Developer: FuRyu
PublisherNISAMERICA
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
Reviewed On: PS4 Pro
Release Date: 25/02/2022
Price£53.99/$64.99
Reviewed By: Keith Lavelle
Review Rush was kindly supplied with a review code.

When every Nippon Echi gets set to release a new game, I get excited. Sometimes it pays off to be excited; I am looking at you, Disgaea. Then it feels like a bit of a disappointment. I am afraid that MONARK is falling somewhere near disappointment.

The game starts with the protagonist waking up in Shin Mikado Academy with amnesia (never seen this before). A barrier that stops anyone from entering or leaving has surrounded the Academy. And a mist engulfs the halls that send anyone unlucky enough to be caught in its stark raving mad.

You become an unwitting Pactbearer with the aid of a floating stuffed bunny demon (its high school, why not) Vanitas and he talks in rhymes. Pactbearers can survive in the madding mist longer and can fight back against the ones causing the mist. 

The story of MONARK tackles some strong issues that might upset some players. As a whole, it’s full of the usual JRPG anime style tropes. It is still a good, interesting story. Even if the protagonist is an emotionless wooden pit of nothingness.

MONARK battle

EGO

The EGO is a major aspect in MONARK and will determine the order that you get your Fiends. These doll like character are based around the seven deadly sins, just like the EGO chart is. 

Throughout the game you will meet NPCs that will ask a series of questions or show a set of pictures, and depending on your choice, you will be awarded points in to certain aspects of your EGO. 

In order to unlock a Fiend, your EGO points in the Fiends sin will need to be at a certain level. Making answering questions a must to unlock them all.

Battles

MONARK’s best feature has to be the battle system. It has a few changes to the usual turn based JRPG that for the first 10 or so hours will have to hooked. It is never boring, just not as engaging. But as soon as you find an attack pattern that works for you, there is no point in deviating from it. 
When it is your party members’ turn, they will have a movement ring that they can run freely about, allowing for a more tactical positioning. Arts and Authorities are used to attack. 

Arts are physical based attacks that will cost HP to use. Whereas Authorities are magic attacks and they cost SP but will increase the MAD gauge a fair amount. This leads to a risk/rewards style balancing act for what type of attacks to use, because of their specific draw back.

When in battle, you have two gauges that will steadily increase, MAD and Awakening. These gauges are vital to making some fight easier. However, they come at a cost and risk/reward play style. 

MAD is increased in a few ways; Authorities, being hit, handing over your turn and being in the Mist. When at the gauge is filled, the character will enter a madness mode, where all stats are increased but you have no control over them. Knowing it is about to happen could be used to great effect. For instance, pulling the party back further than the enemy, so the character will pull off massive damage on the foes and not the party.

Unlike MAD, Awakened, you get the same power buff but keep full control over the character. Now there is another status where one party members have both madness and awakened buffs, called Enlightened. This is achieved by resonating the two characters to get each other’s status. Here the characters get an even bigger stat boost and we keep full control. 

MONARK has a massive emphasis on risk/reward gameplay in battles. It adds a layer of tactics to the battles. 

Mist

Each floor and building has its own Pactbearer, that you must defeat to save everyone inside the school. In order to do this, you must find and destroy three ‘Ideals’ then beat the Pactbearer themself.

As you wander around the areas covered in Mist, you will need to talking to the, at times, nonsensical NPCs. Solving a puzzle and finding the pile of phones. 

The phones are your like to the ‘Ideals’ and will allow you to cross in to the Otherworld. Here is where the Ideals reside. Once an ‘Ideal’ is destroyed, then the floor will clear of the Mist and everyone on the floor will go back to normal.

For the first few levels, this sort of loop was ok. However, 15 hours plus later, it becomes very repetitive. And I lost interest for the most part in what I was to do, as it was the same as the other 14 hours before it.

Phone

MONARK has you checking your phone for a few reasons. The main being that the phone is the in game menu. Here you can level up characters, check your EGO, read reports and letters found in the school. And of course make phone calls, as long as you are near Vanitas. Not to mention it’s what people are like, constantly check and being on their mobile phone.

Vanitas will give you phone numbers to call and finding them. The phone is the link to the Otherworld and allows for the party to engage in battles. On the floors with Mist, you will get a phone call at times from a powerful foe. Unless you solve a puzzle to cut the connection, you will need to fight it. Again, this has the risk/reward element that is used throughout MONARK.

Visual and audio

MONARK has a fairly decent battle system, and at times a hard-hitting story. But, my lord, it looks horrid. Everything is gray and washed out and looks terrible. Not to mention everything looks the same.

Most of the character models are very static and awkward looking. Made even more annoying when the 2D visual novel character’s’ NEVER emotions do not line up with the character model. I would say visually it looks like a Vita game.

Voice acting is great, however, with some fantastic deliveries from the actors. With a great soundtrack, with the battle and boss tracks standing out.

Overall, I wanted to like MONARK more than I did. It has a created great foundation for sequel. It just needs to iron out a few kinks and maybe a lick of paint. The topics that MONARK tackles are thoughtful and are not just there for reasons.

The mundane, boring and lifeless art style and the repetitiveness of each level pull MONARK down, unfortunately.

6-10
ABOVE AVERAGE

For more reviews, check out The Caligula Effect 2 and Ruined King: A League of Legends Story