I absolutely love to find a great JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) and sink many hours into them, even the occasional SRPG (Tactical/Simulation Role-Playing Game). Many of them can be incredibly innovative and addictive to play when companies create cool ideas like a unique battle system, a gripping story, and a memorable soundtrack to boot – all combined together. They can create some of the best gaming experiences you’ll ever have. Adding to my list of JRPGs I’ve now played in 2022 is Monark, a game created by Japanese studio, Lancarse.
You play as a silent protagonist, who wakes up amongst several others within Shin Makado Academy, a school that appears to be shrouded in eerie mist and with no way to escape. The mist has trapped students within the school all in different sections of the campus and stops them from escaping. But it also causes the students to go crazy with very red demonic-looking eyes and faces. Amongst this mist, there is also an evil dimension called the ‘Otherworld’, during which you meet a demonic plush toy-like thing that informs you that the mist appears when a human forms a pact with the highest-ranking demon, a ‘Monark’, and manages to enter the real world. Your task is to overcome and defeat these monsters and bring everything back to normal with the help of your friends, whilst also being given strong powers to do so by the little demonic plush toy that aides you on your mysterious journey.
Monark has an intriguing story that definitely had me interested from the start. The horror-like story and aesthetics the game offered was a nice way to begin my adventure, and I was curious to know and see more as soon as I started. It’s just a shame this was probably the most positive outcome I felt from experiencing this game.
Truthfully, Monark doesn’t really break the mould of JRPG/SRPGs and is very much of the same thing you’ve already come to know with these types of games. But it’s also not awful, and it does have its moments.
Gameplay on the battlefield allows your characters to move one at a time for a certain amount (indicated by a blue circle of how far you can move ahead and back) and once your turn is used up, you move the next character in your party until it’s your enemies’ turns to move and attack, and so forth. It’s more on the tactical side of things when it comes to its battle system, rather than simple turn-based battles.
You are able to use special attacks/magic called Artes that, while stronger than your average attack, can consume HP depending on each Artes, so choosing when to use stronger attacks and/or magic at the risk of using some HP for victory can make or break battles.
But the most unique thing about battles is the MAD system. As you progress through environments out of battle and by using certain Artes in battles, your MAD meter (Indicating when you may literally lose the plot and go, well, mad) increases. Once your MAD percentage hits 100%, your defence is lowered but buffs to your characters are raised. After three turns, your character will die in battle… unless you are the silent protagonist, which will result in an instant game over if he dies.
An opposite to the MAD gimmick is ‘Awakening’, which buffs all stats on your character if you meet certain requirements in battle. Mix and matching with attacks and Artes to see what can improve your stats in battle is interesting. I did like to experiment with it, and it’s the one thing I did like about Monark that has stood out from other games, even though overall, this game is still more of the same JRPG standard.
Monark also have an interesting feature to level up. You don’t gain experience points, but rather ‘Spirits’ after battles that you can use to unlock abilities on each character. Each ability/Artes you unlock all vary on how much you need to spend. But by unlocking them, it actually levels you up. It’s a different way to get stronger and I did like that, compared to your usual ‘defeat enemy-get experience points-level up’ shtick so common in games of the genre.
When it comes to the exploration in Monark, however, it is honestly pretty bland. It’s just feels like the same kind of area over and over, especially the battlefield with the same sort of ‘dungeon-like’ aesthetic every time you fight enemies. Even exploring the hallways of schools just feels boring and more of the same. There was not an awful lot of variety to look at whenever I was running around to my next destination marked on the map.
On top of that (and while it’s not the most important thing to a video game but it is still worth noting), Monark also appears to look like as if this was originally a PSP game from 2010 that was forgotten and suddenly remembered only now, given a fresh coat of paint to be given the HD look and released on current-gen platforms. Graphics are not top priority when compared to other things that make or break a game such as story, music, and gameplay, but I can’t deny this game could look much better. I even thought for the first 10 minutes that this actually was a PSP title, and I was playing the remastered version of it. It just looks really old and there definitely could have been spent more time in the oven with its graphics department. Which is a shame, as the 2D character art throughout the game whenever the characters speak in cutscenes are quite lovely and clean to look at, which are the complete opposite of the in-game graphics.
I was also not a fan of the random difficulty spikes this game had throughout. Any time I thought I was levelled up decently from getting new abilities or was good enough to enter a dungeon and fight, I found enemies who were lower-level than my characters still managing to easily defeat me, instantly resulting in a game over when playing as the silent protagonist. It seemed a little all over the place when it comes to the difficulty of this game, and I wasn’t too impressed.
Overall, Monark just feels like an average kind of game that doesn’t strive to be the best of the best, but it could have done more to look and play more interestingly. Bland environments and exploration, outdated-looking graphics, but an interesting story with horror-like vibes and a decent battle system that I did appreciate.
For hardcore JRPG/SRPG lovers out there, you may find something enjoyable in Monark if you can look past the random difficulty spikes and generic look of the game. But if you aren’t heavily into JRPG’s or are a casual player of the genre, this game will do you no favours in hooking you into these types of games. In the end, I did not feel totally satisfied playing this, which is a real shame.
Monark is available to buy now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Steam and Nintendo Switch.