There are probably a hundred times more Pokémon-a-likes as there are actual Pokemon at this point, and it’s not really hard to see why. Pikachu has made more money than several Bezoses (Bezosi?), and the formula makes for a hopefully addictive gameplay loop baked in with the aforementioned monster stuff. It’s really easy and sadly common for a small company to phone in a lazy knockoff and sell it cheap. It is a far, FAR, more rare, and wonderous thing that a small team could assemble the best parts of nearly every pillar of 16-32 bit era RPGs. If I had to rate it out of ten, I would give it a “Blew my fahken mind”/10, but never mind numerical grading.
Monster Sanctuary draws beautifully from some legendary inspirational material. There are times when the music sounds eerily close to Chrono Trigger or Xenogears. Other times it has a Castlevania feel to it. I mean this in the best of ways possible. The entire soundtrack is amazing, with tunes that fit each zone perfectly. The sound design gets special mention as well. Hits that wreck your shit SOUND like they are wrecking your shit. There are lots of neat sound effects to accompany all the spells and attacks flying around.
The gameplay is split into two basic halves: Running around solving puzzles and combat. If you have ever enjoyed Metroidvania, the exploration will be easy to jump into. The platforming is as tight as Symphony of the Night, and the way you solve environmental puzzles is pretty damn cool. Your monsters have a variety of abilities and functions outside of combat. Some will glide you across a gap too large to jump across. Some can create a block to weigh down switches or for you to jump off of. Falling on spikes will simply place you back unharmed on the last surface you stood on. Enemies never attack you since bumping into a monster initiates 3v3 combat. It’s a refreshing approach since zero risk of death outside of combat means you’re encouraged to explore the vibrant and colorful zones, each with distinct personalities and monsters.
Death in combat isn’t so bad either, as you are just spat out a few feet away minus some chump change worth of gold. That is not to say this is in any way an easy game. You’re intentionally placed within a few steps to give yourself a chance to revise your strategy and get back into the fight asap.
Strategy is where Monster Sanctuary really shines, with some of the deepest team strategies I’ve seen in an RPG. Battles are always three vs. three except for most boss monsters. Buffs and debuffs play a huge role, and passive skills and buffs can be combined for some truly nasty builds. In fact, this game would be perfect for those who want to get into build-heavy RPGs and need to figure builds out. Every skill, ability, buff, debuff, and effect is explained in plain detail that’s super easy to understand. This is one lesson Pokèmon could learn from Monster Sanctuary. With abilities working in tandem, it becomes a game of putting together the most effective teams. There are a lot of monsters, and the combinations are vast.
Monsters have equipment, which you can use to even further enhance your build. These are upgradable in the hub zone. There you can also find shops, an outfit guy, BOTH OF YOUR LIVING PARENTS *gasp*. There’s an arena to challenge bosses you’ve vanquished in hopes of getting their egg. Finally, there are offline and online Trainer duels. There really is a lot to this little gem.
Just this past Thursday, an update was released improving many monsters visually, as well as adding a huge post-game area. (Only on Switch. And by accident.) Content has been added for free pretty frequently, and even though this is a two-year-old game, it’s cool to see it still get support.
If you like Pokèmon or RPGs in general, you might really enjoy Monster Sanctuary. Never mind it’s under 20 bucks, its seriously become one of my favorite games of all time.