Developer: FURYU Corporation
Release Date: February 22, 2022
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: NIS America
It’s not often that you see a game blend together the strategic elements of chess and a narrative built around the Seven Deadly Sins. However, leave it to developer FuRyu to make it happen in their JRPG Monark. By diving into the mysterious realm of the Otherworld, you must solve the mystery of the Mist, a phenomenon that suddenly befell Shin Mikado Academy. It’s a grim setup for a noteworthy adventure.
In Monark, you play as a nameless protagonist who is suffering from a case of amnesia. As soon as the game starts, you’ll be greeted to the first combat encounter (that you unfortunately lose, no matter what.) You’ll then take a fifteen-question test, of which your answers will increase each of your seven sins in different proportions.
The opening comes off as slow-paced, especially during the first chapter, as you’re going through the tutorials and learning basic mechanics. Still, I appreciated this methodical role out as there are a handful of unique systems to understand. Further, plenty of cast members are introduced that offer drips of lore about your current mission.
You’re put onto a map with limited movement range per turn during combat, but you have a free directional movement inside said range. Actions such as skills are usable but require a minor HP sacrifice while attacks offer buffs. There’s also the “Defer” option, which grants the character an extra turn by “passing the baton.” Of course, if you do it too much, you risk the character going mad.
The descriptions for each skill are self-explanatory, with comprehensive symbols assisting you with the consequences of each action. The only gripe I had with the combat system was how movement worked. Sometimes I found that the enemies got too crowded together, and it was impossible to target them, even within range.
Several hazards can cause status effects found on the battlefield. I wouldn’t say I liked the one that causes Charm since a Charmed character attacks teammates, which can be a pain to deal with if your DPS dealer gets affected by this. And while there are items you can use to cure it, that’s still a turn wasted. Madness is another stat that makes you lose control of the character, and if three turns pass, they’re automatically killed.
Monark’s way of leveling up is truly unique. You don’t gain a shred of EXP from combat. Instead, at the end of combat, you’ll receive SPIRIT currency utilized to unlock new skills or upgrade existing ones, depending on your grade. By spending SPIRITs on the Skill Tree, you’ll not only open your desired skill, but you will also level up, which means you can allocate who you think needs to be stronger than the rest. I put my resources in the protagonist because its Game Over if he dies, so I felt the need to make him a powerhouse.
However, as you progress, it is recommended to give special care to the Legions, which are mannequin-like spirits that can tag along in combat. They can use various valuable skills, which is good because some characters leave your party following the end of a chapter. This just meant I was more interested in leveling up permanent party members.
Notes are scattered around dungeons that need to be read if you want to progress. From locker combination hints to even password-protected computers, you’ll have to read attentively. However, I enjoyed the flexibility of the opening chapters, and after the Dungeon of Pride, the game just let me choose the dungeon I deemed suitable to continue with.
If you stand close to Vanitas, the bunny plushie that tags you along in your journey, you can use the Phone, which is used to dial in numbers you find in the notes. There’s no stopping you from dialing random numbers, but please don’t unless you want to fight LV 90 enemies in the game’s early stages. Once you dial a dungeon number, you cannot go back to the main menu to prepare, with your only option being to either accept your fate or reset the game.
That being said, not everything in Monark is smooth sailing. For one, you’re more than likely to encounter a difficulty spike without any prior warning, making grinding almost a necessity if you wish to progress. Even if you knock down the difficulty by using Casual Mode, it doesn’t really do any favors. It’s almost like Casual Mode is the intended Normal difficulty. I found this out after my party was wiped even though I was three levels higher than the enemy.
Furthermore, some dungeon puzzles are vague about what you need to do. For instance, in one of the dungeons, the game has you backtrack to previous locations you’ve visited, without any hint or indication of what or where you’re supposed to go. This wasn’t an issue in the first few dungeons, but the further I got, the more annoyed I became about this lack of clarity, which resulted in me searching through a guide.
Monark puts a spin on the high school JRPG design by offering unique gameplay and combat systems for fans of the genre. The narrative heightens this experience with a memorable cast and plenty of mysteries to uncover. The spike in difficulty hurts the experience as the balance of vague puzzles and encounters slows the pacing down to a crawl, but genre veterans might enjoy the art of grinding and not notice this too much.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.