Following the success of The Caligula Effect 2, FuRyu brings another JRPG to whet the appetite of eager players. Monark provides an interesting, new take on the Japanese high school setting while feeling familiar to the RPG genre. Developed by Lancarse, Monark is a turn-based strategy RPG hybrid that dives into the physical and mental empowerment of the seven deadly sins. In the right hands, a person’s soul manifests into weapons to take on the most ravenous of daemons. With a pact, they have the power to distort the world. Their Ego empowers them to make their desires a reality for better or worse. These powers clash in a highly engaging narrative that kept me questioning what’s next.
Monark begins with the protagonist waking up in a brooding underworld and daemons ready to attack. With a knife in hand, he attempts to fight off the daemons but ultimately gets killed for his efforts. Back in the real world, a strange energy dome envelopes Shin Mikado Academy and a thick mist settles in. The mist begins to drive students insane as it contaminates any stretch of air within reach. The protagonist wakes up once again but this time, he’s standing in the dean’s office. The dean introduces herself as Yoru and gauges the player’s Ego with a series of questions. The results of these questions affects the player’s Ego and their affinity with the seven deadly sins. Yoru welcomes him into the academy and a twisted school day begins.
Third time’s a charm as the protagonist wakes up in the main building with a young girl crying, relieved that he’s safe and awake. The young girl is Chiyo Aikawa, a middle school student and sister of the protagonist. On standby next to her is Dr. Kakeru Hasegawa, the Shin Mikado Academy doctor, and Nozomi Hinata, the former student council president. Upon waking up, the protagonist doesn’t recognize Chiyo and realizes that he’s lost his memories of life before meeting Yoru. The group then head toward the first floor, which is safe from the mist. However, the situation becomes dire when Chiyo receives a strange phone call. The call disorients the group and sends them to the underworld where daemons await.
Upon entering the underworld, Hasegawa shields the group from an enemy attack. Hasegawa is injured and suddenly, a sophisticated stuffed animal shows up with a desire for witty banter. The protagonist grabs it by the ears, demanding power to protect everyone from the daemons. The stuffed animal introduces himself as Vanitas and awakens the power of the protagonist’s soul, the Imagigear. He successfully forms a pact with Vanitas and protects everyone. The group returns to the academy and Hasegawa takes Chiyo to the infirmary. Meanwhile, the protagonist and Nozomi encounter the new student council president with a dark secret. The real journey of Monark begins to unfold…
The Underworld Playground
Battles in Monark take place in the underworld where the powers of the Imagigear manifest. The real world is reserved for exploration, puzzles and revelations to be discovered within the academy. Stages are entered by calling them via the protagonist’s smartphone, approaching a ringing phone in the real world or during story sequences. Characters may move freely within a radius during their turn rather than moving through a grid in other strategy RPGs. This allows for some more freedom and places higher emphasis on positioning. For instance, attacking an enemy from the rear boosts damage and allies near someone attacking may follow up with an assist. Some stages include hazards such as fireballs, cannons and more to avoid. Defeated enemies may drop loot called Vessels, which are gear for the protagonist’s fiends.
Character have access to Arts, Authority, Defer, items and waiting. Arts are traditional skills while Authority is specialized in the use of Madness. Using such skills increases a character’s Madness and at 100%, control of the character is temporarily lost as they go berserk. The protagonist may become incapacitated in the real world due to the mist, which increases Madness. Defer allows a character to act again during the turn while adding more Madness to their gauge. It’s not all doom and gloom though. Human characters also have an Awake gauge that fills up with successful attacks or receiving damage. If the Awake gauge reaches 100%, the character enters the Awakened state for a few turns with increased stats. A character happens to be in Madness when they Awaken, they achieve Enlightenment and players regain control of them. Overall, combat is really fun and kept me coming back for hours.
