Monark Review (PS4)
Oh no, my greatest enemy! Calling someone on the phone.
Publisher: NIS America
Monark starts off pretty well. Before you know anything, your character (or well, someone that looks strikingly like your character) gets his ass handed to him by some skeletons and you see someone mysterious looming over the battlefield watching. Watching and waiting for someone with a powerful enough Ego. But put a pin in this for now as we go to Shin Mikado Academy. Shin Mikado Academy is suddenly encased by a dome of what seems like dark energy, causing the various halls of the different buildings making up the Academy to fill up with mist that seem to be causing some major migraines in the students that were unlucky enough to be caught in it. Meanwhile, you are just taking a personality quiz with someone named Yoru. This quiz is used to determine your based Ego stats and which of the Seven Deadly Sins you correlate with the most (which comes in a little bit later).
After that little quiz, you are seemingly dumped into the middle of a misty hallway. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like you were there unconscious for long as you wake up feeling normal. Well, normal other than having amnesia. You were also lucky that you were found by three others who were there to help you out and they turn out to be a middle schooler named Chiyo who says you’re her brother, an upperclassman and former student council president Nozomi, and the school doctor Kakeru who doesn’t bother learning names even when it’s people on your team (though he at least seems to be a good doctor). As you four make your way out of the mist, Chiyo gets a phone call and she naively answers it. This causes everyone to be whisked away to a strange realm called the Otherworld with skeletons wielding swords (sounds a bit familiar to the beginning of the game huh). Before you guys get attacked, a stuffed bunny drops in and while he is admittedly cute, he annoying talks in rhymes. Vanitas, as this stuffed bunny likes to be called, gives you some info on the situation, and gives you the power to protect those that went to save you first by giving you Imagigear to defeat the skeletons, or Legions as they’re classified as. You, of course, win and this is the start of your journey into finding out what is happening and preventing it.
You soon learn that the mist is not something that sprung up from that barrier that’s strangely surrounding the school. No, it turns out that you were not the first one to come across a daemon, and specifically a Monark. Nor were you the first to get into a Pact with one and become a Pactbearer. That mist is from the other Pactbearers, which each represents one of the Deadly Sins, and you decide to go after all of them. And along the way, you’ll meet others that are fighting against the Pactbearers and will join up with you through Monark’s two Acts.
Each chapter of Act 1 will bring you to the different parts of Shin Mikado Academy where the mist is sticking around and where you’ll meet someone to help you with the problem. There are three floors of mist you’ll have to deal with, with the boss being on the third floor. When venturing into the mist there are some aspects that you have to be worried about. While there aren’t any random encounters, there are six (counting the boss) fights that are required per chapter. Half of them has to be dealt with right when you enter the mist. You see, you’ll get a call, a Death Call as you will, and as the name suggests it brings death. Answer it and you’ll be pitted against Lvl 90 Fiends. Don’t answer it and you’re MAD gauge will increase and the Unsettled will make them go out of control and be an automatic 100% increase if you go near them. The only way to stop it is to call it yourself first when you’re near Vanitas (as he is the only thing that gives you cell service around here). Though, you can just rush the Singularity to get it over with quick. As you explore the floor, your and your teammate’s MAD Gauge will increase, which will cause you to be put back to the Infirmary when it reaches 100% (which is also where you can reset it as well). That’s still not all, as each floor will have you solve a little puzzle, which requires you to look around the floor(s) for notes, talk to a specific character if needed for information, look inside student profiles, and remember (or write down) key information for you to be able to open up the path. This is pretty cool, but it can get a bit obtuse as the game goes on.
You’ll be aiming towards finding a stack of phones, as it indicates a place where you can get reception. Calling this will bring you into a battle where you do have to defeat every Fiend to shatter a big crystal, called Ideals, that is the Pactbearer’s physical representation of their pact with a Monark. When a pact is made, three Ideals are created and you need to shatter all three to get the mist to fully lift. When you get to the third, this is where you’ll be facing the Pactbearer in a boss battle against some Fiends, them, and the Monark they created their pact with. You also get a look into what they’re feeling and what led to them creating the pact when you destroy a Ideal.
