Monark | Review

Monark | Review

In a videogame landscape that struggles to pay attention to minor productions (especially in this period of important releases), NIS America is one of those publishers that fortunately continues to support niche projects with a limited budget, as we have noticed from the lineup presented for this. 'year .

Monark stood out as one of his most promising horses and attracted some attention mainly due to the authors involved in its development. Personalities who in the past contributed to giving life to the very first Shin Megami Tensei up to "If ..." and "Devil Summoner", in particular Ryutaro Ito to the screenplay, with the collaboration of Aya Nishitani (the author of the novels from which the saga) and composer Tsukasa Masuko. The Lancarse team, moreover, has also collaborated with Atlus in the past for the creation of Etrian Odyssey, Persona Q2 and SMT: Strange Journey. So far, however, he has mostly worked together with other development studios; the only relevant title he developed on his own was Lost Dimension in 2014, an interesting but not exactly stellar title.

Monark therefore represents the attempt to walk on one's own legs by creating a meaningful title with the help of various talents, but ultimately also the demonstration that talent alone is not enough to achieve great results without a solid overview.

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The main protagonist is a student who also establishes a pact with the Monarch of Vanity to survive this critical situation, and who will have to stop the other Pactbearers in order to bring things back to normal. Obviously, things will not be so simple and during the adventure there will be several turning points that will move the situation.

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As explicitly stated by the director Fuyuki Hayashi, with Monark the importance of the "Ego" is placed at the center of the narration, understood as the individuality of each person not to be suffocated with shame, and of his motivational power in the pursue your goals. This Ego is indeed a thematic fulcrum very similar to the recurring one in the Atlus series, in particular to the concepts of "True Self" of Persona 4 and of "Heart" of the fifth chapter. But despite the obvious affinity, it is treated in a non-trivial way by staging interesting and well-elaborated personal events that revolve around well-characterized characters, in particular showing us the motivations of the antagonists.

However, we must point out that some of them are less successful than others, and that in many cases it is all too easy to predict where the events will end. Also not positive is the tendency to excessive verbiage of the dialogues, which are particularly awkward when one finds oneself (often) in the absurd situation of selecting a single dialogue option for our silent protagonist, or between several substantially identical options.

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Like the combination of white and red colors that characterize his visual style, the sensation that has dominated our experience with Monark is that of contrast in its elements. In almost all of its components we have seen some good ideas that often stumbled upon themselves in practice.

Regarding the story, the starting point is certainly enjoyable, but after a first half of the game that seems to be approaching the end, the story slows down sharply. We are forced into four temporal "loops" à la Bravely Default (albeit much less shameless), each different, in which we manage to get new pieces of the puzzle on the real mystery surrounding the plot, but where we feel blocked by force despite our intuitions. If the first half of the story involved us, during the second part it seemed to us that the game artificially lengthened the progress of the story with a frustrating narrative pace.

Unfortunately, the visual rendering of the game also weighs on these delays, another area in which the contrast in Monark's production is evident. Lancarse was able to count on the contribution of South Korean artist so-bin, well known for his extraordinary illustrations of Overlord, who did an excellent job on the character design. The artistic direction is certainly effective and is vigorous in what is one of the best animated openings we have seen in recent times.

It's a shame that graphically the game hardly holds its own artistic style, as technically it can be compared to an HD remaster of a PS2 title. We understand that not all development teams have the Square Enix budget, but for a title that focuses so much on dialogue, seeing them carried forward by polygonal models with such antiquated animations and level of detail is inevitably disappointing. A shame is also the fact that that type of animated movie is no longer used throughout the game.

Even in the game formula we could see some very good ideas that have not been balanced to the best. As we have anticipated, even on this front Monark has little to do with Shin Megami Tensei, given that it is a tactical RPG. To track down and defeat the Pactbearer on duty, the protagonists must first explore the area of ​​the school in which he operates, making their way through the premises invaded by fog and the deranged students imprisoned in them. To continue the exploration it is necessary to read various documents found around and steal the right clues on how to continue; these small puzzles are gradually more and more subtle, so we are called to pay particular attention to the environment and to the secondary events that affect the students of the school.

MONARK_20220213164508 The purpose of exploration is to find access points to the Otherworld, a dark world in another dimension dominated by chaos and inhabited by demons; this is where the actual fighting takes place. The battle system is an evolution of the one already seen in Lost Dimension and differs from the classic tactics with arenas organized in boxes. Imagine playing on a chessboard in which the pieces are free to move within a range of action to place themselves in relationship with the opponents and score their attacks, preferably behind them or in order to avoid counterattacks.

In addition to the main characters, the protagonist can also deploy demons who respond to his commands and take the place of the classic units specialized in certain roles and abilities. Each of them can be developed according to a special and customized skill tree with various equipment.

In Monark there are no MPs, at our disposal we have techniques (mainly physical) that consume life points and special skills that increase our percentage of Madness; once reached 100% the character enters a Berserk state, extremely powerful but also dangerous for the party itself. Through various actions it is also possible to enter the status of Awakening, which is also very powerful and which gives us access to a special attack. Particularly important for the turn economy are the ability to chain attacks with neighboring units, which opponents can also do, so it is essential not to be encircled, and the ability to give a turn to a character who has already acted, allowing him then to move and / or attack multiple times, but at the cost of an exponential increase in the percentage of Madness.

There are numerous other details on the battle system, but it doesn't make much sense to go into detail. However, we were impressed by the fact that our avatar is different from the usual OP protagonists of other games. In Monark he really takes the place of the king on the board: he is not particularly powerful, if he is knocked down he is instant Game Over and therefore has the role of staying safe and orchestrating the action, in particular with his unique ability of Resonance which allows to share buffs among the various units.

Knowing how to best organize the skills of all the characters is essential and the battle system works discreetly. There are some critical issues that have not convinced us. First of all, the game presents us with a myriad of skills available to the characters but many of these have the same range of action, so you will inevitably end up using almost always the same ones. The artificial intelligence of the enemies leaves a lot to be desired and it suffers especially when you see them standing impaled around the arena waiting for us to approach.

And speaking of arenas, unfortunately they inherit the same limitations that Lost Dimension already had: there are no differences in height or elements of interaction, only walls, elements to be destroyed in order to continue and "harmful" areas to be avoided; a level of design that in 2022 is no longer competitive.

Finally there is a difficulty curve calibrated in a really unsatisfactory way: after the first bosses, defeated thanks to the right tactical skill, we will gradually find ourselves in front of level enemies significantly higher than ours, leading us to repeated grinding sessions, which for a game where a fight can last from 10 to 20 minutes is not the best. A routine that becomes more consistent especially in the infamous second half of the game, in which, among other things, we will have to match several low-level characters.

From a certain point on, the title seems to put us in front of two alternatives: to level for hours or to take full advantage of the protagonist's Resonance ability, which however in practice means reducing the possibilities of approaching the fighting; instead of facing enemies as we prefer, we felt we had to follow the only and most effective approach possible.

However, it must be said that being able to "read" and master the fights with the right strategy gives considerable satisfaction, especially against the main bosses. During these battles, however, Monark knows how to give the right boost thanks to several songs created for the occasion by the Kamitsubaki Studio label. In general, the soundtrack by Tsukasa Masuko does an excellent job in accompanying the different moments of the game, dedicating cadenced piano tracks for the school moments, relaxing or dramatic, and performing virtuosity of strings and electric guitar for the common battles.

The English dubbing of the characters is at satisfactory levels, with some exceptions below average, although purists will most likely find the original one more satisfying.

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