A special thanks to Odencat for allowing us a chance to review a game that took me by surprise. Meg's Monster is a deceptively simple game about a child in an unfamiliar world befriending the monsters below. What begins with a young girl looking for her mother wound up being a classic narrative-driven RPG with enough twists and bends to rival a racing game. From its premise alone, upon first impressions, the player would be forgiven for thinking about Monster's Inc first and foremost. A big hulking monster with a heart of gold, a slender lanky monster with the gift of gab, and an innocent child who is smarter than she lets on. Sully, Mike, and Boo are but Roy, Golan, and Meg in a different universe.
Imagine being a monster living a simple life day by day with your best friend on the outskirts of town only for a kid to come tumbling down a hole asking for their parent. Said best friend ‘jokingly’ threatens the child as humans are a monster delicacy, which prompts the child to start crying. Everything turns red, temperatures rise, and it feels as if your soul is being drained from your body. Eventually, the child stops crying and all is normal. You then realize that you are the only monster the child feels at peace with and this peace must be sustained or else the entire world is doomed. No longer are you just a monster, but, you are now Meg’s Monster.
As I was playing this game, I couldn’t help but consider it an allegory to babysitting a child. Children are unpredictable as well as inquisitive—if something distracts them, they will follow it. This often leads to the child getting themselves in a predicament and being on the verge of tears. Being there in the nick of time before the waterfalls begin should be an Olympic sport for all guardians of children and it’s captured well in Meg’s Monster. Roy is the furthest thing from what one would call a “parent.” He’s simple, loud, abrasive, and always itching for a fight. One look at his stat line and it’s easy to see why he’s such a fighter.
Roy has the rather impressive HP stat of 99999, a little above average for an RPG, but this allows him to go up against the strongest of foes. Early on, Roy will constantly get in fights ranging from enemy monsters who wish to eat the child, Council members who wish to prove Roy’s resolve, and self-destructing security robots who don’t know any better. Roy can and should be able to fend for himself just fine. That is until you add Meg into the equation. Meg does not have almost 100k HP for she is a fragile child. While Roy will do a formidable job in defending Meg, he can’t fully protect her mental state.
Seeing Roy take damage will affect Meg’s psyche, causing her to take mental damage in place of physical damage. The emphasis on “mental health” as a life source reminded me of The Chant, a horror game on the opposite end of the spectrum where the protagonist’s mental state determines her own fate. In that game, meditation was used to restore Jessica’s health. Meg’s mental health recovers through the usage of play toys. In certain areas, Roy will find a toy that ranges from healing Meg to applying a beneficial buff in combat.
A potential strategy in Meg’s Monster is to line up a toy’s buffs with your own attacks, while also monitoring Meg’s health. For example, Roy’s Mega Punch costs 1 SP, which is the amount Roy gains each turn he doesn’t use a special attack. Roy also has access to a Soccer Ball toy that will not only heal Meg but will give him an attack buff for three turns. Each toy is unlocked at the end of each night during the plot, increasing the value of Meg's happiness
Players can line up all three skill points with the Soccer Ball buff to ensure their next three attacks will deal the most damage. During each fight, random events can happen especially during a pinch. An example of this is your partner Golan, who doesn’t fight, but will occasionally do things to increase Meg’s mood like make a funny face at her or get her a drink. After each fight, Roy and Meg’s stats increase, representing their growth as characters with Meg slowly becoming stronger over the course of the game.
There are no “random encounters” in Meg’s Monster, meaning every fight you are given the tools to win each battle. While this doesn’t make the game difficult at all, it doesn’t trivialize the fights as well. Meg’s Monster is more of a narrative-driven game with fights that reward the player’s decision-making skills. The loss condition of a girl’s tears being the catalyst to armageddon is intriguing enough to want to know how and why this came about. The world-building in Meg’s Monster, however, shows a charming side to the monsters and other organic species.
At several points in the story, the player can partake in optional quests that offer a different side to the side characters. Enemies can be turned into friendly allies as they set to live out their dreams, such as convincing a creeper to become the best chef the underworld has seen. While the overall map is small and accessible when the plot demands it, the small monster village is enough to give a sense of warmth. Meg’s Monster’s progression is natural, with each fight giving the player all they need to win, eliminating the need for any grinding. This was an important decision to make as the plot begins to unravel layer by layer.
This is part of the review where I will gently nudge the reader and go MAJOR STORY SPOILERS as I do have my thoughts on the matter. As always, I’ll make a place note where the spoiler ends and I’ll use non-spoiler images to eliminate any risks.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT
As it turns out, the threat wasn’t Meg at all—It was Roy. Roy was created in a laboratory and cast to the “Monster World.” The “Monster World” is actually a man-made ditch for humans to dump their waste as well as any humans who need “disposing” of. Naturally, this also meant Roy, as he was a failed experiment meant to ingest radioactive sludge and prevent the world from turning into Fallout. Unfortunately, it turns out that Roy wasn’t digesting it, but absorbing its energy, which was why the “Magic Tar” was delicious to him from the beginning.
