Back in the ’90s and early ’00s, Pokemon caused enough of a stir to spawn a seemingly endless tirade of imitators, clones, and weird off-brand monstrosities. Whether it was Medabots, Digimon, or heck, even Yu-Gi-Oh, it all seemed to stem from this desire to feed off the champ’s success.
One franchise that fits into this category, but is largely forgotten about, is Monster Rancher. I was a massive fan of Monster Rancher as a kid. There was this big evil dude who looked like a bipedal cow in armour called Moo, a freaky eyeball thing, and I shit you not, a horned wolf called Tiger. It was a hoot.
Despite this brief, yet bright obsession with Monster Rancher, I never played the games. Thankfully, Tecmo Koei has come to the rescue by porting Monster Rancher and Monster Rancher 2 in a DX package, to all modern consoles. Hoo boy, I wish they had stayed obscure and dead. They are not good.
Monster Rancher Is Back!
I’ll start with Monster Rancher. From what I understand, this game wasn’t widely available meaning this is probably the first time people have had the opportunity to play it. Out of the two games, this one is probably the worst – but not by much. You boot the game up, punch in your name and the game gets going and never stops.
I chipped in Toasty, and my life as a Monster Rancher began. Monster Rancher is entirely menu-based, and you can navigate between shops, shrines, your ranch, and do various things each week. You start by picking a monster who will be your companion unto death. Actual death too, none of this feinting nonsense.
You can either go to the market and choose a monster, or you can go to the shrine and use the rather cool CD summoning method. Back in the PS1 days, you could put in any CD you owned, and you would get a cool monster. Very reminiscent of the stone disks used in the anime. This system still exists, but you just have to type in the name of the CD and artist – which is fine.
At this point, I hadn’t developed a serious anaphylactic reaction to Monster Rancher. Naturally, I was pretty hyped to see that I summoned a speedo-wearing Zangief clone who could detach his limbs, form a fleshy hurricane, and use his disembodied appendages like a meaty dreidel. I named my new monstrosity and went home to raise him. This is where it all falls apart – and we are maybe 5 minutes into the experience.
Monster Rancher is, for all intents and purposes, a really bad Tamagotchi. You feed your monster, you give him a task, such as strength training, and you watch as he slowly gets better – or fails. If he fails, you can abuse your pet, and if he does something good, you can praise him to high heaven. You even get little sprite-based animations that show your monster doing whatever task you assigned.
Simply put, the core gameplay is tedious and woefully undercooked when it comes to explaining what you need to do, or what everything does. My guy had 160 strength, is that good? It sounded good, but his Skill was low. What did that mean? I have no idea. My monster failed every strength training exercise but managed to nail every skill-based one. There is a science here, somewhere.
Training is pretty damn important too, since not only does a very specific training regimen result in huge gains but also new monsters later down the line. Sometimes you have to feed them a very specific diet whilst performing certain tasks, sometimes you just need to starve them a bit. Trial and error gameplay at its worst. You’ll probably need a wiki if you want to seriously delve into Monster Rancher.
The goal is to force your monster to compete in a to the death coliseum-like duel with another monster so you, the player, can become the greatest rancher the world has ever known. The battle system is atrocious. You move your monster forwards or backwards, select a relevant ability based on range, and hope your accuracy doesn’t spontaneously drop from 80% to 10%.
Awful Combat System
I cannot express enough how underwhelming Monster Rancher’s combat system is. It feels awful to control, it looks terrible, and frankly, even the AI seems to struggle to understand what it needs to do. Considering this is the reason the game exists – this is why you are training and interacting with the games half-baked ideas, you’d think they’d make the battles somewhat playable.
That’s Monster Rancher in a nutshell. It’s an ugly, unexplained mess that culminates in an ugly, unexplained battle system. Thankfully, this collection has two games, and Monster Rancher 2 could fix all of the issues and end up being a refined and improved experience, right?
Wrong. Monster Rancher 2 is quite literally Monster Rancher, but with more stuff. Not better stuff. Never better stuff. Just more. If you put the two games side-by-side, you probably couldn’t tell they were different games, but trust me, Monster Rancher 2 is its own beast. The most substantial change is the number of monster types you have at your disposal.
Other changes include making the training sequences substantially worse by changing them from a simple two-second sprite animation to an unskippable, drawn-out, 3D rendered abomination. This slows the game right down and makes the whole ranching part of the game noticeably worse.
Keeps On Digging That Hole
Graphically, these games have not held up. I like old games and I am a sucker for a classic art style, but they need, well style. Monster Rancher and Monster Rancher 2 are just unpleasant to look at. The menus are basic, the character portraits are generic, and the monsters are mostly hideous. Not to mention the shocking number of recolours and reskins that plague the cast.
That’s all I have to say on Monster Rancher and Monster Rancher 2 as games, but as DX ports? These are underwhelming. There is nothing here. The games probably had some slight visual tweaks, but for the most part, these seem to be straight ports. No galleries, no special extras – nothing. Heck, you can’t even change between the two games at will – you need to close the whole thing down first.
Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX are the fibromyalgia of video games. At one point, this franchise may have given you joy. Then one day, you are met with an unexplained and excruciating pain that forcibly drags any affection you once had for the franchise from your psyche, leaving only emptiness and despair. These are two games that I regret putting time into – I feel robbed. From start to finish, they were a chore at best, and harrowing at worst.
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