Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX Review – This is Strangely Legal
Developed and published by Koei Tecmo Games
Available on Nintendo Switch, PC
I was always fascinated by the Monster Rancher series. It was just somehow always not the right time. Monster Rancher was one of those properties that popped up around the time that Pokemon was making it big. I was busy with Pokemon, or the vastly cooler Digimon, and later I was a teen and had more pressing matters than collecting and/or raising monsters. So I missed the Monster Rancher boat. I figured that Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX would be my redemption arc. I could give these titles the attention they deserved now that I’m a 32-year-old man who plays video games for a living.
So I started out with Monster Rancher, the original. The first thing that caught me was that most of the menus say “tap” instead of “press”. Further confusing me was the 4:3 screen bookended by pillars showing me controls. They were placed right where you might need them for a mobile game. I did a bit of digging, since to my knowledge, Monster Rancher never showed up on mobile. I was partially wrong. Monster Rancher 1&2 DX is hiding a bit of a nasty secret: they are direct ports of the 2019 Japanese Android and iOS releases. No changes have seemingly been made. You’re still asked to tap, the controls are in places where if you want to play with a mouse and keyboard? Well, piss in one hand and hope in the other and see which fills up first.
Now aside from the blatant porting issues, Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX isn’t bad. I looked past the fact that I was playing a 30 dollar upscaled mobile release and set out to become the best monster rancher in the world. You have two options for a monster: You can buy one from the market, or you can use a CD. See, in the early days of Monster Rancher, there was this fun thing you could do with the original PlayStation where you popped open the disc drive, pulled out Monster Rancher, and slammed in a CD of your choosing. The game would then produce a monster based on your album choice. It sounds insanely cool. These remakes don’t offer the same functionality for the 12 people out there that still have disk drives, but they’ve done their best to keep the spirit of it. There is a searchable database of albums and songs that you can pull from at will.
I assumed that the CD system would be pulling from albums released pre-1997; the same as the original. I put in “Spawn Original Soundtrack” because 1. It came out in 1997 or thereabouts and 2. I heard it gave you a cool monster. I learned two things after making my selection: 1. It did not have the Spawn Original Soundtrack and 2. It does not give you a cool monster. The folks over at Koei Tecmo have added a huge selection of music all the way up to today. In a later playthrough, I used the soundtrack for Pokemon Legends: Arceus – a game that is not even out. So my Spawn gambit failed and I ended up with a chubby rabbit that I named Roy. I try not to exaggerate when I say that Roy was useless.
In Monster Rancher Original, you open each day by picking what your monster will do. You have train, work, rest, item, etc. Roy was terrible at being trained. When you select the “work” option, you’re given a list of jobs that your monster can do to make a bit of cash and raise their stats… if they’re successful. Roy was almost never successful. These jobs play out very simply: You are given no control over the monster, and instead get to watch a small pixel-art animation of what they’re doing at the bottom of the screen. In Monster Rancher 2, jobs are replaced by “drills”, and they’re actually fully 3D modeled and kind of fun to watch. I watched Roy fail again and again until he died.
That’s right, no feinting like Pokemon. No hand-holding. If you don’t do the right thing, and even if you do the right thing, your monsters can die. It’s okay though because another monster is just an album name away. I’ve had a lot of monsters in my run through these two games. The most successful by far was a giant Egyptian-themed golem that I got from a My Chemical Romance album. Without My Chemical Romance, I wouldn’t have been able to beat the game. As you go through the weeks of training your monster you’ll be offered opportunities to participate in official and unofficial tournaments. They help make you money to keep feeding your monsters. In Monster Hunter 2, the tournaments actually provide skill gains upon completion.
One thing that has been added to make this collection a bit more friendly to the modern world is a fast-forward function. I just don’t know how it works. This collection is notorious for not telling you how anything works. How did I know how to train my monster? Googled it. How did I know which monsters could be summoned from which CDs? Googled it. How did I know how to check my monster’s stats and affinities? You guessed it; Googled it. Monster Rancher 1&2 DX are very bad at tutorials. In a way, that adds a bit of mystery to them. With the fast forward function, I know that there is an option in the options menu that says “FF”. I assume that means fast forward. I turned it on and noticed no difference. I’ve read online (Googled it) that it speeds up the game to modern levels. I frankly haven’t noticed. Honestly, I’d be far more comfortable if they took the “DX” off of the collection. It honestly doesn’t feel very deluxe. Does DX stand for deluxe?
The games in Monster Rancher 1&2 DX feel like throwbacks. They’re obviously not made for today. Koei Tecmo had an idea that some folks would buy these games on PC and Switch if they put them there. They were apparently right, because despite the port issues, non-functioning fast forward, absolutely snails-like pace, and blocky old PS1 graphics… They’re still really fun. They don’t have the pizazz of modern management games. I’m sure there’s an android game where you can raise monsters and it does everything better, but there’s some weird part of me that feels like I’m 10 years old again, sitting down with my clamshell game rental from the local Mega Movies. I don’t know if this collection will get you as good if you don’t remember this series. All I can say is it got me.