A high school setting for JRPGs has become more and more common, to the point where it could be considered a trend within the genre. The FuRyu developed Monark falls into that general camp by appearance alone. However, even its demo presents a warped twist under the guise of a high school JRPG romp.
The Monark demo is rather extensive, featuring most, if not all, of the first chapter. Players control a nameable protagonist before taking a quiz that reveals their Ego. It’s an engaging way to build player attachment as these choices culminate in a result that impacts stat values. Afterward, several story-related characters are introduced alongside a few overviews of how combat works.
There are various systems introduced, but the title takes its time rolling these out, also providing menus to dive into at leisure. Still, the basic premise of battles makes sense from the first encounter. Players control their characters on a map with limited movement range per turn. Many actions are useable such as skills that require a minor HP sacrifice or attacks granting buffs at the cost of less damage. The descriptions for each skill are self-explanatory, presenting appreciative transparency every step of the way.
Still, the feature I enjoyed most was the skill trees. Every character can learn and enhance their own set of moves, though the party shares the currency needed to do so. While initially frustrating, this does seem to make each acquisition more thought-provoking and meaningful than it would be if each party member had their own skill point pool. Moreover, there are repeatable battles in the demo, so players can take their time experimenting with the various skills, thereby ascertaining if this combat system is their cup of tea.
Exploration might be a component of the journey that will be vital to progression as there is a light puzzle present. It is rather simple, but I wonder if the full game will lean on this more. I reserve some hesitation about the blandness of exploration, though, but these are just the beginning hours, so it’s unfair to attribute these potential faults to the game as a whole. Moving on, there is a unique phone call mechanic used to access battles, and a madness meter requiring players to be cognizant of their surroundings, which I also hope is leaned on more in the full release. The result of all of this is a few excellent ideas that kept me interested in experiencing the full game.
Admittedly, I found the pacing of the story and cutscenes to feel a tad off. This could just be me, but some of the CG scenes dragged on for longer than necessary without anything visually enticing being shown. Further, the cast is not exactly endearing in these opening moments. Yet again, though, these are just the beginning. Thankfully, the voice acting quality is superb, at least with the English dub save for one particular character. The soundtrack is seeming to be quite a hit, too, with a damn catchy battle theme.
Monark’s demo displays addicting battle mechanics, unique progression, and moderately captivating narrative concepts that I’m curious to see hopefully fully realized in the full release. The demo is roughly 2-3 hours long and is currently available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Switch, so if you’re interested in what the title offers, this is the time to check it out. Save data carries over to the full release as well.
Monark is releasing for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam on February 22, 2022.
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