The Power of Souls and Sins
At the end of each battle, players are given a performance rank from D to S with rewards and spirit points. Additionally, the protagonist gains Ego points randomly allocated to each sin. Spirit points are used to purchase a variety skills from a character’s respective skill tree. When one skill is purchased, that character also levels up. Leveling up a main character such as Nozomi or Ryotaro multiple times may result in their Imagigear’s appearance changing to represent their growth. Even with the power of souls and sins, Monark offers a decent challenge for even the most avid of strategy RPG players. Luckily, plenty of opportunities to grind such as optional stages with large spirit rewards are present.
As mentioned previously, the protagonist has fiends at his command. These fiends each represent the seven deadly sins and are acquired through story progression. They take the form of skeletons but are customizable to an extent. Vessels are armor pieces with stat boosts and skills at the ready. Vessels are aplenty in Monark so all of the fiends will end up equipped with powerful gear. Catering to the strengths of each fiend will do a lot to ensure the toughest of battles are overcome with synergy. Harness the power of the soul and Ego to succeed.
A Distorted Journey of Intrigue (slight spoilers)
Monark’s story takes place across the entirety of Shin Mikado Academy, various buildings and all. Many students try to make the most out of the current predicament and provide insight into prominent in-game characters. Certain students/staff have Alter Egos which depict their true intentions and awards the player with minor stat boosts. These Alter Egos are scattered across the academy with certain Ego requirements (i.e. Sloth stat at 500). Memos are also lying around waiting to be discovered and aid the player in solving riddles. Upon doing so, dark secrets about the academy are unveiled and it creates a satisfying sense of discovery. Traversing the mist, hearing the demented thoughts of students and finding clues to progress felt very fresh to the JRPG genre.
Chapters of the game focus on specific companions and their motives, which act as connecting pieces to the overall narrative. There will even come a point where space-time travel is necessary due to events getting out of control. As players scour the academy grounds, they face the threat of others trying to use their newfound power to take advantage of the distorted world. Their ideals are tested and shattered thanks to the might of the player. In similar fashion to The Caligula Effect 2, characters experience their reality being flipped on its head. The protagonist and party suffer, making their actions seem futile when it’s supposed to matter. Monark is a JRPG of story of perseverance and unraveling mysteries in search of virtue. This is amplified thanks to the inclusion of English voice acting, which is a very welcomed addition!
Monark’s Woes (slight spoilers)
During Monark, there are plenty of opportunities to retread areas that have already been explored such as the 1st year building or library. The story requires players to revisit such areas during Act 2 since the protagonist needs to find a possible path forward using space-time travel. Having to explore the library a few times over was redundant and I felt like it could have been condensed into a more straight-forward approach. Thankfully, each character’s route during Act 2 has major differences so having to explore an area again results in a different outcome. A specific character might reveal an important clue in one route versus another. Monark may be a test of perseverance for not just the protagonist but the player themselves in this case. Act 2 drags on and took up most of my playtime but I’m glad I pushed on through it.
On Switch, Monark is a really good experience for the most part. However, there seems to be some performance issues and screen tearing during cutscenes. Screen tearing is limited to some cutscenes and luckily not an issue during actual gameplay. There were some frame dips during my playthrough but that was to be expected on Switch. The version I played is 1.00 so there’s bound to be various updates to fix these issues. It’s worth noting that performance issues may differ from another console so the aforementioned issues might not be present in the PS4 or PS5 versions.
Monark brings a refreshing approach to JRPGs. It combines the exploration and intrigue of a mystery-adventure with what I come to expect from strategy RPGs. The narrative kept surprising me until the end and I think that mattered the most in this case. Monark is a fulfilling game in my experience and it stands out against some of the latest JRPGs over the past few years. Performance issues did affect some vital cutscenes on the Switch and hopefully, those issues are remedied soon after launch. If you enjoyed The Caligula Effect 2 and strategy RPGs, this is worth taking a look at. I’m very much looking forward to what FuRyu brings next!
Thanks to NIS America for providing Final Weapon with a review code of Monark for Nintendo Switch!