This also explains why Roy’s stats were 99999, as a result of the sludge. This realization begins the second half of the game where Meg is held captive and Roy is tasked to find her. Meg’s Monster alters itself at this point from protecting Meg to protecting yourself. Roy takes a lot of damage from humans, nullifying his health pool and normalizing it. Items like grenades that humans drop as well as using the “Magic Tar” to heal your wounds are imperative to ensure Roy’s survivability.
Most important, however, is how Meg’s Monster both hides this fact yet open the possibility that something isn’t right with Roy. This is given away at the very beginning when Meg starts to cry. Roy’s body begins to heat up and it’s something that only he can feel, but Golan, who was in on the whole thing, to begin with, played along so as not to have Roy appear like he was crazy. It also explains why no other monster felt what Roy did and why they looked at him as crazy whenever Roy would say Meg is the “harbinger of death.” It was all Roy and his “best friend” Golan did his best to fool him to the very end.
This wasn’t met with ill intention, however. Golan was more or less blackmailed into playing along or he too would die. It opens up a discourse on how messed up humans can get, when those who create others have the power over life itself. Who are the real monsters? The humans or the physical monsters? All who dwelled in the monster world were average everyday people trying to survive. Most of Roy’s fights were either to test his mettle or fend off scavengers. Even so, Roy never fought to kill, with all fights ending with a “knock-out” than carnage.
Roy is more humane than almost all the humans that make their appearance in the game as an antagonist and even the one human who stayed underground was doing others a favor by trying to save his own people. Oh and the doctor that orchestrated this whole plan reveals himself to be incredibly jacked, making quick work of Golan when he sides with Roy. He then proceeds to quote the “ideal male body” meme, showing us what “peak performance is like.”
After what seems to be the final battle followed by an ending sequence that even I won’t spoil as it’s important to the plot, the game pulls one of the biggest travesties I hadn’t seen in a long time—False endings! Turns out, the incredibly bittersweet ending was just an aversion as the woman from the beginning is revealed to be Meg twenty years into the future. Not only that, but she pulls a deus ex machina, somehow using her tears to activate the flower that she gave Roy in the past and send her back to the, well, past.
Wibbly wobbly timey whimey things happen (Hadn’t used that phrase to describe phenomena like that in a while) and we’re placed back before the events where everyone went to the laboratory and met their demise. Only this time, the player and Meg are armed with information and we decide not to join the suspiciously bad humans but remain here. We still got more playtime to go, but now we know that Meg wasn’t the source. She was merely the catalyst and it is Roy who is the ticking time bomb.
That’s all well and good, but I was more concerned about far greater matters. Future Meg just caused a butterfly effect, didn’t she? Without giving the time to think, the Council is over their heads on what to do and instead attempts to neutralize the problem one by one. Now, at this point in the game, the player (and I guess Present Meg) already knows what happens if Meg starts to cry. I understand that this is the core gameplay, but I feel as if the concept of watching over her mental health has long since flown out the window. Fortunately for me, the game felt the same way.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS END BUT MINOR SPOILERS CONTINUE
The player will have to endure a “boss rush,” fighting each powerful enemy without Meg in the picture. This turns the fights into a traditional RPG brawl with mechanics from each boss relating to how they appeared in the story. One boss may show a “test of strength” to the protagonist who may have impressed him with his soccer ball kick. Another may leave things up to chance by playing a “card minigame,” due to their previous encounter. The last remaining fights in the game have an outside gimmick on top of “protecting Meg,” but again, Meg’s Monster will never put the player in an impossible fight.
The one major credit I can give Meg’s Monster is that nothing that is mentioned within the plot is wasted. If the game takes note of an object, best believe it will be relevant to the plot in some way. This causes players to identify specific context clues which help understand why things happen in the story. This comes front and center during the ending sequence of Meg's Monster with every known potential plot hole being filled with rapid succession. Everything down to how 'The Council' came about is mentioned and plays a role in the game's true ending.
Meg's Monster's writers did an amazing job in conveying character emotion without actively telling the player, instead allowing the characters to convey through actions. The toys that Roy uses to calm down Meg are used as plot devices several times, each representing a childlike innocence between Roy and Meg. In one of the boss fights, an audio machine is played that plays notes at a low pitch that only children can hear. Meg can obviously hear it, but what's intriguing is that Roy could hear it too, hinting at his origins.
Upon completing the game, the game's "chapter select" opens, allowing the player to view any of the optional scenes they may have missed. While it is short enough that it can be played in one sitting, Meg's Monster left an impression on me like watching an amazing movie and leaving the theater approaching reality again. I left my seat, got a glass of water, and walked around the room, letting every emotion wash over me.
While I won't say that it's the best game of the year for it's far too early to tell, Meg's Monster, when played for the narrative experience as it's meant to be experienced, is an amazing multi-layered story. The joys of human innocence, the struggles of raising a child, understanding others, and being reasonable amongst your peers. All of these play a role in a way that despite the gameplay being more "point and click" than the average RPG, helps Meg's Monster form an identity. Those who appreciate a great story would enjoy Meg's Monster and it's easily a recommendation from me.
Meg's Monster releases March 2nd, 2023 on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC.