Oh Wow, It Is A Ranch!
HIGH Summoning and raising monsters exactly how I want.
LOW Not being able to hit an opponent repeatedly during battle.
WTF What is a ‘Suezo’?
The monster collecting subgenre has been a sturdy pillar of RPGs (and videogames as a whole) for a few decades now. When asked, I’d guess most people would think of the behemoth that is Pokémon, or the long-running Shin Megami Tensei series, but several other franchises have existed in the space. One of these is Monster Rancher. While it hasn’t seen as much love as the others in recent years, it was quite popular during its heyday and spawned several sequels, spinoffs, a mountain of merchandise and even a cartoon series that aired internationally.
Now, for its 25th anniversary, it has received a remaster of its first two installments.
The gist of Monster Rancher is that players will amass a stable of various monsters and train them on a weekly basis, increasing their stats and preparing them for ever-tougher battles. However, for those unfamiliar with the series, it’s perhaps important to note that when the game originally debuted in 1997, it had an absolutely killer gimmick — players could insert any kind of CD into their PS One (although it was designed with music CDs in mind) and the game would read the disc’s data and use it to generate a monster the player could use in battle. Even better, special and powerful monsters were often linked to specific albums — INXS’ Kick would generate a soccer-themed beast, for example.
However, with many modern PCs and the Switch not having the capacity to read CDs (not to mention that the discs aren’t nearly as common in homes as they were back then) the solution is that the devs have added a large catalog of both older and more contemporary music and albums into the game itself and players can simply search the included database to summon monsters at their leisure. While this may not have the ‘magic’ of discovering what creatures were hidden in household CDs, I think this was ultimately the best and simplest solution to offer options and playability to a modern audience.
I started by picking up a basic monster from the market to get a feel for things, and there are three beginning options — a Dino, Wolf, or a Suezo. I of course picked Suezo — a floating eyeball with a mouth and tail — which served me well for a little while.
After getting my feet wet, I decided to experiment with the catalog and fusion system. I tried to limit myself to CDs and music I actually owned and was interested to find that some of my CDs (such as 10,000 Days by Tool) hosted powerful monsters that I was not able to summon at my current rank/status at the time. I ended up summoning several interesting monsters, including a feisty rabbit and a literal wall featuring a blue sky and clouds, but my favorite was the lava monster I made by combining a few others I had already summoned. It looked like a partially-melted person made of molten rock, and I named it ‘Bruh.’
My next question was “what do I do with these magical faux-CD-spawned monsters?” Both Monster Rancher 1 and 2 play out very similarly, and are largely divided into two segments — raising and battling.
Raising monsters is an area where the player is given a large amount of menu-based control over a monster’s development. A standard in-game week will involve picking a job/task for the monster. Each job increases one or two battle-relevant stats of the monster at the cost of fatigue. To counter buildup of fatigue which can lead to stress, poor battle results, and even an early death of the monster, the player can also choose to give their monster a week of rest.
Beyond these weekly jobs, players can refine the diet of their monster and get items to further reduce stress or raise stats. Other options include sending the monster on a four-week ‘mission’ which can be expensive but will raise a specific stat by a considerable amount and can also result in secret items being uncovered.
I mostly gave Bruh a decent diet of fish and trained it as a physical fighter, focusing on Strength, Life, and Defense to give him stamina and power. I also sent it on numerous missions which usually gave items, but also always ended in it getting lost, which is probably my fault for continuing to do it after the first four times it happened.
The large amount of time spent raising the monsters pays off in battles. Opportunities for fights generally come in the form of tournaments which are divided by rank — E through S — and vary in terms of rewards and availability, only coming at certain times each year. Each tournament consists of four to eight monsters, and whoever ends up with the most victories wins the grand prize.
Battles are one-on-one bouts in a 3D arena, although movement is only in 2D. Monsters can be controlled by the player or allowed to act on their own. In either case, monsters can move back and forth on a 2D plane, much like in a standard arcade fighting game. However, the importance of distance between opponents is amplified because the attacks a monster can perform are determined by the distance between the two. For example, if the monster is far from its adversary, it will perform a long-ranged attack (assuming it has one), but if the monsters are close together, then that distance attack is unavailable, and it will perform a melee attack instead.
I focused on Strength for Bruh because it came with a great physical-based melee move in “Slap,” which single-handedly secured many victories in tournaments with excellent accuracy and decent power. However, this focus left its ranged “Spit” attack all but useless in later tournaments when facing stronger opponents.
“Loyalty” is also a factor, and has great sway in how accurate and obedient a monster will be. Poor loyalty can turn some matches into slogs, with the player stuck watching monsters take turns whiffing attacks while being right next to each other. I lost one particular battle due to my monster missing five attacks in a row…
Monsters can also have charming or humorous reactions to mistakes. For example, when Bruh was unsuccessful in performing a move he would shapeshift into a question mark, which made it hard to be too upset with him, but did not prevent me from scolding him after losses (which is an actual action that can be performed.)
While this is my first time playing a Monster Rancher, veterans of the series will be interested to know that the remasters of both MR1 & 2 offer double the monster storage, a ‘high-speed mode’ to help shorten how long it takes to raise monsters, and a training record to keep track of what has been done with the monster. Monster Rancher 2 specifically offers a newly-scored background soundtrack and over two dozen additional monsters.
While I found some frustration on my ranch, there’s no doubt that these Monster Rancher games offer a unique experience that I’ve never seen replicated anywhere else, and this DX release is clearly the definitive way to experience these forgotten classics.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Koei Tecmo Games. This game is available on PC, Switch, iOS and Android. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 20 hours of play was devoted to the single-player modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Teen and contains Drug References, Fantasy Violence, Language, and Suggestive Themes. The official description reads as follows: This is a collection of two simulation games in which players assume the role of an owner of a monster farm. Players increase their monsters’ abilities via training, feeding, and exploration in order to compete in a monster tournament. Monsters engage in one-on-one matches, performing attack moves (e.g., Punch, Machine Gun, Telekinesis) until a winner emerges. These encounters are accompanied by smacking/zapping sounds, realistic gunfire, and light bursts. Some humanoid monsters are designed with deep cleavage, jiggling breasts, and partially exposed buttocks. During the course of the game, players can obtain monsters by keying in words, some of which are randomly generated; these words sometimes pertain to drugs (e.g., “Drug Dealer,” Harsh Drugs & BDSM,” “How to get high without drugs”). The words “d*ck,” “b*tch,” and “bastard” also appear in the game.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The text is not able to be altered or resized. (See examples above.) This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The ‘A’ button is used for selection in menus and performing attacks in battles, and the joystick or d-pad is used for navigation generally and movement in battle.