boxart
Game Info:

Monark
Developed By: FURYU Corporation, LANCARSE, Ltd.
Published By: NIS America, Inc.
Release Date: February 22, 2022
Available On: Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/5
ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence
Genre: Role-Playing Game (RPG)
Mode: Single Player
MSRP: $59.99

Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

Monark starts with your self-named protagonist waking up without memories in Shin Mikado Academy, an exclusive high school with an interesting history. There is a mysterious barrier surrounding the school, which allows no one to enter or escape. Each area of the school has a strange Mist that drives everyone mad when inside it; these people are called the Unsettled. Much of the student body has become Unsettled, and it's up to you and your new friends in the True Student Council (aka the TSC) to handle the situation and restore peace, while trying to figure out how to free everyone from the barrier trapping them inside.

The game plays in a 3D rendered third-person view, where you see your character walk around the school exploring it. Each major area of the game is controlled by a Pactbearer, a person who has chosen to make a pact with a daemon who then grants them power. This daemon assists the Pactbearer, and is called a Monark. Each Monark's power is granted through a strong wish, as well as ideals that the daemon feeds off of and is the source of the power the Pactbearer then uses. Each of these Monarks is based on one of the seven deadly sins of Pride, Wrath, Envy, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, or Sloth. Most of the Pactbearers have given themselves over to some form of evil, but not all.

Each character's Ego plays a major part in the game, and it's treated as a realization of that person's desires. People actually say stuff like 'this fulfills my Ego' and other similar phraseology. One's Ego is given an important role in this game, and growing it helps define you as a fuller person. One way to do so is to take psychology quizzes, which then raises one of your Ego stats, depending on your answer. You can also gain small amounts of Ego after battles, though taking quizzes definitely raises them more quickly if you do it as often as possible. The aspects of your Ego are the seven deadly sins already referenced: Pride, Wrath, Envy, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, and Sloth. They have little impact in battle, outside of being a requirement for Vessels or for the collection of Alter Egos, which raise your character's stats in battle.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Excellent voice acting and localization; very nice music; battle system is enjoyable; interesting story and characters
Weak Points: Pacing is hit or miss, with some areas that seem to drag on; several steep difficulty spikes; graphics are alright but nothing special
Moral Warnings: Language like '*ss', 'd*ck', 'sh*t', 'h*ll', and 'd*mn' used; violence present, both in battle and during story cinematics; occasional blood, mostly in story sequences; enemies are either humans, daemons, or skeleton-like creatures called fiends; making pacts with daemons to gain power and discussions of a god are major parts of the story; aspects of psychology in relation to the seven deadly sins (pride, wrath, envy, lust, greed, gluttony, sloth) plays a major role in the plot and with many characters; some characters have a sexual history, and discussions (or character biographies) about losing virginity, homosexuality, incest, and transsexuality are present

Battles take place in a turn-based field, where each team makes all of their moves, one at a time. Everything is in 3D, and has a similar third-person perspective, and all battles take place in the Otherworld, which is a spiritual dimension of sorts. You can choose which characters to use in battle, and where to place them within a predetermined location. When battle begins, the player's team goes first, then all of the enemies, then the player again, and so on. It's very tactical, with each character having a certain move radius, and each attack having a range of its own. There are physical and magical attacks, which each rely on a different attack stat. While you can definitely make powerful physical characters, I found that the Psy stat buffs that raise your magical attacks are easier to attain, and since there are quite a few area of effect magical attacks, I used that approach most of the time. Once you find a good strategy, you can dominate – but there can still be surprises that knock out a key player that quickly turns things against you.

Combat has quite a few layers of strategy, and it's a combat system that took me a bit before I started to enjoy it. It's extremely similar to another game by the same developers, Lost Dimension (https://www.christcenteredgamer.com/reviews/pc-mac/6786-lost-dimension-pc). One thing to note is that almost all non-boss enemies are fiends – they basically look like skeletons. So there isn't a lot of variety there. But combat itself has depth to it. Attacks can be single target or area of effect, and if your allies are close, they can help you by performing assist attacks, which can really help and add up to a lot of damage. You can also do back attacks, which prevents the enemy from counterattacking you, which can make a big difference in battle. There are also accuracy bonuses, critical hits, and status effects that can help or hinder your performance in battle. Positioning is critical, as is taking advantage of the protagonist's super power: Resonance.

Resonance is a very powerful ability that allows everyone affected to share all status changes – buffs and status effects being the most important. You can also share Madness and Awakening statuses, which are reached when you hit 100 on either your Madness or Awake levels. You need to carefully manage your Madness (and Awake levels for humans) to make sure your team is the most effective. If you can manage to max out your Awakening and Madness levels at the same time you can enter Enlightenment – very effective indeed. Using this, along with Resonance, can make your party a wall of wallop until it wears off. Of course enemies can do this too – but only your protagonist can Resonate, though Resonating with enemies is also possible. Quite a few strategic options there!

