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Monark's battle system is fairly intuitive
Developed by a team of former Atlus devs who were instrumental in the earlier Shin Megami Tensei games, Monark comes with inherent cache, and in turn, expectations. In many ways, the game very much aligns with what you’d expect it to be, given the talent involved- it can be philosophical and strangely dark and twisted at times, and the story it weaves around those themes is often engrossing. Disappointingly, however, more often than not, it feels like a half-baked experience, one that could have done so much more with many of its genuinely intriguing gameplay ideas if it had been thought out better and polished up a little bit more.
It turns out Pactbearers are pretty much what’s making the academy a scary misty place, and there are seven others that correspond with the seven deadly sins. Your powers are fueled by your ego (which is made up of these sins) and given to you by a Monark. It’s confusing and ensures that the first few hours of the game are less exciting than they should be. The short version though, is that seven other people on campus have these powers, and you need to go batter them and their monster buddies.
Monark’s battle system is fairly intuitive, but it’s something that might take some getting used to. As a turn-based, free-movement system, it’s simple enough, but it relies heavily upon strategy, so there are a lot of elements to consider.
For starters, the enemy variety here is abysmal. More often than not, you’ll be fighting the same (or similar) skeletal enemies again and again, and that repetition quickly rubs the appeal off of Monark’s combat systems. More importantly, and more egregiously, this is a ridiculously grindy game. You level your characters up using a currency known as Spirit, which you get at the end of every battle, but you don’t have a fixed party in Monark, which means you’ll often be wasting Spirit on characters who’re not going to stick around for long anyway.
It’s worth mentioning how Monark performs on Switch. For the most part I was pretty impressed with the performance. The visuals aren’t bad at all, and the framerate is generally consistent if a little on the low end. As you progress further into the game though, the framerate really starts to tank. Your main base starts to fill up with allies as you dive deeper into the story, and whenever I was in there in the second half of the game I felt a headache looming. It’s a real shame, because the portability really works for a lengthy narrative heavy game like this.
With a unique narrative that touches on our deepest cardinal sins, Monark has an interesting premise that doesn’t shy away from dark themes. Add an extensive battle system, chilling atmosphere and deep symbolism and you have the building blocks for a great JRPG. Unfortunately, repetitive gameplay, the need for excessive grinding and an overall lack of polish hold it back.
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