And now, onto the combat. The closest comparison I’ve seen Monark’s combat system being compared to is the combat in Lost Dimension. While I personally never played Lost Dimension, I did look at a gameplay video and yah it’s more or less the same. For everyone else, combat doesn’t take place inside the school’s building, but within the Otherworld which you get transported into whenever you make a call. Before actually starting, you’ll see the map and the layout of the enemies and where your team will be placed, with you being able to kind of determine where your characters are placed. Though, you can only have one human teammate with the rest being filled with your own friendly Fiends (with the first one you get based on your Personality Quiz from the beginning). Everyone will be able to take a turn where they can move a certain amount of distance and be able to do a couple of things. It depends on who you’re controlling at the time, but you’ll have a variety of attacks (or Arts), which will take away health, and abilities (Authority) that will raise your MAD Gauge. You’re human characters also have an AWAKE Gauge which is mainly raised by using the Resolve action. And of course, you can make your teammate Wait to get some health back, use items (which all are listed individually which causes it to be a bit of a pain trying to look for what you want), or to Defer which basically gives a teammate in range another turn in exchange for raising their MAD Gauge. If your MAD Gauge reaches 100%, that unit will become Maddened and gain a attack boost, a defense debuff, and can attack anyone (but they will die in three turns); though a full AWAKE Gauge will Awaken them giving them a buff in everything. You can even get them to Enlighten if you happen to get both gauges combined by using Resonance.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy. Each enemy is placed in specific areas of the map and the main key is how you position everyone. When you attack an enemy, they have a chance at countering you if you’re in their range, but you can negate that if you can get behind them and backstab them. If your teammates are also in range when you attack, they will assist and attack as well (and this is the same for enemies when they attack). There are also some Battle Hazards which most of them will cause a status effect or damage every turn, with only one being a good one that heals you every turn. It’s interesting as it really makes you consider what you should do and whether you can take a risk or not. Should you raise their MAD Gauge so they can get another turn? Should you use the turn to Resolve or use it to heal? Will moving there block another teammate from getting in range? Should you stop just short of being in range of the Battle Hazard or should you to get a hit? It doesn’t help that if your main character dies it’s an automatic loss, but it does make you strategize on how you should proceed.
However, the sheer amount of grinding Monark has really turns the game into a slog. Those six required battles will not be enough for you to be at the needed level so you’ll have to replay the same maps over and over again. This is mainly due to how you level up your characters. At the end of battles, you’ll get a ranking based on how well you did and gain something called SPIRIT. You can then use Spirit to go into your character and your teammate’s skill tree to unlock skills and level up. However, while it’s fine early on, it does soon become grindy as you’re heading into meeting your third teammate. You see, everyone doesn’t have their own pile of SPIRIT as it’s shared between everyone. It doesn’t seem bad starting out as it’s just between three characters, but as you get further in it does. Of course, your character is a priority as the battle is automatically lost when the main character dies, but you also will have the human teammates and the Fiends to keep them leveled up from that same pool. Making that one SPIRIT pool being between 12 characters that join at level 1 no matter when they joined the team. Since levels is tied to buying something from the skill tree, and as you get more skills it gets more expensive, you’ll end up grinding a lot for your characters to be on par or some levels above the enemies you’re facing if you want to stand a chance. And you’ll have to decide whether you want to grind early so everyone is on the same level, or only dedicate to leveling up those on your team in that moment and doing the grinding later when they return to your party in Act 2. If you haven’t caught on, I didn’t really like this system of leveling at all.
SPIRIT is also used to buy items from Vanitas, which I do see the thought process as it makes you decide whether you should buy items or hold onto it for leveling up, but you do also get enough from battles anyway. Vanitas also can dismantle items you don’t need to get SPIRIT and while it does help out, it does become a drop in the bucket after a while. There is also a Casual Mode you can activate, which reduces received damage and reduces item drop rate, but it only helps you in surviving longer rather than bringing down enemy levels like other games would do. While you do pretty much have to expect some level of grinding in rpgs, it feels way too much here.
Other than that, you can do Personality quizzes from three students and the story quizzes from Vanitas. Each answer you provide will grant you points in the Ego the answer corresponds with and a set number depending on how close it was (though some will just give you nothing). The ones from students gives you small boosts (on par with the boosts you get from battling), but Vanitas’ gives you a big boost. Raising your Ego stats is important as there are Alter Egos around the school that will raise stats towards everyone, but you can only get it if a specific Ego is high enough (like say 300 points in Lust). This will also decide on the next Fiend you get.
Monark also has a weird story structure on the later half, making you do Act 2 four times with you using a different teammate each time to get a bit more information about the truth. Once you do it four times and have all that knowledge, you’ll then be put on the path to the (true) ending and the post game. It’s an interesting way of doing it, but it slows down the story, makes you do the same thing but with small changes, and more grinding. I was also disappointed that you will only have one human teammate at a time. This is mainly so you’ll use Fiends, but I was expecting everyone to not use an excuse to not go with you (they’re in the club room every time I go in, like come on) in Act 2. I really missed all of them interacting past the overworld conversations and a few conversations in story cutscenes. While it most likely didn’t work well with the aspect of the game that lets you do the chapters in any order, I really wanted the characters to interact more.
I was also a bit disappointed that the Fiends didn’t have any variety. While they will either have a sword, crossbow, or lance and will have different armor (which you can customize your own Fiends and give them armor, which is cool), they are all the same enemies. It would have been cool if the Fiends were designed based on the Sin they encompassed.
It is strange going from FurYu’s previous game, Caligula Effect 2, which I absolutely loved, to something like Monark which turned out to be such a slog for me. I was interested in the story, I did like the characters (even though the writing is not as great as it could be), and the artwork and boss battle themes are great, but the amount of grinding you have to do to actually be able to continue and some weird choices like how Act 2 is structured brings Monark down. I really thought I would like Monark, but I sadly have to say that I didn’t end up liking it.
If Monark does still interest you, I highly suggest trying out the demo (which is the game’s prologue) to see if you like the combat, get a feel on whether you will be fine grinding, and get a look at how the story and characters are written. Those that don’t mind grinding, especially with this combat system, will like Monark the most (as the story and characters does not save the game from the massive grind), but even then I wouldn’t rush to play Monark and wait for a discount.