Monster Rancher 1&2: A Retro Review

In the late 1990s, the Japanese role-playing game began gaining mainstream popularity in the United States, with the success of “Final Fantasy VII” and “Pokémon Red and Blue” being two key examples. While this inspired the likes of countless other games to be brought to the U.S., one in particular has become something of a cult classic among fans of monster-centric JRPGs – the “Monster Rancher” series.

First released on the Sony Playstation in the year 1997, the series boasted a highly complex combat and breeding system that stood out from other games at the time. Monsters could be summoned from music albums inserted into the disc drive of the Playstation, and be bred on a ranch to improve their stats. Though not a massive hit, the game performed well enough to receive a sequel, “Monster Rancher 2” in the year 1999.

While the series never quite reached the heights of its contemporaries at the time, it was successful enough to get an anime adaptation that ran for three seasons and a variety of other games released until “Monster Rancher EVO” in 2010 sent the series into hiatus.

Then, after Tecmo merged with Koei, the first two games received deluxe remasters on the Nintendo Switch that finally saw the series return to English-speaking regions by fan demand in December 2021 – “Monster Rancher 1 and 2 DX.”

Both games are presented with visual options in an HD remastered form, as well as their original graphical resolution from their release on the PS1. There are also some notable quality-of-life improvements that benefit returning fans and potential new players. The ability to fast-forward training exercises and previously-seen cutscenes helps alleviate grinding for experience points and stat boosts. Notably, since the Switch lacks a disc drive, this release has a digital database to search music albums from which to summon monsters. Though some summons can only be used at higher levels of player experience, the variety of albums in the database is extensive. In the play session used to write this review, the database contains everything from The Beatles’ “1” to Green Day’s “Warning,” along with George Michael’s “Faith” and even the musical score to “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” A large part of the fun is discovering which albums can summon which monsters.

One bit of advice to new players; the game does have an admitted learning curve for its combat system and breeding monsters for certain stats. For the uninitiated, just imagine if the competitive aspects of the “Pokémon” series took up the main game and you should have a solid idea of what to expect. That said, the complexity of the gameplay is easily one of the most engaging aspects of the series. People who have played the series’ previous installments should feel right at home with this version.

While no masterpiece, “Monster Rancher 1 and 2 DX” still make for a farm-fresh remaster of two cult classic RPGs. With both games available on the Switch eShop in one package for $30, it’s well worth trying out.

Publisher: Koei Tecmo

Developer: Koei Tecmo

Platform: Nintendo Switch eShop (Originally Released on Sony Playstation)

ESRB Rating: T

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