A first look at Monark immediately gives the impression that it has a dark story. It turns heads because of this dark atmosphere, especially since some of the Shin Megami Tensei series’ staff helped with its development. This review takes a deeper look at this tactical RPG by NIS America and FuRyu to see if its story and gameplay are worth it.
A strange mist surrounds Shin Mikado Academy and students have given into the madness. Trapped on school grounds by a mysterious barrier, your amnesic self learns that the mayhem is caused by a mist from several Pactbearers. It is now your duty to help find and shatter the ideals of these opposing Pactbearers who lay claim to specific parts of the school.
Monark’s story is a dark one. It’s split up into several character acts, normally with three parts each. Midway throughout the story, it feels a bit repetitive and prolonged. There are mixed feelings about this; however, those who have a soft spot for multiple routes should feel right at home. Despite this, the story is still a good one with unexpected twists and creepy characters.
The game has suicide, bullying, stalking, and a lot of sad stories stuffed into its core. It doesn’t delay jumping straight into the action and there’s no filler content to concern yourself with. It did not always do a good job with the emotional impact it should have during certain parts, though. One of the scenes felt like it was overdone by dragging on when a shorter, simpler approach would have felt more suitable.
Monark doesn’t delay jumping straight into the action. It’s a game where you will have to enter areas engulfed in mist to seek out clues and items. This gameplay loop is maintained throughout the game. You will have to solve puzzles and clear stages to progress to the next area. All of this must be done while controlling your madness level. Letting it run haywire can either force you to restart from the infirmary or lose control of your units during combat (the madness level is carried over from the overworld to battle).
A puzzle may await you in each room shrouded in mist. Sometimes these puzzles are embarrassingly straightforward, but they can also be excruciatingly difficult. It’s not because they can be tough to solve, but how easy you can miss a clue. This makes the puzzle almost impossible to solve and for progression to halt. Most of the time when I couldn’t find the answer, it was mainly because I overlooked or overthought a hint.
Monark is a game where you will need to properly search the area for the associating clue and put your brain to work. The game will have guessing and utilizing all of the resources available to you. It’s not a game you can afford to ignore the different menus and the notes accompanied by them. They can play a role in solving a puzzle you would have never been able to without them.
Stages and Combat
The combat in Monark isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be unforgiving and there’s a high chance of losing if you fail to grind before a boss stage. The game has you start each stage with a select number of units and you must defeat all enemies while preventing the protagonist from dying. You can freely move your characters throughout the stage’s battlefield within their specified movement range and launch attacks within their respective ranges each turn. Besides the regular attack, skill usage in this game has its risk. A sacrifice must be made whether it be a loss of HP or a rise in the user’s Madness gauge for each skill used. Maxing out a character’s Madness gauge will make you forfeit control of them.
Monark is a difficult game that demands smart move decisions and grinding. The difficulty drastically jumps when going up against a boss stage, making it almost impossible to overcome without clearing some of the optional stages. Better pacing in the story-based stages would have been most appreciated here to help avoid losing interest. Despite the optional stage grinding, the combat in this game is fantastic for those seeking a challenge. The stages are basic and there aren’t many hazards or obstacles, but moving units and engaging enemies in combat feels very satisfying when conquering them.
Leveling up characters in Monark is unique. Instead of gaining EXP after a battle, you gain points that can be allocated to unlock or level up skills. Each of these actions levels up a character and increases their base stats. The focus strays from being selective of the skills you desire. It instead revolves around spending as many points as possible on the cheapest skills to strengthen the character’s overall stats.
The number of skills each type of character has is plentiful; a bit too much for my liking. I have often found myself ignoring half of the skills characters learn, yet they must be unlocked/empowered to level up the character. The ample number of skills is good; however, an option to filter the list that’s shown in battle would have made scrolling through them much more pleasant.
Graphics and Soundtrack
Part of what Monark has going for it is its artwork and soundtrack. It excels greatly in both of these areas, although some of the enemies do seem basic. Even so, there is a multitude of armor to differentiate some of them. But what steals the show is the game’s amazing soundtrack. Each boss battle has its own unique theme song that makes clashing blades even more satisfying. Second to it are its other tunes which set the perfect mood for regular combat and navigation.
The game runs smoothly on the Nintendo Switch; however, there was one issue I had. I’m unsure if this was an issue with the Nintendo Switch itself or if it’s based on the game, but I’ve been playing Monark for several days without closing it. When I was done playing, I would suspend the software and turn off my console. Keeping this behavior up eventually lead the game’s framerate to drastically drop when walking through the main school’s building. Closing the game and reopening seemed to have resolved the issue.
What makes Monark great is its strategically entertaining combat system and its fabulous soundtrack. Unfortunately, its story falls short midway by eventually becoming a repetitive loop that isn’t too bad but feels more like a chore. Stages could have been paced out better, but they weren’t, forcing you to grind regularly. It’s still a fantastic game for those seeking a dark and twisted story with multiple routes to explore.
Monark gets a 7/10.