The story of Monster Viator from KEMCO starts with a familiar RPG trope: the hero with amnesia. You play the part of a man who has forgotten everything about himself – no name, no idea where he came from, and in fact the only thing he can remember is that he had a brother. He also seems to have a strange ability to actually talk to monsters, almost like the Dr Doolittle of this world. Of course, having the ability to communicate with monsters helps a great deal, as Culter, named by one of his companions, can recruit monsters to fight on his side.
At the beginning of the game, he also meets Aira, a young girl who can calm monsters by playing the harp. Events transpire – which I won’t go into for fear of spoilers – and she ends up joining Culter on his trip to try and recover his memories. With Culter’s talking and Aira’s calming music, more and more monsters can be recruited to your side.
This is where the latest adventure from KEMCO starts to show its class. There are a multitude of monsters to find in Monster Viator, leaving you to either persuade them to join your team by bringing them their favourite food, or by defeating them in battle. Each monster has its own element, and there is a kind of triangular cycle of strengths and weakness to them and their elements, much like the weapon system found in Fire Emblem. Seeing what you are about to fight and choosing the right monsters to be in your team can make a big difference to your chances of success. Fighting the boss of a fire area? He’ll be weak to water, so you’ll want to bring two water type monsters with you.
In addition to elements, each character, including your monsters, can equip Carminas; tactics that can be applied. For instance, one Carmina makes all the enemies have -10 agility when a battle starts, letting you act first as the enemy speeds are reduced. Others bestow extra hits at the end of your turn, and so on. Picking a set of complementary Carminas can make your life a lot easier.
The two human characters you control in Monster Viator can also learn different jobs from chatting to people out in the world. Aira can practice becoming a magical bard should you so wish, whilst Culter turns out to be a great soldier or outlaw, along with many other roles. However, even though each job brings different skills to the table, they can only be changed at Goddess statues in the various settlements that you visit. Soldier, for instance, is all about the damage output and reducing an enemy’s defences, while the magical bard is much more of a support class, bolstering the allies’ attacks and healing them when needed.
And boy oh boy do you need a healer. A common trait in KEMCO games is that the difficulty is pitched at somewhat less than challenging, but that is not the case here. If you go to an area that you aren’t ready for, or take liberties in battle, you will have your virtual ass handed to you. Things aren’t helped by the fact that levelling up is a real grind and, while you can buy new equipment to help you, it isn’t until you delve into the menus and find out that weapons and shields can be strengthened by spending gold that you’ll start to make progress. With the right gear, monsters, job-types and Carminas, everything in Monster Viator starts to make sense.
The gameplay is somewhat different from the usual run of the mill KEMCO titles as well. There are no items to be used in battle this time around, so healing has to come from other characters, not from a potion, and the same can be said for anyone who falls in battle. Luckily, if you reach the end of a fight and someone has died, they will still receive their full allocation of XP, so they don’t get left behind. The monsters on the bench also gain XP, so they are always up to the level of the others, should you need to do some chopping and changing of your team.
The viewpoint whilst in battle is not one running along the lines of the traditional either, and the camera makes it feel like we are looking through the eyes of our team, facing the monsters head on. It works very well and adds a certain drama to the proceedings. Again, the battle system is quite deep, with the choices you make in the first few turns quite often deciding the outcome of the battle. Should you go for an attack-boosting move, to make subsequent attacks stronger, or should you go on the all-out offense? How about cutting the enemy defence or bolstering the SP levels of your monsters so they can unleash the more powerful attacks? With the tactics needed for each enemy being different, the battle system included in Monster Viator is surprisingly involving.
Graphically though and it’s very much business as usual, with the now traditional retro-styled visuals putting me in mind of early JRPGs. The graphics are cute though, and the sprite of Culter in particular is very expressive, whether he’s jumping for joy or showing bug-eyed surprise. The monsters are also a well designed bunch – both the enemies and the allies – and all in all the game looks great. In terms of the audio and the sounds are as you’d expect – perky music in the world map, stirring tunes in the battle scenes, and the usual assortment of swishes and thumps as you fight.
In a welcome change over previous KEMCO titles though, my usual gripes about the control system seem to have been addressed; diagonal movement is possible, and I haven’t gotten hung up on the scenery once. It’s difficult to articulate what a difference this makes, as the feeling of freedom is very gratifying indeed.
All in all then and Monster Viator on Xbox One is one of the better KEMCO games to have been released. An engaging story, with likeable heroes and despicable baddies, a deep system of jobs, team building and a proper challenge add up to make Monster Viator a good game in its own right. The difficulty is quite brutal in places, with my level 38 character being ambushed by level 50 monsters, and the levelling up process is a real grind, but the overall challenge is quite enjoyable.