a CD will contain a monster that the player has not unlocked the ability to use yet. These monsters in Monster Rancher 1 are generally unlocked through gathering specific items and fusing specific monsters together with said item while Monster Rancher 2, with far more monster breeds available, has a variety of ways to unlock monsters. The problem here is that when a monster players cannot use is held within a CD they are immediately kicked to the town rather than given the ability to summon once again which is a bit annoying when trying to find a specific monster type.
Once players have a monster to raise they will be partaking in the unchanged task of raising their monster to be the best it can be all while trying to make sure that it doesn’t fall ill, run away, or suffer an early death from mistreatment. The player’s core goal for monster training is to make their way to the highest possible rank and win the four signature tournaments that are held every year. This is done through taking part in training to increase a monster’s stats such as power, intelligence, speed, etc. through small drills, four week long costly training sessions that can teach a monster new attacks, and in Monster Rancher 2 the fights themselves.
For the most part training a monster remains mostly the same between both Monster Rancher 1 and 2 though the first release is a bit more simplistic as a monsters’ lifespan isn’t usually affected by how it is raised while Monster Rancher 2 does factor in various elements such as stress due to repeated training or high levels of exhaustion. As such players will always need to find a way to balance training and rest while also making sure to partake in tournaments when they can to both earn money and increase in rank should the player choose.
In battles players will find that things are a bit more hectic and also unfortunately a little too randomized at times. Players will be slotted into a tournament and face down other monsters where they will be able to give the one they are raising orders to use various attacks, requiring regenerating “Will” depending on how far or close they are to their foe. When a monster has low loyalty it may ignore the player’s order and be easier to hit so a monster that is raised right is a far better fighter, though even this is a bit of a risk. This is because every attack has a certain hit percentage depending on the monster’s skill and the enemy’s speed but there have been many times when almost sure hits turn out to be misses and an enemy’s attack with less than five percent slams into your monster.
This does mean that players should be prepared to save often and that is one element that has been improved. Each game now offers twenty different save slots so players have plenty of room to experiment or rotate saves as well as additional spots to freeze monsters and store them for later or use them to fuse together with another and create a new monster that can inherit abilities from both. Another nice quality of life improvement was the addition of a fast-forward option that speeds the game up a bit, allowing for faster progression once the player gets the hang of things.
Alongside training and battling players will also be eventually offered to go on expeditions that generally feature many items, including some that unlock new monster breeds, to be obtained. It is worth noting though that, unless the player is already familiar with many of the game’s mechanics, there is only a minimal tutorial offered for the game’s various elements so some finer points of monster raising and elements of expeditions can be missed easily for newcomers.
Visuals & Audio
Both games in Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX appear to have been given a bit of a touch-up with most character models being smoothed out and looking rather decent on the Switch despite their age and the character portraits for the NPCs are still as solid looking as ever. It is worth noting that many expedition maps are a bit basic looking in the first game though this has been fixed in the second game. On the flip side the cute sprites of monster training in the first game are generally nicer looking than the choice to feature training with 3D models in the second.
As far as the soundtrack goes both games feature the same music that fans will remember and it is nice to note that Monster Rancher 2 does offer an enhanced version of the original music, though the classic version can still be selected should the player choose.
Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX may have some niggling issues that remain from their time on the PlayStation but the charm and enjoyment of raising monsters created from your favorite CDs remains as strong as ever. With many different monster breeds to raise across both games, including plenty of combinations for fusion, there is plenty to love here and with a variety of quality of life features this is easily the best way to take a trip down memory lane for this unique pair of games from a long silent series.
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