Monster Sanctuary (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Renan Fontes 07.12.2020

Review for Monster Sanctuary on Nintendo Switch

While Pokémon is undeniably the most well-known monster raising franchise in gaming, the genre stretches far beyond Game Freak's landmark series. The likes of Shin Megami Tensei and Dragon Quest V were arguably more influential in codifying the genre, offering the groundwork for a fully rotatable party and bosses designed to challenge party composition and strategy - flashes of depth often missing from modern Pokémon. Balancing genuine turn-based tactics with Metroidvania-esque level design novel for the genre, Monster Sanctuary is a fresh reinvention on monster-raising.

The monster raising genre lives and dies on monster variety - both in terms of art direction and actual gameplay. Thankfully, Monster Sanctuary not only packs little more than over 100 monsters into its bestiary (a reasonable amount that doesn't shoot for the moon or leave audiences short-changed), but there is also an expansive skill tree for each one. Every monster can be customised by the player, from what weapons and armour they equip to the skills they learn, with each level-up offering an extra skill point.

Different monsters have their own set of skills, relegating them into specific combat roles. Blobs make solid on the fly healers, Mad Eyes cover a wide range of debuffs, and Yowies tank damage like it's their job. Better yet, the inclusion of skill trees as opposed to set learnable move pools like in Pokémon ensures that even early monsters are viable later in the game. The first monster a player finds can comfortably be raised into a proper beast with enough commitment.

Screenshot for Monster Sanctuary on Nintendo Switch

Of course, audiences are encouraged to take advantage of all the monsters in the roster. Along with each monster fulfilling a clear gameplay role (at times unique exclusively to them,) they have abilities which can be triggered on the overworld á la Breath of Fire. These abilities are used to circumvent gate checks, playing up a Metroidvania-esque gameplay loop where players hit a wall and then need to use the correct monster to proceed. While there is some light platforming involved (along with an unlockable double jump), progression is dictated primarily by which monsters players have on-hand.

On that note, monster catching is a fairly automatic and painless process. Each monster has the chance of dropping their respective egg at the end of a battle, with the player's rank influencing drop rate. Once obtained, an egg simply needs to be hatched in the inventory for the monster to be added to their team, scaled to the average level. Aside from Champion Monsters (ostensibly boss fights) there is no real grind involved in catching.

Screenshot for Monster Sanctuary on Nintendo Switch

This is further mitigated by the combat's ranking system. Players are evaluated at the end of each fight based on how quickly they were able to defeat their opponents. Five-star ranking outright guarantees an egg drop whereas a 1 star will, at best, get players some gold and maybe a common item. Players are encouraged to prioritise weakness coverage, attacking enemies with their monsters' hardest hitting moves. Unfortunately, this has the unintended consequence of downplaying support tactics altogether.

Because ranks are tied closest to how long a battle lasts, spending a turn to heal or buff/debuff can be a waste of time - especially since monsters fully heal between fights. At the same time, the hardest fights outright require advanced, long-term tactics that will inevitably weigh down rank. The ranking system simply doesn't account for team synergy, neglecting to reward players who try to take advantage of everything at their disposal.

Screenshot for Monster Sanctuary on Nintendo Switch

For what it's worth, it's easy to ignore ranking altogether. There is no real need to hunt down every single monster, and most fights will drop eggs naturally. Smart party composition also triumphs over grinding and each monster's skill tree can be re-specced, allowing players to correct course when necessary. Battles are fast paced enough so that any loss can be made up in no time, as well.

It should come as no surprise that Monster Sanctuary's focus is on combat above all else, but the Metroidvania overworld still leaves quite a bit to be desired. Setting the game on a 2D plane doesn't exactly help in worldbuilding, with visuals too generic for their own good. The monster design is quite nice, but the actual world feels haphazardly thrown together with little of Castlevania's elegance.

Exploration isn't bad by any means, but what puzzles there are feel like a distraction above all else. Worse, the platforming isn't particularly engaging, despite making up a good chunk of the game. Monster Sanctuary is still worth a playthrough nonetheless, but there isn't too much gold to be expected from the Metroidvania angle.

Screenshot for Monster Sanctuary on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Monster Sanctuary is a charming take on the monster raising formula, albeit not without its faults. The combat's ranking system betrays the gameplay's nuances - discouraging high concept strategies or support tactics in favour of brute force - and the Metroidvania level design is marred in being broken up by methodical puzzles and turn based battles. In spite of this, Monster Sanctuary is an addictive RPG that is hard to put down. Monster hatching is an incredibly simple process, every single monster has its own skill tree, and combat has been balanced enough so that just about any team can get through the main game in the hands of savvy players. Monster Sanctuary is a diamond in the rough if there ever was one.

Developer

Moi Rai Games

Publisher

Team17

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date 08.12.2020   North America release date 08.12.2020   Japan release date 08.12.2020   Australian release date 08.12.2020   

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