Where Monsters Rule: A Love Letter to Monster Rancher

It’s an early Saturday morning in the late spring season, 1998. Morning dew colors the grass outside before spring will leave, and the dry, hot summer will take its place. Saturday mornings bring children lots of different things to do and memories to make; some kids revel in playing outside, while others wake up excited for the newest cartoons. For some kids, however, Saturday mornings meant video games; for one particular kid, this meant getting to get some time in with his parent’s Playstation, where he would open and close the Playstation’s lid and swap out all kinds of games and CDs. All of this was in pursuit of one thing: to discover all the monsters hiding in Monster Rancher.

I often find myself struggling to describe Monster Rancher whenever anyone asks me “what’s the game about?” I could say it’s like Pokemon or Digimon, but that feels like an unfair comparison; I could say it’s about raising your own pet monster, but that’s only one part of what makes up the game; I could say it’s just a silly game where you fight monsters, but that’s not doing justice to what the game, and its weirdly beautiful experience, means to me.

Monster Rancher is a digital monster-game, originally released for the Playstation in 1997. Just like other digital pet/monster raising games of the 90s like Tamagotchi, Pokemon, or Digimon, you raise your own monster to do battle against other monsters in the pursuit of becoming champion. But unlike Pokemon, you don’t catch a monster or anything like that - you have to generate a monster by opening up your Playstation system, taking out the Monster Rancher game, and putting in another CD (whether it’s a game, music CD, etc). Based on that unique CD, you would get a different monster.

When I was a kid, this was mind-blowing.

To think that there were all kinds of monsters hiding in our Playstation collection, or my parent’s music CDs! The possibilities were endless! I was obsessed with seeing what CDs came up with which monsters, writing down the results in a paper notebook, as if I were a junior scientist discovering *real* monsters. And to think this was only the beginning of the game? It’s wild even thinking about it now!

It’s not all fun and games discovering monsters, of course - after you take your monster home, you have to take care of it. You have to train it, feed it, make sure it’s happy, and make sure it doesn’t get hurt in monster battles. As a kid, I didn’t have any pets growing up, so this was the next best thing to teach me about the responsibilities of raising an animal - the good, the bad, and everything in between. It’s such a unique experience that I don’t think I’ve seen replicated in all my years of gaming.

Sadly, Monster Rancher just couldn’t compete with the cultural behemoth known as Pokemon, even with multiple titles and sequels in the series. It’s mostly been relegated to cult-hit, or a funny little title in the Playstation library.

But with Monster Rancher and Monster Rancher 2 getting a re-release from Koei-Tecmo, with Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX for the Switch, it gives me a sliver of hope that maybe - just maybe - future generations of gamers can check out this quirky, charming game where monsters rule. And maybe they’ll see the odd beauty of this game that I first saw when I was a young kid.

- Submitted by Fair Game Staff Member Cody E.

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