- Developer: KOEI TECMO AMERICA
- Publisher: KOEI TECMO AMERICA
- Release Date: 9/12/2021
- Price: £24.99 / $29.99
- Review copy provided by KOEI TECMO AMERICA
Introducing: Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX Review
Are you too old for Pokemon? Are you too cool for Digimon? Did you completely forget about Viva Pinata? Then let me introduce you to Monster Rancher, or Monster Farmer depending on where you’re from. Like the other titles mentioned, the main gist of Monster Rancher is raising and battling monsters. Sounds really cool, right? And in 1997, it was! But, how does it hold up in 2022? Throw on those nostalgia glasses and let’s take a look!
Rose Colored Glasses
For most of this review, I’m going to roll the two games into a single review. There is very little difference between the two save for the improvements made to part 2, and we’ll discuss those a little later. The premise is simple, you’re a Monster Rancher. You get a companion who will help you out and offer suggestions and, of course, everyone you meet will explain their function in the world. Your first order of business is getting your assistant and your first monster. Your assistant is pretty much assigned to you, but since she’s basically the in-game help, any choice really doesn’t matter. Once you get settled, you head to the Shrine to get your first monster. The gimmick to the game used to be that you could stick a CD into your Playstation and the game would “generate” a monster based on that CD. Obviously, that needed to be retooled due to the lack of CD readers on the Switch, or on mobile phones (one of the other markets this title was released to). Instead, you can go on the internet and look up a database of possibilities and choose one. Only, you can’t just choose any one you want. A lot of these monsters are locked behind getting better at the game and you won’t have access to them when you start off.
But, what happens if you don’t have access to these user-generated databases? Worry not. The Shrine allows you to randomly generate one of the titles and artists it knows and you can make a monster from that. Only, not. I mean it does work, but it will take a lot of time generating different CDs before you get one that will actually work for you as a starter. I spent WAY too long trying to get it to give me a monster that wasn’t awful, but I either continually ran into the error telling me I couldn’t use the code entered, or better yet, giving me an absolute travesty of a monster. Spoiler alert: Most of them are absolute travesties.
Back In My Day
Once you have your beloved monster, you’re ready to wander the lands, battling and training until you become the best there is! Only, again, not. The basic gameplay loop in the game is to go to this menu, watch a scene, go to another menu, watch a scene, go to a final menu, and time passes. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’m not kidding when I say that modern-day Tamagotchi has more depth than Monster Rancher games. There is an active battle system, but as this port of the game is literally the mobile port, the controls are designed to be used with a touch screen – a feature completely absent in the Switch version! The mind doth boggle. So, the best option is to allow the beasties to battle it out unassisted, in which case you watch the clunky graphics dance around the screen with all the excitement of paint drying.
Improving your monster is painfully slow and in a game that is already testing my patience, this is not a way to alleviate that. Sure, most video games boil down to numbers being subtracted and added, but in Monster Rancher you are actually adding and subtracting stat numbers to make your monster better. Each training session can raise or lower one stat as well as your fatigue, and that’s the depth of it. Rest if tired. Add or subtract if not. Battle when the chance arises. Again, it is very easy to see how this was compelling in the late 90s, but in the current climate of gaming, this was an uphill struggle every time I booted it up.
When We Were Young
I take no joy in kicking a man when he’s down. Graphics in 1997 were not great. Sure, at the time they were mind-bending, but we’ve all grown up a lot in that time. So have video games. I absolutely understand and respect the Video Game Preservation movement and understand its importance, but in the golden age of Remakes, Remasters, and Reboots, Monster Rancher is , frankly, an eyesore. The printed text is easy enough to read because of the recent upgrade to mobile. But the few times you actually have to read the compressed JPG on-screen really show how far we’ve come. Part of the DX Upgrade is adding almost 30 new monsters to the second game and offering a newer version of the background music. Every little bit helps, but nothing short of starting over is going to make these tunes memorable for me. In the improvements column, I will give them the fact that the game loads quickly and I never found any crashes or bugs. So, I guess it’s not a complete dumpster fire.
To be very honest I had of spending time with the game when I was younger, and went into it on 100% nostalgia, but, as with some other recent “retro” titles, the realization that I have grown past these games can’t be denied. I no longer have the desire to fill in the world around me with my imagination, that’s what I’m paying the game companies to do for me. That’s why I game. I want someone to take me on a journey outside of my own and allow me to get caught up in it. Every single drop of that in my memories of this game were things I made up in my head. They are the gaps I filled in as my younger brain spun out of this fantastical framework, but coming back to it 30 years later, there’s nothing here for me anymore. It was on par with playing with a calculator, and not even a cool graphing one. I wanted to go back, I wanted to raise my monsters and battle it out to be the best, but where we are these days, I have a good 15 titles that facilitate that fantasy far better than anything on offer here. I’d love to see Monster Rancher make a comeback. I’d love to see them retool what made the game exciting and update it to a modern game. I can want all day long, but that’s simply not what we got here. It may not be the bug-ridden mess that the recent GTA remaster is, but it feels every bit the cash grab. The price just does not match what’s actually on offer.
- Fast load times
- No bugs
- Pretty much everything else