It’s not often that you get a new game made by veterans who worked on the Shin Megami Tensei series, but Monark arrives on Switch as an attempt to bring brand new ideas to the JRPG genre, even if they don’t work as intended.
The player assumes the role of the silent protagonist, whose name, but not the appearance, we can select. A simple psychological test then determines our capital sin (apparently, Gluttony comes up a lot). That sin will serve as an allegiance of sorts. It, along with our ideals and stats, will affect the various automatons we control, called fiends. After this, we finally find out what our main task is. A strange mist is slowly poisoning the halls of our school, the Shin Mikado Academy, making the students go crazy. We are to solve this problem. If this reminds you of Shin Megami Tensei and the Persona series, well, you’re on the right track. Kazunari Suzuki, the designer behind those series, is on the development team. Still, Monark does play quite differently from both titles.
Battles are a mix of something like Falcom’s The Legends of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel and 2014’s Lost Dimension, one of Lancarse’s previous titles. It’s a turn-based system where both teams move around units on the battlefield to attack enemies in range. You only can have one human companion for most of the game, so you’re given skeleton allies called “Fiends” with their own abilities and customizable gear. Units have two types of attacks: Arts and Authorities, or physical and magic attacks.
There’s also an interesting assist system that takes into account the positioning of your troops (as well as your enemies). If you attack an enemy when there’s a friend close by, for example, they will perform a combined assist attack, which can be very beneficial when dealing with the most powerful foes. The freedom provided by the lack of a grid system really helps the combat shine. However, it also creates a few nuisances, because it is very common to get stuck due to a character’s hit box, not to mention that you may find yourself unable to act because the enemy is just a smidge away from your area of action.
Graphically, the game looks like other modern JRPGs – beautiful character portraits, and mostly average everything else. The academy halls are quite bare; While exploring the park outside almost gives you Silent Hill vibes, with how empty it feels. Even the otherworld doesn’t look that distinct. Although, customizing our fiends with different faces and hairstyles is quite interesting. The soundtrack too is average, content to stay in the background while the player explores the school. It gets quite more intense during fights, though. Especially during boss encounters, where it even transforms into real songs with lyrics (no karaoke, unfortunately).
Though the combat falls short in a number of respects, Monark’s fantastic music keeps things lively. In collaboration with VTuber studio Kamitsubaki, the soundtrack is filled with electrifying Japanese rock and bubbly pop music. Each boss has its own unique theme song and the game’s intro scene is absolutely beautiful.
When you take into consideration everything Monark has to offer, you’ll see that it’s a game with countless interesting ideas to change what you would expect from a JRPG. Unfortunately, though, most of its concepts are either not used to fruition, or are executed in a sub-par manner. As a consequence, it is a game that may still appeal to a certain niche, but only if you can overcome the many barriers along the way.
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