When I first saw the trailer for Monark, the new JRPG developed by Lancarse, in 2021, I remember thinking to myself “hey, this looks cool, it gives me Persona 5 vibes”. It turns out, I was right and as I ventured into the game it came as no surprise to me when I found out that previous Shin Megami Tensei staff had worked on the title.
“These are based on the classic Seven Deadly Sins”
While I hate to immediately compare games, the similarities are obvious from the get-go – set in a high school and the player gets supernatural powers that are based on and manifested from their inner psyche, oh and of course the talking animal sidekick too. While all these things are not uncommon in the JRPG genre, Persona 5 is one of the most recent titles to feature all these things and so it’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two.
Monark takes place within Shin Mikado Academy, a high school that has been overtaken by a maddening mist, sealing it off from the outside world. The protagonist – a student at the Academy – is part of a group who are able to enter the Otherworld. Your job is to fight off fiends and daemons to free the school and its students from the Mist.
Like many JRPGs, the game begins with a quiz that will determine the protagonist’s stats, or ego in Monark and their starting fiend, a physical manifestation of their psyche. These are based on the classic “seven deadly sins” and your percentages of each sin can vary depending on your answers. I was highest in gluttony and I’m not quite sure what that says about me but my character’s Imagigear (their armour) sure did look cool.
“Monark’s artwork immediately drew me in.”
Your ego stats increase as you explore the academy and answer questions asked by other characters, with your answer corresponding to a certain sin. Defeating fiends of the corresponding sin can also increase these stats and the higher aspects of your ego also allow you to control certain fiends. Another way to increase your stats is to look for alter ego crystals. These belong to students with a particularly strong sense of self and you must use clues in their character profiles to track them down.
Monark’s artwork immediately drew me in. This art, along with the portraits that appear while the characters are talking are dynamic and gorgeous, even with the limited colour palette of reds, whites and blacks. The character design and subsequent art were done by the artist so-bin, known for illustrating the Overlord light novel series in Japan.
“The movement controls in and out of combat are slow and clunky.”
Unfortunately, that’s where my enjoyment of the game’s visuals stopped. The in-game models reminded me of games that I used to play in the PlayStation 2 era. This would have been okay if the rest of the game had been stellar. I’m not a proponent of games having to look amazing to be fun, but Monark falls short in the gameplay side of things too.
The movement controls in and out of combat are slow and clunky, once again reminding me of games from the sixth generation of consoles. Combat wasn’t particularly intuitive and for the first few battles, I struggled to tell the difference between my fiend and the enemies I was fighting. There is no grid a la Fire Emblem but rather, characters are free to run all over the battlefield. This idea is cool in theory, but the slow and awkward movement makes it difficult to master.
The most unique part of Monark is the aforementioned Mist. This mist sends students mad and as you explore the school halls, you encounter all sorts of panicked students worrying about what’s going to happen to them. The game’s UI includes a Mad gauge which slowly ticks up as you explore areas engulfed by the mist. If it reaches 100%, you’ll be greeted with a game over. Using items or taking visits to the infirmary can keep the percentage low. This time sensitive element adds urgency to the game, which makes for some interesting, albeit stressful gameplay.
“Monark could be a fun experience for JRPG fanatics.”
Something I did enjoy about the experience though was the localised setting. Having just played Persona 5, Persona 5 Strikers and Final Fantasy XV in the last two years, it was nice to have a game that was set entirely within a small space. It made the experience less overwhelming and exploring not such a daunting task. Having the Otherworld as a secondary location was also cool and it helped with the claustrophobic feeling that can sometimes arise when playing a game locked inside a building (looking at you, Danganronpa).
While the Mist is certainly a unique concept, Monark’s in-game setting and concept of fighting off otherworldly demons is very similar to other JRPGs out there and unfortunately, those other JRPGs do it better in both controls and visuals. Perhaps if the game had been set in a different location or used something other than sins as a core part of its gameplay, it could have avoided the Persona comparisons and differentiated itself in the genre. Monark could be a fun experience for JRPG fanatics, but for a newbie dipping their toes into the genre, there are other titles I would easily recommend over this one.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher