Title: Monster Sanctuary
Developer: Moi Rai Games
Release Date: December 8, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: Adventure RPG
We’ve been here before with games that allow us to collect monsters, battle with them, evolve them; you know the drill. However, developer Moi Rai games put a slight spin on this concept by utilizing your monster companions more than just in battles. The differences in features allow it to stand out in the crowd but balancing these mechanics seems to be something that will be evolving alongside the monsters themselves.
Monster Sanctuary’s story revolves around following family traditions of becoming powerful Monster Keepers. You begin your mission by choosing one of four available Familiars, and then the world is your oyster for the most part. The game introduces its systems of fighting, navigating the world, and hatching new monster friends to add to your team, and then you’re allowed to pave your own path.
Now, there is also a significant story campaign following your journey of becoming a Monster Keeper as you fight against a threat aimed to tip the balance of monsters and humans, but this content is delivered alongside exploration. The story becomes rather complex as antagonists are introduced and new dungeons open up, but thankfully at any time, you can speak to your familiar to figure out your next steps.
I wasn’t expecting the story to be such a significant highlight in an open-world game that features a Metroidvania map design. You’ll meet tons of NPCs to aid your mission, but I wasn’t as attached to the adventure as I would have hoped. This may have been because the game is just so long with well over 20 hours of content where I’d think back on the entire adventure and not remember too much about the previous events.
Outside of the story, exploration and battles are what you’ll spend most of your time doing, and it is arguably the best part of this adventure. Gameplay has you traveling across a 2D world with your typical platforming fare. There are light puzzles and secret areas to discover to the point where I always had something I could be doing.
This is complemented by another core feature of Monster Sanctuary, where players can use their companions to access new areas. It creates a nice bond between your monsters, but given that multiple monsters will do the same thing, I never felt attached to any of them outside of my familiar. These added traversal abilities open up a range of new ways to get through areas, but if you don’t have the right monster, you’ll have to return to the area later. I could only wish for a more detailed map that details where unopened chests are or, better yet, the location of Champion Monsters.
You’ll encounter enemies while traversing dungeons to initiate a turn base battle of typically 3 v 3 matches. There’s a bit of strategy here as your attack power will grow after each attack, so the last character in your lineup will hit stronger. The strategy extends into the buff and debuff systems, which is the best way to cause serious damage. It’s possible to add a second health bar as a shield to your characters and stack status effects on enemies to cause extra damage after a turn, but the enemy will also do the same to you.
The battle speed can be increased to 2x, but I would have liked a button that “Repeats the last turn.” This would speed up encounters since they can be a little too long, especially when up against an enemy who enjoys stacking defense and healing. Following a fight, you’ll gain items, and hopefully, you’ll acquire an Egg that can be turned into a new monster companion.
The tougher enemies are Champion Monsters who, upon defeating, can raise your rank as a Monster Keeper and give you access to new systems at your base. The base is also where you can fight other trainers, purchase items, and strengthen your equipment.
There’s a high level of customization for each monster that extends past your typical weapons and equipment. There are vast skill trees for each companion that access more powerful abilities and passive traits. Skill points are gained by leveling up and allow you to create a unique monster. After level 40, more abilities are unlocked and give late-game players something to look forward to.
There’s a lot of love that went into the balance of the creatures that makes each of them a worthy member of your party. I found the more times I switched up my characters, the more things I liked about other monsters. This continues into the late hours of the games as you add more friends to your adventure.
Graphically, Monster Sanctuary doesn’t try to be something that it’s not. The pixel adventure does a great job giving players themed dungeons and fun monsters to collect. I’m not sure what else I could have expected. You can see a lot is going on behind the scenes, but the team did a great job with what they had, and it shows in environments and attack animations. Musically, this game kills it with a great soundtrack for whatever your current mission is.
Monster Sanctuary might not look like any monster-collecting RPG you’ve seen before, but its blend of genres creates a fun and exciting adventure for hours. The more you put into the game, the more you’ll find to love about it. I do wish there were easier ways to track navigation and some additional options to speed up the battles, but this is a genuinely fun game that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
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