Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX Review: Hello Fellow Kids

Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX Review

Overview

Decades ago Pokemon may have ruled the schoolyard roost as the king of pocket monsters, but it was far from the only one. Just because something is popular, doesn’t always mean it’s the best. It usually just means it has the best marketing. There were plenty of monster-raising gems, and the Monster Rancher games were one of them.

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They had you focus on one monster at a time to train up for various tournaments. But the most unique aspect was how you obtained those monsters. It was incredibly innovative for a game released in 1997.

A monster rancher Suezo battles a Golem.
I prefer my monsters on a ranch instead of my in my pocket.

You didn’t catch them, or raise them from Digi-Eggs. You got them from real-life CDs. Half the fun was scrambling around the house looking for new ones to use or trading with friends.

Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX are a rerelease of the two earliest Monster Rancher games, and a few systems had to be revamped. Plenty of PC gamers don’t even have CD drives these days. But beyond that, they are largely the same games. That can be a blessing and a curse.

Gideon’s BiasMonster Rancher Information
Review Copy Used: YesPublisher: Koei Tecmo
Hours Played: 10+Type: Remaster
Reviewed on: PCPlatforms: PC, Switch, Mobile
Fan of Genre: YesGenre: Moster Raising Sim
Mode Played: N/APrice: $29.99

Gameplay

The Monster Rancher series is very dear to my heart, and I’ve always hoped I’d see them again in some form. Monster Rancher DX is a massive nostalgia hit since I can relive an old childhood favorite that’s been lost to me for years.

The game itself has been adapted to be playable on various platforms, but they are practically untouched. That makes them a very valuable blast from the past for old fans like myself.

Instead of CDs, you can browse a surprisingly comprehensive list of songs to acquire monsters from. It definitely doesn’t have the same charm as getting them from real CDs. There used to be exciting anticipation to see what monster might be awakened from specific CDs, and that aspect simply could not be recreated. All the CDs you could want are at your fingertips

The system is perfectly functional to experience the rest of the game. Both Monster Rancher 1 and 2 are very similar, so most of what I say applies to both. Monster Rancher 2 is the better game, but the first one has a lot of charm that its sequel is missing.

A cute animation of Suezo catching a burglar.
The animations in Monster Rancher 1 are adorable!

In both games, you raise monsters, one at a time on a ranch. You train them for battle, decide on their diet, and give them praise or punishment for their actions.

In the first game, you are greeted with cute little animations of your monster’s training and jobs. While in the second game, you see what they are doing in more detail. But the uniqueness of their actions is lost because animating all the monsters would have been far more time-consuming and costly compared to the first game’s abstracted detail.

Your monsters have a lifespan that can be lengthened or shortened depending on how you raise them. You can, however, freeze a monster before it dies and combine it with another frozen monster for new potential results. That always was a lot of fun, and it still is.

Once in combat, you can give orders to your monster, or let them fight on their own. Both are viable, and I’ve always preferred the latter for a more thematic feeling of being the trainer, not the monster. That said, a monster that’s knocked out can be injured, and you can’t forfeit if you let them fight alone. So it’s a risk.

A stone Tiger battles a plant Suezo in Monster rancher 2
Monster Rancher 2 is an overall more refined game

Eventually, as your monster becomes more famous, you will be able to go out and explore ruins for a small adventure-style exploration mini-game. It’s every bit as charming as I remember, and it’s a delight to watch your monster slowly grow, and win tournaments. It’s sad when they die and thrilling when you’re combining two of them into a new one.

Monster Rancher is entertaining despite its age, but if I take my nostalgia glasses off. I have to admit that it didn’t that age gracefully.

Both the combat and monster raising systems are exceptionally simple. The difference between most monster attacks is usually just how much guts it costs to use and how much damage it does. Status Ailments are rare and aren’t connected to abilities.

Combat is simply waddling back and forth. Hitting attack buttons when your monster’s guts are high. Guts take the role of their energy or mana. The lack of variety between attacks largely kills any kind of strategy. Combat is mostly decided by who has higher stats and little else.

A tigers training fighting sharks on a from a raft.
Shark-infested waters are a totally healthy way to train your monster. I swear!

A monster’s species is just window dressing as it’s only the stats that matter. Their species just dictate where they start on the scale. Hares are fast with higher speed, while Golems are slow with more defense, for example.

Both Monster Rancher games also feature a female assistant whose qualifications outmatch yours in every way. But you are the breeder, and they exist solely to help you without being breeders themselves for no discernable reason. It’s probably innocent, giving kids companions back then was normal, and still is. But its implementation does feel out of place today.

Verdict

There’s nothing truly wrong with Monster Rancher’s mechanical design. It’s just a product of its time and that time is over 20 years ago. It simply can’t match today’s standards, but it isn’t meant to either.

Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX are love letters for fans like me that grew up with the series. I absolutely love that it exists, and I will cherish having access to it. I just don’t think it’s going to be able to convert newcomers, especially without the CD gimmick. Even worse, I feel like it may turn them off due to its shallow nature.

The Monster Rancher stat screen.
Stats are what matters.

It’s a faithful remaster that will send old school fans on a serious nostalgia high without tainting your memories of it, and that’s fantastic. Newcomers might not be swept off their feet and its gift of pleasant memories may only work out for fans of the classics. But that’s okay, we’ve been waiting a really long time.

My Perspective

I’m ecstatic that Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX is a thing that exists on my computer. I’d given up ever seeing it again, and I’m incredibly happy that I can play them now.

I can also acknowledge that excitement stems purely from playing the game in my childhood. It’s not going to impress anyone without having a preexisting emotional attachment. That said, I’d love to see the fan base grow, so I sincerely hope this is the first step into a Monster Rancher resurgence.

The idea of a next-generation, modernized Monster Rancher game makes me incredibly giddy. I hope that enough fans pick this up to make that a possibility. I think there’s room right now for a solid monster-raising game that isn’t Pokemon, and I’d love to see Monster Rancher fill the space.

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Pros

  • A faithful remaster of the originals
  • The animations are incredibly charming
  • An impressive library of music to pull monsters from

Cons

  • The music library doesn’t have the same charm as pulling monsters from CDs.
  • Monster Rancher didn’t age well and is pretty shallow.

Who Would Like Monster Rancher?

  • Fans of the original Monster Rancher Games are in for a treat.
  • If you can appreciate old gamesfor what they were, you may be ableto see why it had a cult following.
  • If you want a simple monster raisinggame you can play while multitasking,Monster Rancher DX would be a good fit.

Who Wouldn’t Like Monster Rancher?

  • It’s a fan service release, so if youhave no attachment to the originalsyou may have a harder time gettinginvested.
  • It’s a faithful remake, the graphicsare crisp but very dated. Ifgraphics are important to you, Monster Rancher looks like a 20 year-old game