Another Pokémon style game? Not growing up with the franchise or having any sort of allegiance with it makes me reasonably disconnected with this sort of game, but Monster Sanctuary is nothing like I had expected.
Nexomon Extinction was what I was expecting. Instead, it was more like a retro throwback, similar to something like Alwa’s Legacy. A Metroidvania (ewww – hate that term!), from Moi Rai Games and Team17, you pick one of two avatars then set out to rid the world of evil by collecting elemental animals to battle it out along the way.
Following suit of the opening comparisons, you choose a familiar which isn’t restricted to one element but two; fire and wind, earth and water – that sort of thing. Each pet has a list of stats that include attack, magic, defence, health and mana. Familiar territory then? Dad joke #83
Monster Sanctuary Review
Monster Sanctuary is all rather… pleasant. Jotting down a few notes while playing, the music was incessantly repeating to the stage of muting it. You play a Monster Keeper from one of four bloodlines; the familiar playing an essential role to your lineage.
Of the four starting animals, I went with the eagle. Usually, I would go for the coolest like the lion or wolf, but the eagle had the best starting attack power, and by the time I’d named my pet Jeremy Fisher, the music had got me into a rage of destruction. Thankfully those 16-bit tunes improved and soon had me bopping away.
The design is quite unusual as Monster Sanctuary resembles a traditional side-scrolling platform game, but rather than jump on or attack enemies, you walk into them to initiate a battle. Here you draw upon your team for a turn-based session.
Selecting each character is intuitive, and you go through the various attacks that work best against the opponent. A status bar shows for both your characters and the enemies, indicating their weaknesses and resistance levels, to their available health and mana.
Of course, each attack you perform consumes mana, which you’ll have to replenish through all sorts of game trickery (i.e. consumables). After each battle, you’ll get a results screen detailing the turns it took, the loot and gold you’ve earned and, a rating out of five for your performance.
Gotta Collect… Ah…
There are no gimmicks to capture an enemy, after a battle you win an egg, hatch them and go through the same process of naming them and levelling them up, upgrading their skills. The limit on characters for names was a bit annoying as using Marjory Stewart-Baxter was impossible. Someone, somewhere, will get my naming conventions.
The rating system will determine how much loot you will get in a battle and the likelihood of snaring a monster. A lot of the time you’ll have your favourites, but regardless if you use them in battle, they come in handy in free roam.
A monster will follow you about and pressing the square button will perform their special such as levitate your character to a ledge, cut through vines and unlock hidden paths or activate elemental orbs.
The latter will halt your progress if you don’t have the right elementals so regardless if you like to grind or not, you will need to capture a good variety of beasts to enable you to progress.
Your ‘crew’ really are the highlight as your avatar doesn’t do anything other than the interacting with NPCs and all the platform sections. Therefore you need to use the right elemental for the job or perhaps even a monster specialising in physical attacks.
Weapons and up to three accessories can be equipped and feeding the monster to give them a buff for their next battle from mana regeneration to defence stats.
A party consists of six monsters to readily choose from, but only three can be played simultaneously. If one of them dies, you’re down to two, then one, but in some ranking battles required to unlock new areas, you play all six of your party as a knockout battle – once the sixth character is gone, that’s it.
I binged on Monster Sanctuary for lengthy sessions, and it started to feel a bit too repetitive. An average battle would be the same; using powerful spells, collecting a few items to upgrade existing accessories, then move on to the next area.
Time To Dig In
Regrettably, this was my strategy for some time and depending on your level, it’s easy to be OP. Monster Sanctuary uses a system where the third and final attack from a party member will be the most powerful. This means that each attack you perform adds to a multiplier, depicted on screen as a percentage.
Combining this ‘strategy’ with the typical case of getting lost and not knowing where to go or to find a key, I was getting a little frustrated. However, when I inadvertently headed along a path I thought was already covered, a champion battle commenced, and my interest was raised.
Champion battles are essentially boss battles where they have a large health bar and can attack twice. Up to this point, I had defeated four or so champions with ease, but when you battle against other Monster Seekers or AI with a roster of six, the game becomes challenging. A good thing.
This was where Monster Sanctuary improved a great deal. My monster at the front was casting shields, the second was the healer, occasionally dealing acid damage, and Jeremy Fisher was casting a mixture of explosions and lighting. It was the long game, but most satisfying.
Monster Sanctuary has some really nice visuals, and it felt like I was playing a game from the 90s. Occasional platform sections or switch related puzzles were a bit irritating, but generally speaking, the movement and controls felt great.
While the music annoyed me at first, I eventually ended up loving it, and it reminded me somewhat of Final Fantasy VII and having it’s own little battle theme each time you engaged in combat.
Yes, the frequent battles do get repetitive, but the lure of levelling up a character with an excellent tier system that unlocks elemental attacks, hit points and healing, among others, was excellent. Especially as a new path opens each time you raise ten levels.
Monster Sanctuary’s concept is very much Pokémon, but the gameplay and presentation are somewhat unique with a retro flair. I have several PS4/PS5 titles on the go at the moment and find I end up coming back to this more often.
Monster Sanctuary Review Summary
Reminiscent of 16-bit platformers but with RPG elements and a multitude of monsters you have to collect, Monster Sanctuary is one of the better games within this sub-genre(?) of monster collecting. It leaves a very pleasant aftertaste, and it’s a much bigger game that it appears to be than on the surface.