Genre: Adventure, RPG
System: Nintendo Switch (Also on Steam (Windows) and PS4)
Developer|Publisher: FuRyu, Lancarse | NIS America
Age Rating: EU 7+ | US Teen
Price: US $59.99 | UK £53.99 | EU € 59,99
Release Date: February 22nd, 2022
Review code provided with many thanks to NIS America.
Another Unique Idea
MONARK is a turn-based RPG from popular publisher NIS America. A game that appears to follow the template of anime looking RPG. But once again this is yet another original concept with a standalone story that makes for a suitable jumping on point for newbies. If you’re looking for another RPG project with some mild horror themes then I recommend checking out MONARK.
School Life, The Mist and Demons
The game is set in Shin Mikado Academy where your character awakens with a typical video game case of amnesia. As if High School wasn’t hard enough you soon learn all is not well in the school grounds as a madness inducing mist is causing many of the students to lose their minds. You learn the origins of this stem from the Otherworld, a demonic realm with monsters that you can access through mobile phone calls which is both strange and kinda intriguing.
From this realm resides seven Monarks each of which corresponds to one of the seven deadly sins. Each Monark has made a pact with a human giving them superpowers. With the help of a Monark called Vanitas who looks like a demonic cuddly rabbit and some fellow high school chums, it’s up to you to go after these Pactbearers and restore order to the school. If you don’t, it’s detention. That last part I made up.
Anime as Heck
It took me a few hours and further research on the games website to get my head around this plot. MONARK falls into my criteria of ‘Anime as Heck,’ game where it took around 40 minutes of story and plot before I actually started playing. The game beats you hard and fast over the head with its plot and characters but things start to gradually unravel as you progress.
To my surprise, this wasn’t the typical High School plot I was expecting. The gaming touches on subjects like social media and mental health. It also has a mild horror theme to it, as you explore the game you will meet characters literally losing their minds and it’s interesting observing their behaviour. Whenever I headed into the mist I felt quite uncomfortable but my curiosity compelled me to push further to see where this plot would go.
You have your usual long list of fun, angry and just plain weird anime characters. The game is fully voice acted in English or you can choose Japanese voice acting with English subtitles depending on how much of a purist you are. The voice acting is pretty good bringing the characters to life. Vanitas the rabbit-like demon being a particular highlight as he speaks in rhymes and often I could not tell if he was on my side or not adding to the game’s sinister feeling.
Another School Day
Graphics are a bit of a mixed bag. You have the usual anime characters you expect to see in a 3D RPG. The environments though are very dull. I mean, I know this is High School and all but it feels like you spend a lot of time revisiting the same corridors over and over. It’s obvious when you head into the area of the school with mist but I was kinda expecting more of a creepy feeling rather than familiar classrooms.
There are some creative moments particularly when you walk past students that suddenly lose their minds and scream at you with their red glowy eyes. The Otherworld realm is pretty exciting with a more colourful pallet than the very bland school setting. The horror in this game never elevates to any cover your eyes moments. It only ever feels creepy which may be reassuring to players that want to play a good RPG but are not big on scary horror.
Don’t Forget Your Mobile
The goal of the game is to hunt down the Pactbearers and defeat them in battle. You are always in a safe area of the school where you can heal up and talk to NPCs. Talking to folk does prove to be very important in this game, as sometimes they will ask you questions about your personality. Completing these short surveys actually increases some of your player stats. Stats are also based on the seven deadly sins which are certainly different from the usual levelling system.
When you begin the game you complete a longer questionnaire that determines your starting stats. Like any modern High school, your mobile phone proves to be one of the most essential of tools. You can use it to save practically anywhere, learn more about characters you meet and level up your party members with a skill tree by spending points you earn in the game. Fancy dressing your characters up and party members with cosmetics you unlock. You can also use your phone to call people, but who uses a phone for that anymore.
Don’t Go Mad
Ready you head into the Mist? In these sections, you need to solve a few puzzles in order to find a way into the Otherworld to do battle with the demons. Usually, this involves talking to NPCs, finding notes to unlock more dialogue choices with NPCs and solving a few puzzles. But you don’t want to linger too long as you have a madness meter that slowly increases over time. If it reaches 100% you pass out and wake up back at the safe zone to start the process again.
Time is not the only issue, you also need to avoid the mad students that wander about. You may sometimes also receive a phone call which if answered will transport you to a challenging demonic battle that will likely kill you. You can stall the madness with meds but I often found it was just easier to leave the area to heal up at the med bay and try again. My niggle with these segments is often the puzzle solution was obvious but the game doesn’t make it clear how you make it through. Usually, it’s because I didn’t pick up the right note or talk to the right NPC. It felt a touch too fiddly.
Eventually, you find a pile of phones and it’s time to go to the Otherworld to do battle. The battle system was easily the highlight of the game for me. The game uses a turn based fighting system and you control up to 6 characters, some human and some weird mannequin type models. When it is the player’s turn you can move freely in a circle area. You can make use of two key actions; Arts and Authority, which are essentially attack and defence moves. But by using Arts you may spend health points and Authority will increase your Madness. Every action has a consequence and some attacks only have a percentage chance of striking a hit, so you need to weigh up if it’s worth the risk of executing it. It’s not all bad.
If your character goes totally mad their attacks will buff but they will attack friend and foe. The combat leaves plenty of room for experimentation. Attacking enemies from behind does more damage. Keeping your character circle near an ally will often trigger them to help with an enemy. Planning your strategy is the key to victory, giving a somewhat chess vibe which I guess makes sense since your human characters transform into chess piece style costumes. Battles also include traps and heal zones so positioning can be very important. If you do find things a bit much the game does feature two difficulty settings, one that leans more to the casual toning things down a tad.
Conclusion – Touch That Dial
MONARK is an original take on the strategy RPG with a mild horror twist. The graphics feel a bit muted and dull. But the game more than makes up for it with a deep risk-reward combat system. A highly recommended purchase for fans of the anime RPG genre, but, also a pretty good jumping on point for those looking to test the water. MONARK is a dark but endearing adventure that may just make you think twice about answering that mobile phone call from an unknown caller.
If you want to try before you buy be sure to pick up the free demo on the eshop.
Final Verdict: I Like it a Lot