Welcome back to Freeware Friday! I'm your host, Uncle Arena Fighter, and I'm here to show off yet another game that surpassed my expectations - even though its professionalism should have been obvious, seeing as it hit Steam Early Access this week! Congrats!
Monster Sanctuary is, in a word, a Pokemon-Metroidvania.
And that's it. I'm done. That's- there's nothing else that needs to be said about the game. You understand everything Monster Sanctuary is and stands for implicitly, just by hearing that.
Author: K. Rool Games
Status: Free Balloon
Location: Gameplank Galleon
…Wait, no, it deserves more than that!
Monster Sanctuary is a 2D adventure-platformer where you build up a team of monsters and use them both as fighters and as aids in your exploration. Each beast comes with it's own field skill, with effects ranging from destroying certain kinds of walls to floating for a second or two. Judging by the trailer, you also get a couple mobility upgrades of your own. The first area is meticulously designed to ensure that you have to complete your objective to progress, but there's always room in this type of game for speedrun funsies.
Now, let’s get to the best part: the fighting and skill progression. I'm not gonna' say better than Pokémon…
But I am saying that I've thought it. Let's dig into this.
The basis of this combat system is a 3v3 structure (or 3v1-with-benefits against a boss). Players get to hold a team of up to six monsters, and then select three at the beginning of each fight. These pre-fight scenes come with displays of the enemy monster's weakness, resistance, and attack specialties (meaning that typing is never a solid thing, and you need to learn what attacks work on a per-monster basis).
This leads to my first big point in this game's favour: it tells you everything, and leaves little to chance. There is no accuracy and evasiveness, attacks will always land. There is no turn order based on a stat; rather, your entire team will act in whatever order you choose that turn (allowing you to use weaker multi-hit attacks first to build up a damage-multiplying combo), and then the enemy will do the same. Your mana will always regenerate a set amount each turn based on that monster's stats, and if you regen more mana than you have, a different coloured bar will begin to cover up your mana bar to accurately show that. If a move says it will deal X damage and poison, it will always do that, with a modifier to crit applied to each individual hit of the attack based on your crit chance and crit damage stats (and crit-stacking builds do function, I’ve made one in the first area!). Crits are not calculated into the damage previews, which- oh yeah, there are also visual representations of how much damage all of your moves will deal without critting! Isn't that just the best?!
It’s not a stretch to call this a tactical RPG, and those tactics start before battle. My second big point in this game’s favour: customization! Every time a monster levels up, they get one skill point. Every skill they can purchase costs one point. Every skill available in the game build, up to those unlocked at level 10 (for now), are shown to you right away. What that means is that you can immediately plan out your monster’s entire life, right from their hatching. And oh, the plans you can make! Every species of monster has four or five skill trees, and there’s a staggering amount of variety to be found here. From stronger (but costly-er) attacks, to passive abilities, to stat upgrades, there’s just… there’s just so MUCH here! When PvP is implemented in a later build, two identical teams of the same level could fight each other in completely different ways depending on the whims of their players. The possibilities are so exciting!
The third and final point in the game’s favour: it rewards a skilled player. And I'm not just talking about your whole six-man team getting experience points and full heals after every battle! Remember FFXIII and XIII-2’s battle ranking systems? What if their point allocation was slightly better explained, and it was made obvious that you had a higher chance of getting rare items (and catching monsters) with a better rating? Well, that’s how it is here. And that’s not all; you can refight any boss you’ve fought in the hub, so no loot will ever be beyond your reach! That’s a feature I can get behind!
The visuals are simple, but effective. It's not aspiring to be much more than a cute pixel art game, but hey, it pulls it off well. The music is decent, as far as I could tell. The story is pretty standard JRPG fare, with you picking a bloodline at the beginning to determine which of the four starters you'll get. Your appearance is set in the demo and Early Access build, but you'll get to choose your gender eventually. You're character has moved with (both!) his parents to the titular Monster Sanctuary, a place where Monster Keepers raise monsters to live in harmony with humans. You wanna' be the best there ever was. Go duel with Professor Oak, find out that Champions (uncontrollable boss monsters) have been cropping up a lot recently, and your journey can formally begin.
The story is light, but it works with what it allows itself. Your starter is a guardian spirit bonded with you, and will actively converse with both you and characters in the world. The guardian spirits you don't pick will throw their lot in with your three rivals. There's a friendly newbie, a jerk, and a girl I saw but missed the opportunity to talk to. The spirit-to-character associations seem to make the most sense if you picked the wolf or the lion, but that's not really a huge issue.
Your rivals are introduced after you have your first Keeper battle and Champion fights against the Professor guy. You actually have two options for areas at this point, one on your way to the hub and one accessible via the hub. I figure that the one accessible through the hub, since it introduces you to your rivals, is probably the harder of the two, but I don't know that for a fact. By my estimate, there's about four full areas in the demo and your monsters can gain skills up to the level 10 set, so there's probably 7-15 hours of game available in the demo alone. It's still up on Game Jolt and you can find it on Steam too, so try it out!
There’s three miscellaneous systems I have yet to touch on. There’s an equipment enhancement system in the hub, a system where you can have up to three stat boosts going on at once from food items (a fourth meal will overwrite the first, I think), and there’s a… uh… monster donating system. This deserves a bit of explanation.
There’s a guy hanging out in the hub who you can give monster eggs and monsters that you don’t want to. This causes a metric showing the “strength of the Sanctuary’s monster army” to grow, and you’ll get rewards at certain intervals. It’s something to do with the many spare eggs you’ll get, but as far as I could tell, you can’t get these back. I haven’t tried hatching an egg after I got six monsters, so I’m not sure what would happen… judging by the screenshots, there's a system where the monsters are with you, but out of your party... but I’ve gotta’ put in a request for a good one. Every other monster-collecting game has one for a reason, and that reason is to promote catching ‘em all and experimenting. It’s especially important in this game, where every monster species is unique in a major way, and players would be loath to get rid of the core team they started building in the very first area if they couldn’t test alternatives. I sincerely hope this is well accounted for, because it would be ruinous if it wasn’t.
My final little complaint is that there’s no way to skip battle animations. Make a toggle that speeds them up or skips them and makes all the damage numbers appear at once, please. I’d like to just get through these mob fights.
In summation, I’m crazy impressed by this game! It’s got the potential to fill a metroidvania niche that people weren’t aware was empty, and be a darn solid turn-based game to boot! The demo is up wherever the game is, and it’s entered Steam Early Access as of a couple days ago! This game is really something special, and if it sounds like your jam, I hope you enjoy it!
Author: Moi Rai Games/Sersch
Status: Free Demo
Location: Game Jolt, Itch, Steam, and more it seems
In-Development: Yes, In Early Access
And that’s that! Phew. I gotta’ get better at writing these sooner. I’ll have ample time to practice now, cuz’ as I mentioned at an earlier date, this is the end of the opening freewareathon. I did this column every week for a month, and I’m satisfied with that for now. I still need to practice directing myself and working without a deadline. I still intend to write a freeware article every two or three weeks - goodness knows I have enough games to keep going - but I gotta’ put the breaks on just a little. It’s been fun and educational so far, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these as much as I have writing them!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go- sleep, because it’s way past my bedtime, and too late for me to play Astral Chain! THIS IS WHAT I GET FOR PROCRASTINATIOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON