If manga, anime and video games are to be believed, it’s a wonder that anyone actually makes it through the Japanese education system. They’re such a hotbed of weird supernatural calamities, that I’m sure most students are just happy to make it out alive, let alone with the qualifications they need to get a job.
In MONARK, Shin Mikado Academy is the latest school to find itself facing disaster, shrouded in Mist as the student body struggles to overcome their own egos and the deadly sins.
In typical anime game fashion, your protagonist wakes up with no real idea what’s going on. The school you’re trapped in is completely separated from the outside world by a madness-inducing Mist and a deadly mystery to unravel. The start of the game will see you teaming up with the True Student Council to try and investigate and save your classmates, one building at a time.
Early in the game, you’ll team up with Nozomi Hinata, the former student council president. With MONARK only ever partnering you up with one other character at a time, it lets the game dive into each one to learn about their particular motivations, the Ego and Sin that they’re struggling with, and help them overcome it.
But first, you need to explore the school, making your way through the academy’s grounds to try and find phones that can connect you to the Otherworld. Outside of safe areas, the world is shrouded in the Mist, and the longer that you spend in the fog, the more madness you will yourself accrue.
The people you meet out there might have already succumbed to their own anxieties and fears, standing forlornly in the fog, spouting nonsense, laughing out of sheer madness, or finding themselves stuck and trapped in a particular goal. As a trigger warning for anyone considering buying the game, yes, this madness does push some students toward suicide.
One particular student, Banjo Namikawa, blocks your path into the main building, holding a door shut and refusing to let anyone through. Meanwhile, Shiro Sato is stuck on the outside, his only concern that a graduation ceremony is able to go ahead. So what’s the holdup? Well, exploring the surrounding area and finding notes that have been tossed away into some bushes (they’re nicely highlighted for you as specks of light in the misty gloom) reveal that Sato wrote to Namikawa stating that his behaviour wouldn’t let him graduate. Of course, Namikawa is railing against this, and you need to find those notes to find the right trigger: that he’s jealous that he can’t graduate. Push the right buttons and you can finally pass through.
The real test for you in MONARK comes when you step through to the Otherworld and face off in tactical RPG combat. This won’t always require you to defeat enemies, with one example level tasking you with destroying a Singularity core on the Precipice of pride level, which you can easily achieve before having to deal with the couple of skeletal guards on the stage.
When you do face actual foes – the main hero accompanied by their companion and summoning their particular ego – there’s plenty to take into account. MONARK’s take on the tactical RPG is fairly freeform, letting you freely move your characters anywhere within a certain range. You can aim to get onto an enemy’s flank in order to deal additional damage, link up with nearby allies to get an assist attack, and so on. Of course, you’ll have to watch out so that enemies don’t pull the same tricks on you.
One additional trick you can pull, if one of your characters is out of range, is to defer their attacks to another person. This will affect the Mad gauge, which weakens you, while you’ll have to give up a turn to use your Resolve ability in order to counteract this by raising your Awake gauge for more power.
The battle areas float in the void of the Otherworld, and can come with different stage effects, areas that you’ll want to be wary of if you don’t want to be poisoned by them, or can use to your advantage for healing.
The climactic battle of the demo we saw ventured into the Otherworld to confront Kurama Hitotsubashi and the Authority of Pride. He’s an egotistical ass, to put it bluntly, having seen Hinata’s flaws as the previous Student Council president and decided to oust her. He’s one of seven that made a pact with a Demonic Authority and is shaping the school to match their own Egos. In his case, it’s the winged demon Superbia.
Our hero isn’t beholden to a single vice, however. While he’s made an alliance with his own Ego and the Authority Vanitas, this manifests itself as a beaten-up stuffed bunny – not so great in a fight. Instead, you lean into the seven vices of Pride, Wrath, Envy, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, and Sloth that not only affects how the story unfolds, but also the Fiend that will spawn into battle to fight alongside you.
There’s some interesting ideas at play in MONARK, with tactical RPG battling, a story that immediately puts an interesting twist on people’s egos and the deadly sins, and more. I’m looking forward to seeing more, to discover how these ideas come together deeper into the story, but it won’t be long before the game is released on 25th February 2022.