Release Date: February 22, 2022
Composer: Tsukasa Masuko
Mode: Single-player video game
Developers: FuRyu, Lancarse
Publishers: FuRyu, Nippon Ichi Software, NIS America
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows
Genres: Japanese role-playing game, Action game, Tactical role-playing game, Adventure game, Strategy game
"Review Copy Provided By NIS America"
It’s going to be impossible to not draw comparisons between Monark and Persona given the similarities between the two. Both have a cast of high schoolers set out to solve the mysteries of what’s going on with a (somewhat) silent protagonist along with having access to demonic (or in Monark’s case, Daemonic) supernatural powers that allow the wielders to combat various monstrous hordes and must travel through dungeons to fight off ever growing threats. That however is where the similarities end as Monark is no Persona clone and dives off into its own fleshed out realm and it’s made all the better for it.
The story of Monark is set in a high school called Shin Mikado Academy that is blanketed in a mysteriously eerie mist that can drive people to insanity leading them to become what is known as the Unsettled. Our protagonist seeks to save these Unsettled and ends up answering a call from a phantom phone and forms a pack with a macabre entity known as Vanitas. In forming the pact, the agreement entails that the protagonist must defeat the Pactbearers of assigned to the seven deadly sins to stop the Otherworld from invading our realm and taking over. Rounding up several members of your rag tag crew of compatriots, you must set out to save the campus and the students within it and revolt against the school administration and find out if the ambitions and ideals of the Pactbearers are just or evil.
Monarks’ gameplay is turn-based system with a twist in that it’s got an added layer of tactical strategy with having you move about the battlefield to position yourself to execute one of several actions with attacks and or magic or items. Each of your party members, humans and fiends, will have standard attacks centered around their weapon style while more powerful attacks that consume HP. Special Skills are called Authorities which are accessible to Pactbearers and Fiends that consume your MAD gauge (more on that to come) and put the hurting on your foes. The importance of positioning units allows you to trigger chain attacks amongst your allies (and foes) which quickens the pace of battle. Certain attacks hit from a straight up line while others attack within an AOE or Area of Effect and the same with status and healing effects.
The experience system is done much differently in Monark as you earn Spirit which you can then go on to use to purchase items from Vanitas such as cure and health restoratives and you can also use it to unlock various skills and upgrades to those skills within the skill tree. With every unlock and upgrade, your skill tree will continue to expand as your Spirit is pooled together for you to allocate as you see fit. A cool aspect of upgrading and expanding your skills is the fact that those upgrades come with various stat buffs like AOE increases and reduction of HP draining and MAD costs. You can also increase your stats by locating and collecting shards known as Alter Egos, the catch is that you need to meet the requirements of the Ego to pick up these shards.
Outside of those aspects, traversing the campus will have you traveling to various floors with each of the floors being controlled by a Pactbearer and will have you needing to search every inch of the various floors and solving the puzzles all the while trying to limit your time in the mist which raises your MAD gauge. Given that the mist drives individuals to become an Unsettled and since you’re in the mist and your MAD Guage will keep raising, the Unsettled will eventually begin to become aggravated and start attacking you if you get too close. Another thing to expect is the eventual Death Call which can cause the Unsettled to be triggered to chase after you. You can stop the Death Call if you dial the Precipice number given to you by Vanitas when you enter an area.
Graphically speaking, this game isn’t impressive looking and at times looks like an early PS3 era title with how underwhelming the characters look. Because the characters aren’t expressive in anyway, you’ll have to listen to the tone of their voices or read the dialogue box to understand and catch emotional aspects of what’s being said. Environments aren’t that detailed and come off feeling and looking flat which is honestly sad to see because once you see a Monark show up then all of a sudden, the level of details jumps substantially. The audio is very solid with some catchy battle and overworld themes and voice acting that’s believable and well done and not overacted.
Performance wise, the game runs at 4K 60fps on the PS5 and PS4 Pro as well as the PC version. The Nintendo Switch port runs at 720p docked and handheld at 30fps which at this point is not at all surprising.
Is Monark worth your time? If you’re looking for a game with an engaging story with an exceptional battle system and an awesome experience system and skill tree, then YES you will find a lot to love here. It is a game that will appeal to the Persona fandom and those who have played and enjoyed the Caligula Effect games with its dark tone and often times morally grey areas that will provide the player with something to think about long after. While there are better JRPGs out there, Monark is a title that needs to be in your library!