I haven’t thought about the Monster Rancher series since at least the early to mid-2000s. That is thanks in part to an anime series that had yet to go stale and, of course, several video games produced by Tecmo, with the Game Boy Advance iteration being among the titles played most.
Another relic of my youth, at least in terms of its relevancy in North America, is the Ultraman series, specifically the 1996 series Ultraman Tiga, which we got in Canada around the same time as the Monster Rancher anime series. Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher, then, is a mash-up of both of these massive yet obscure franchises into what might be the most Japanese game I’ve played all year.
Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher, in essence, is a reimagining of the first Monster Rancher (or Monster Farm as it’s known in Japan), replacing the 200 odd unique monster designs with iconic Kaiju pulled from various Ultraman series and films. If you’re looking for a Monster Rancher game with recognizable critters from its own source material, Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher is not that, aside from a giant Mochi character that can be purchased via DLC.
Aside from featuring a bevy of bizarre Kaiju, the most significant difference between Ultra Kaiju and a typical Monster Rancher release, is its scale, or at least it would be, if the game featured a few more interesting locales to engage with.
“Instead of a sprawling adventure with a team of monsters at your disposal, Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher focuses on raising an individual character’s stats through feeding, training exercises and tournaments.”
Being set on a tropical island, many of the locales in Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher become familiar rather quickly, made worse by a lack of man-made structures outside a wrecked ship here or an ancient structure there. The inclusion of more urbanized zones such as cities and metropolitan areas would have been a welcome addition in a game that features city-destroying titans front and centre.
Gameplay in Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher will be familiar with anyone who has played a Monster Rancher game in the past. You are a new breeder, tasked with raising a slew of Kaiju, entering tournaments and making your way to the highest rank possible. Unlike games like Pokémon or even Digimon, the Monster Farm series, including Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher, is closer to something like a virtual pet or Tamagotchi-like experience.
Instead of a sprawling adventure with a team of monsters at your disposal, Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher focuses on raising an individual character’s stats through feeding, training exercises and tournaments. Arguably the biggest draw of the series was letting players swap the game-disc in with a music CD to produce a unique monster based on the basic header information present on the disc. Obviously, with a modern release, particularly on the Switch, this has been replaced with NFC generation and a simple word prompt system which allows generating a monster for a small in-game fee.
“…many of the locales in Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher become familiar rather quickly, made worse by a lack of man-made structures outside a wrecked ship here or an ancient structure there.”
Sticking with one Kaiju can be a rewarding but short experience as they reach retirement after two in-game cycles or years. Competing in tournaments also quickly leads to your critter companion becoming outclassed in some higher level engagements. Thankfully, monster fusion allows the player to inherit skills from their roster of Kaiju, which in turn allows the player to progress through some of the more challenging battles in Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher.
Story elements are paper thin, but longtime fans of both franchises can expect some familiar faces that become optional sparring buddies as the player progresses. Ultraman himself occasionally shows up in the game in hilarious fashion, helping the player with unruly Kaiju running amok.
Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher’s gameplay loop consists of raising monsters, honing in on specific stats that befit that monster’s disposition, gaining unique skills and attacks by training with other characters that unlock as you participate in tournaments, rinse and repeat. The battles themselves feature a push-and-pull, tug-of-war style system that corresponds to the distance between your Kaiju and the opponent. Attacks take skill points, which regenerate over time and have different percentages of success, depending on the situation and type of Kaiju.
Graphically, thanks to its bright aesthetic and attention to detail, most of the Kaiju represented in Ultra Kaiju Monster Rancher feel thoughtful to the show. Creatures come complete with human-sounding noises of what would be people in suits, to hokey light-up animations on some of the more robotic offerings—ultimately conveying the game as one that was genuinely crafted for fans of the source material.