Hi guys and welcome, today we are looking at the new Japanese role playing game from developers Lancarse/FuRyu. The title is published by NIS America here in the UK and will arrive on PS4/5 and Nintendo switch on the 25th of February, with a windows release on the 22nd of February. Let’s see if it’s worth the wait.
Set in the grounds of Shin Mikado Academy, Monark opens with your character waking inside the mist that now fills the halls of each of the academy’s buildings, with little to no memory of your life prior to your awakening. You soon discover, like the rest of the student body and faculty, that you are trapped within a dome like barrier with no escape to the outside world.
Very quickly you will discover these “anomalies” are due to the authority’s wielded by the pact bearers, 7 individuals granted power by forming contracts with a rank of daemons called monarchs. In order to quell these anomalies you and your allies must solve the mysteries inside the academy’s grounds, while shattering the ideals of the areas ruling monarch alongside coping with the madness inducing mist.
The main story got its hooks into me pretty damn quick simply because of the mystery involved and the dark tones with each new revelation. While some of the plot points can be seen a mile off, the general writing of the title and how it addresses the issues that arise throughout only continued to draw me in as each chapter upped the ante. It eventually goes from indicating suffering and stating deaths of the student body, to straight up murder and burning people alive.
Each member of the cast and the foes you encounter all have different viewpoints, ranging from relatively normal or at least understandable, to twisted and selfish – often with a semi sympathetic reasoning behind the madness of the pact bearers you find yourself at odds with.
One of the best characters I encountered was Vanitus, a key figure throughout the game He stands apart from the other monarchs you’ll encounter thanks in part to his less than threatening form and his manner of speech. His interactions with the main character and the group known as the true student council had a tendency to catch me of Guard with the heavy tones in the rest of the story.
Visually the game looks a tad bit dated and some of the movements in scenes look a bit awkward, with that said it’s not a ugly game and some areas do stand above the rest. For instance the imagine gears (the battle forms of you and your allies) and the customisation of your daemon underlings have some pretty cool designs, but most areas you explore and the battle zones aren’t that exciting or are simply very similar throughout. Most of your time in the early stages of the game is trekking back and forth down the same looking hallways, with little more than the occasional lore to cause you to stop and pay attention.
With the above said however one thing that does give a little life to these set pieces is the mist and the actions and mannerisms of those inside it. While most floors without mist or those clear of it quickly become uninteresting, the first time you encounter a floor things are a lot more unsettling, if not a little creepy hearing banging on doors to screams of let me out, while you explore a area full of crazed students that charge at you. When you receive a death call it’s a tad bit unsettling to say the least, and that’s even if I wasn’t exploring an area controlled by someone that can run their hand through my chest.
Another way the overall tone is set in this game is thanks to the audio. Not only are some of the things the unsettled in the mist say strange or creepy, but the fact most of these lines are voiced and way they are spoken only adds to the eeriness of it all.
The music also helps in this regard as there’s a surprising number of audio tracks (52 if your interested) that do a great job at setting the tone for pretty much all situations and was honestly my personal favourite aspect of the whole game, what also really surprised me was each boss having their own lyrical theme song/battle theme.
Simply put I have nothing but praise for the teams audio design with this one, it helps in pretty much every area it appears and I’ll continue watching the title scene animation each time I boot it up at least until I buy the OST 😉
Gameplay for Monark was not what I was expecting given the teams behind it. For starters there’s much less combat than I’d have thought there would be and a distinct lack of “dungeons”. Instead the game focuses on exploring the school and solving mysteries and light puzzles to make your way to the current floors, ideal in fact if you nullify the death call and clear the fight to shatter the ideal. Each floor has approximately 1-2 fights, so unless your training or farming items you’ll be looking around for hints or passwords to lockers, computers or riddles and I’m not to proud to admit some of these really stumped me in there simplicity. I’m not even joking one took me far longer than I’m willing to admit, only to kick myself for not seeing it sooner.
As stated just above the way to clear each floor will require a little brain work, but mostly break down to figuring a password. Fortunately the hints tend to be close at hand, if not oft misleading. Unfortunately that’s all I can say on that matter so I’ll just wish you better luck than I had. Combat in Monark as stated is a rare occurrence when not training or gathering gear, though as you progress you’ll likely find yourself doing both those things in order to keep up with the difficulty spikes.
Battles take place when you receive a call from the other world in the main game. These fall into 3 main categories – the death call that lives up to its name, especially in the early game these calls will drive the unsettled in the mist mad and should you take the call you will be face to face with level 80-90 foes that will have no issue steamrolling your party. The flip side to this is a number Vanitus will give you when arriving on a floor that allows you to take on a much easier battle, that will also nullify said death calls, aside from these at the “end” of each floor. Here you will get a call leading to an area containing one of the pact bearers ideals, generally speaking you will do this 3 times for each area and encounter the pact master and their monarch as a boss on the 3rd encounter.
The battles themselves are turn based strategy with you controlling your units moving them around the battlefield and slaying the enemy units. All in all relatively simple stuff, there are some deeper elements to this such as back attacks and combos with your allies. Generally speaking most of the tactics you’ll be using will become second nature extremely quickly, the exception to this seem to be the madness gauge (that can lead to your character going on a rampage) which mainly increases as you use skills, and your awakening gauge (human characters only) that allows you to increase your stats for 3 turns and use special EX skills on there own. Neither is too complex and can be useful, though managing them both and maxing them out to attain the enlightened state (awakened but better) is far more of a chore than it’s worth 90% of the time and something I’ve not had to rely on to clear most battles.
Aside from utilising enlightenment however the only real challenge with battle comes from powering up your characters. You do this by spending spirit (in game currency) on skills, both passives and battle skills, with each additional skill or level up to a skill providing a character level up and stats boost. At first this is a relatively simple affair, but as you amass more party members and require more spirit for better skills, you end up spending a fair bit of time grinding battles to bring everyone up to par. This is key for when story battles can see enemies level up by 5-10 levels between fights and your main character going down to a single unlucky critical hit if you’re under levelled which can ruin any momentum you had going as the main character going down constitutes a game over. I lost a few battles this way despite my remaining party being at full health.
Overall, despite a few frustrations, I’ve been enjoying my time with Monark and while it’s not been what I expected in a number of ways, I appreciate the work put in by the writers to tackle some of the dark and sensitive issues the game addresses. The music and overall atmosphere are superb too, and while my pace was broken up by grinding my party to significant levels, I found myself sticking with it through to the end. Would I recommend this title to a friend? If they’re a fan of JRPGs then yes without little thought.
While not perfect, has some interestingly dark ideas to keep you gripped to the end.