Genre: Strategy, RPG
Platform: PC (Reviewed), PS4, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: February 22nd, 2022
Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Monark is a JRPG that takes heavy inspiration from the Shin Megami Tensei series and, to some degree, the Persona series. I’m not the biggest fan of SMT myself, however, Monark’s similar atmosphere and plot points are noticeable right off the bat.
Monark is set in a universe where powerful Daemons, known as Monarks, form pacts with people with strong Egos and fervent wishes. After forming a Pact with a Monark, the Pactbearer acquires an Authority, which is the power bestowed to them by their Monark. The usage of these powers forms dangerous distortions in the real world, which is where our protagonist comes in to save the day.
Story and Characterization
The player is thrown into the shoes of an amnesiac student affected by the supernatural mist surrounding his school. The usage of Authorities by other Pactbearers is revealed to be the source of the mist, and thus, it’s up to the player to take down the Pactbearers to be able to leave the school grounds.
Honestly, the story on paper isn’t bad…until you throw dialogue into the mix. The initial idea was pretty straightforward and even sounded intriguing, but the execution is really bad. The dialogue is really cliché, clearly taken from edgy anime tropes, and right off the bat our protagonist is established as the only hope to save the school and gets multiple edgy cutscenes that end up with him unlocking epic powers and a “cool” transformation after getting stabbed by giant ice shards multiple times.
I would’ve enjoyed this kind of uninspired on-the-nose writing if I were still a pre-teen, but I’m not, so the first impressions weren’t that good.
“Hey, maybe it will get better,” I said.
The whole premise of the game is riddled with awkward dialogue that reads like the writers wanted to pay homage to every single dramatic line they’ve heard in anime. It’s very immature and pretentious, plus the cardboard characters that don’t show emotion 90% of the time are worse off because of it since they’re stuck delivering eccentric lines in a deadpan manner.
As hinted above, the characters are flat and emotionless. Any attempt to show emotion comes from the voice actors, but even the delivery of the voice acting is lackluster and fruitless as I can’t truly believe the characters are feeling in a specific sort of way when their models retain a poker face 99% of the time.
The gameplay of Monark is actually its one strong point. In spite of all the grind you have to do to catch up to the increasingly strong enemies, the strategic battles are fairly enjoyable throughout most of Monark’s run. You can arrange in what order your units take a turn, what actions they’ll take, make some units give up their turn to a character that has already taken theirs, time how to fill your MAD and Focus gauges to unlock the special “Awakened” modes on your characters, etc.
I got tired near the end but it was mostly the game’s whopping 60+ hours worth of content taking a toll on me.
The graphics of Monark are one of its shortcomings. The plain truth is that they look really low-budget. The anime art is beautiful, and its aesthetic makes Monark look more interesting than it actually is, but most of the game’s focus is around its low-budget 3D models. Not only does the 3D look like it belongs in a 2010 game, but the models are also very static and have a poker face 99% of the time, making it hard to empathize with seemingly emotionless characters.
Monark is unfortunately a hollow collection of cliché anime tropes and dialogue accompanied by low-budget graphics and cardboard characters. Although the game is pretty grindy on top of that, the strategic combat is at least fairly entertaining, thus it was more appealing as a battle simulator rather than a story-focused game.