Despite this, the game never really lets up on the difficulty. While a casual mode is available, I didn't use this because I'm pretty good at tactical games. And yet, the game does not have random battles, so if you want to have any chance of success, you need to be sure to complete every optional battle offered, and perhaps some occasional grinding in order to keep up. I found several difficulty spikes that needed some repeat grinding to overcome. Eventually, I unlocked enough skills that the ability to maintain buffs and Resonance was more important than my characters' levels; I was able to defeat enemies twenty levels higher as long as I had a maximum stack of Psy and Crit buffs on. If those dropped, or if my Lust fiend died (he's the one with the Psy buff skills), I was probably done for. Risk/reward is always the name of the game if you want to take out those tougher enemies.

As mentioned before, all battles take place in a supernatural plane called the Otherworld. In order to access this area, you need to make a phone call that then brings you to this other plane. The school is stuck in this barrier, and defeating the aforementioned Ideals from each Pactbearer is the method used to remove their power from them – as well as restore normalcy to each section of the school, and reducing the Mist. It's a decent narrative device, though the game does seem to drag on at times.

Some of the puzzles needed to locate the Ideals are truly fiendish, with many of them being number puzzles of some kind, or requiring you to either use a guide or to write down notes/hints. Phone numbers, student ID numbers, or other numerical devices often play a big part. The worst ones require you to travel the school grounds for a solution, or figure out an obtuse riddle – but most of them are fairly local to the section they are in, and were a bit easier to deduce. Either way, these challenges pad out an already long game – it took me about eighty hours to see the ending credits, and I could probably put in another ten to twenty in post-game content. I'm considering it, as a true ending is hiding in there. But some parts of the game are definitely a slog that you wish would just get a move on already.

Monark
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 76%
Gameplay - 13/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 46%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 4/10
Occult/Supernatural - 3/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

And really, that's the challenge in rating this game. It's an interesting premise, with quite good music and especially fantastic localization and voice acting – it has full English or Japanese voices on all story sequences, and the localization is simply phenomenal. I noticed almost no errors in the script, and some of the poetic speeches of one character in particular, Vanitas, clearly was a labor of love. Emotional lines are all well delivered, and the sound effects even have positional locality if you wear headphones. I was incredibly impressed with the sound design.

Graphically, it's a mixed bag. Thankfully, they fixed the major issue I had with the PC port in the first patch, which was a limited rendering resolution. This is indeed gone now, and the game looks much better. But the art style is merely serviceable, but not remarkable in any way. Everything is 3D rendered, but generally lacks color, and character details are 'fine' – good enough, but nothing special.

The other technical aspects of the game are fine – it crashed only a small handful of times in my eighty hours of playtime, and the autosave is quite generous – even if the game crashes, you are unlikely to lose much play time. The game does not currently launch on Linux, at least for me, so if you are a lucky Steam Deck owner, this game probably isn't playable right now. (This does not affect our scoring.) Controls are generally fine, though I found aiming the skills to sometimes be a bit finicky at times. It supports both mouse and keyboard or controllers, though I found using a controller to be much more natural. I wish there was a way to aim your skills with a mouse, rather than keyboard; this would help out a ton when trying to get those area of effect attacks aimed just right.

From an appropriateness standpoint, there's a fair bit to talk about. Obviously, characters make pacts with daemons, including some of your party members. <spoiler>An evil god also plays a major part in the story.</spoiler> The seven deadly sins are framed as necessary parts of the human psyche, and not really as flaws. But seeing those flaws expressed, even in the 'good' characters, is kind of interesting.

Foul language is used, though mostly of the PG-13 variety, using words like '*ss', 'd*ck', 'sh*t', 'h*ll', and 'd*mn'. Violence is a given, and some parts of the story has multiple murders occurring, some in rather cruel ways, though usually off screen. Rarely you do see someone die in a pool of blood in a cut scene, though this is not common to combat or otherwise.

While most human characters in the game dress modestly, enemy bosses are sometimes basically skin tight creatures, and often female. One of the sections dealing with the Pactbearer of Lust has teens (male and female) who talk about sexual history, including losing their virginity. One section of the game has a small number of homosexual characters and even a transgender one – though these details are generally limited to their biographies. The transgender one (male to female) has the transgender community upset because their bio correctly points out that they are male and notes their original name. This person also acts stereotypically overly 'cute'; read into that what you will.

Monark is an interesting game that does some things well, while also missing the mark in other areas that sums up to a decent but not amazing experience. It's a game that got better as I went along, but the pacing was sometimes a bit rough. The overall story is interesting, though mature – I wouldn't recommend this for younger players at all, though honestly it might not be too interesting for them, either. I feel like this game tries to almost do too much – it has bio pages for every student on campus, with significant backstories for each, which is great – and yet falls short in other areas. I like what it tried to do, but I feel like if it could have narrowed the focus, or perhaps cut some of the fat, it could have been even better. While in some ways Monark falls short of greatness, it's still a decent game, that will no doubt gain a niche following over time. Just realize that it does have a fair amount of occult content to contend with, not to mention some of the other mature topics dealt with like sex, identity, and revenge.


Donate

Please consider supporting our efforts.  Since we're a 501 C3 Non-Profit organization, your donations are tax deductible.

Allkeys