Monark's First Impressions Is More Than One Can Say, When It's Influence Is Shin Megami Tensei
Without knowing who Lancarse or even FuRyu are, fans of the Shin Megami Tensei series can look at Monark and immediately see the influence. The character designs, dealings with the occult in a school setting, and the aesthetic sounds like a spinoff of the series. For Lancarse, developing spinoffs of the SMT series is something the small Japanese developer is familiar with. Beginning with Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey, Lancarse had co-developed games including Persona Q2.
While their catalog may be small, they have developed games for over a decade, with Monark being their most ambitious title. This is mainly because they have the backing of NIS America, a champion in unique JRPGS, as well as FuRyu. Coincidentally, FuRyu is best known for The Caligula Effect series, known for having the writer of the original Persona. Not missing a beat with Monark, several former Megaten and Shin Megami Tensei staff had worked on this title in the same manner.
Monark's Staff May Have Worked On Your Faves, But Be Aware This Is On A Different Plane
So it's more than just a mere coincidence that Monark has a familiar vibe to it, which is a huge positive. The last time all three companies worked on a title together was 2014's Lost Dimension, a Sony console exclusive that eventually found its way on Steam. For most players, this will be their first original Lancarse title. First impressions, it fits the bill for many other "anime-style JRPGs," beginning with its story.
The protagonists has the power to manifest their power known as Egos. Egos are determined by each of the seven deadly sins. Wrath, Pride, Greed, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, and Sloth. In the beginning, the dean gives the protagonist a small aptitude test to determine their starting "Ego." I answered the questions as honestly as I could and...I got Sloth. Even reading the description made me feel like an idiot, but writing this now I feel like any result would make the player feel inadequate.
Even If You're A Sloth, Your Potentially Shouldn't Be Scoffed
Shortly after this, the player wakes up with an amnesia in the middle of danger. A concerned girl, who allegedly is introduced as the protagonist's sister, is the first person they see. A wise cracking adult and a female student the same age as the protagonist also accompanies. If you've heard any of these tropes before please stop me now. Even if you did I'd have to keep going.
It'd be a good time as any to talk about the graphics, which are sharp and vibrant on the PS5. Honestly I wouldn't feel much of a difference on the PS4 as the fidelity isn't much. The PS5 provides a cleaner image but Monark's graphics isn't its strongest suit. Its designs are safe as well as its aesthetics. What about the gameplay? I'd also say it's familiar but there are some traits about the gameplay that's unique to Monark.
Fighting Alone Signs Your Death, Fighting With Your Demons Is Honestly The Best
Keeping up a rhyme scheme for the headlines has been nothing short of a challenge, but after a while it's something you can manage. At some point the protagonist will meet a floating talking stuffed bunny doll named Vanitas who loves talking in rhyme form. If you're a Kingdom Hearts fan like myself you probably had whiplash yourself just now. In any case, this talking doll teaches you about combat and using your Ego powers to summon a familiar. This familiar fights alongside you although it's unclear if each of the sins have a specific weapon type. Since I was Sloth, my familiar had a bow.
During each turn, players can opt to give up their turn to give an ally an extra turn. This mechanic was similar to that seen in Bug Fables except with lasting detriments. If an ally is in the vicinity of an enemy attack, they will counter-attack. If allies are side by side, the ally will join in with a follow-up attack. These elements gave me Fire Emblem vibes, but the overall fights play like a Neptunia game. The players can move around for an advantageous position, then attack. The enemies can also do the same, making planning things ahead important.
No More Rhymes, Monark Is A Weird Time
In short, Monark falls in the same struggle as games like Maglam Lord does. This may be a concurrent "JRPG" problem in that while Monark shows promise, it has a very slow burn to it. As with most games of this genre, I got to experience one fight and that was the tutorial one. Most of my time with the game was spent in cutscenes and interracting with the students. Like The Caligula Effect, time is spent in school where players can interact and learn more about the surrounding environment.
There's an entire world within Monark that is waiting to be built, although it will take time for everything to unfold. The game gives you teasers on what to expect and who to expect. The problem is waiting for when the plot demands to introduce these characters. While they are cliches, it's a game for those who want the Shin Megami Tensei experience outside of a remaster. Of course, with the recent announcement of Soul Hackers 2, it seems this is shaping up to be the year for "anime JRPG" fans with a little "spice" in their role playing.
Monark is available on the Sony PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.