Maybe it’s just me, but the late 1990s and early 2000s felt like a frontier of new and exciting technologies. The Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak, for instance! Imagine! You could feel the game physically through your controller! This was a video game physically affecting the real world! It was mind-blowing. The disc-based consoles were no slouches either, though, offering expansive adventures packed onto multiple gigantic CDs. Some games even did things that were a little more nuts – take Monster Rancher, for instance, which took those CDs and did something crazy with them.
You want to raise a champion battler with the power of Eminem? Monster Rancher allowed you to do that. Now you can do it all over again with Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX, a modern port of Tecmo’s classic ranching adventure.
You’re going to run a ranch and raise monsters! Think of it like Pokémon but with a strong focus on one critter instead of a team. You need to manage your ranch’s finances, keep your monster fed, train it up to increase its stats and enter battle tournaments to keep yourself in the black. As you become more advanced as a rancher, you’ll also want to send your monster to Errantry adventures where it can learn new moves and find rare items. Unlike Pokémon, monsters can and do pass away in Monster Rancher, so making the most out of your monster’s limited lifespan is a vital part of preparing for your next creature.
As for combat, it’s a little more hands-off than in Pokémon. Battles are one on one, with your monster and the opponent facing off in a 2D arena. Different monster attacks can be used at different ranges; you’ll regenerate Guts throughout the fight and spend it on using attacks. The biggest quirk here is a monster’s tendency to engage in Foolery, which occurs if you haven’t been disciplined in training the beast – it’s important to keep on top of this, lest your battler throw an important fight.
It’s time to drop a little bit of truth on you, though: none of the above is the selling point here. Sure, raising monsters is great! It’s fantastic that you can fight them! Going on adventures in distant lands? I’ll take three! However, the really big feature here has always been the ways in which you obtain new monsters.
See, back in the day we used these round platter things called “compact discs”, or CDs, to listen to music and install computer data. Trust me, they were pretty magical back in the day. We’ve moved away from those, largely on account of the limited amount of information they could contain and also because they were pretty fragile, but when Monster Rancher was a new series you’d have had tons of them. Monster Rancher allowed you to put pretty much any CD into the PlayStation’s disc drive, which it would then use to generate a monster unique to that disc!
Naturally, considering this is a port to modern platforms, we needed a new solution for the disc-generation thing. That was solved by incorporating a fairly robust catalog of discs where you simply look up the album you want to use for generation. It has Eiffel 65, that’s enough for “fairly robust” by my standards. Dig up your turn-of-the-millennium favorites and get to generating.
Also naturally, much as in the good old days there’s a catch or two. There’s a huge variety of monsters but most are secrets and must be unlocked via game progression. Think of it like an achievement system – especially because some of the unlocks are pretty obscure. Until you get a fair number of these, you’ll find that most CDs simply spit up a message saying that you aren’t licensed to use their monster yet. This is annoying but serves as motivation, I guess.
Another somewhat annoying thing is the way that this collection struggles to free itself from its status as a port of the mobile port of the original PlayStation games. The controls can be a little awkward – though the game is fully playable on modern controllers – and the giant mobile game style control buttons on the edge of the window are weird but usable. Still, a little more cleanup would have been nice. At least the games themselves are as solid as they were back in the day, though a retranslation or relocalization would have been greatly appreciated.
That said, you’re getting two classic games for your money, and they’re just as fun as they ever were. Digging through your collection of classic music favorites remains an exciting time, especially when you’ve gotten some unlocks done and can see what kind of monster they all pop out. Monster management and combat are enjoyable as well, but the real magic of the series is taking your 98 Degrees monster to the top. Despite some rough edges that experience is still present and accounted for in Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX, making for an easy nostalgia recommendation.