Compile Heart have created something questionable in Monster Monpiece, to say the least. Though a combination of other genres and a “racy” leveling system, this PlayStation Vita-exclusive title will draw many raised eyebrows and likely capture more than a few hearts along the way.
Monpiece tells the story of archetypal characters used repeatedly in Japanese game lore to outline its fairly generic “save the world” drama riddled with lengthy character-driven exposition that you find yourself caring little about. Wikipedia offers a brief rundown of the game, but Monpiece is so long-winded that you have trouble caring, let alone paying attention, while the characters are speaking. The story could have been interesting—a mysterious figure turning important people across Yafaniel (including your close friend, Elza) into mindless slaves to steal crystals. Obviously you must stop them (because evil), but any amount of desire fades away thanks to Golden Sun levels of bland verbal illustration.
The real meat of Monster Monpiece comes in its simple-yet-clever combat system coupled with the touch screen-oriented leveling system that made it infamous.
Taking cues from grid-based strategy titles, collectible card games, and the “catch ‘em all” nature of games like Pokémon, Monpiece tasks you with building 40-card decks with creatures of legend interpreted as lovely young maidens. Along the way you will find mystic foxes, goblins, dragons, vampires, slime girls, and dozens more “creatures” of fable, all to be found on sections of the map or won from battle via card packs.
Each card comes with a nature for battle—an up-close swordswoman, an archer, a healer, or a buffing mage, all to be used in conjunction with one another to traverse seven squares of a battlefield to destroy your opponent’s headquarters while they attempt to do the same to you. Each turn, you’ll move one space forward and if enemies are within range, you will attack. The concept is not exactly mind-blowing, but clever and engaging enough to spur you forward to find proper card combinations to defeat ever-stronger opponents with more difficult conditions each time. Outside of mere strength of your forces, you can also take advantage of card color field conditions where you place three cards of the same color down in a row to give your cards a small bump in hit points and strength.
Where the strategy element really comes into play is in the leveling of the cards. Throughout the game, you’ll garner “Rub Points” via battle or teasure to partake in cards’ “Extreme Rub” gameplay element which has you, obviously, rubbing these young maidens to remove their clothes and increase their rank. As you would guess, the ladies have obvious “weak points” where you will rub, poke, and prod them to the next level of evolution. The tricky part here is that their ascension doesn’t necessarily mean they will become stronger.
Individual progressions can often lead to interesting skills, some including being able to move as soon as they are summoned or immobility to create a wall of defense in front of your headquarters, but sometimes come at the price of a reduction in damage or hit points. Here, the strategy elements grow deeper as you will have to weigh the cost-benefit ratio, as sometimes-stronger cards will cost more to summon to the battlefield. Thankfully, this is where Monster Monpiece is the most interesting and there’s plenty of it. Not only will your adventures give you plenty of opportunities to face foes and hone your skills, but “training” will enable you to revisit all your past battles for better ranks and more Gold/Rub Points.
Graphically, the character portraits and card art are nice, but nothing you won’t find proliferated nearly everywhere in other genres. In contrast, the battle models very rarely represent the cards that are summoned, save for a few instances of special battle maidens that come into play (like the main beast character Fia/Fear and a few special guest ladies you recognize from other Compile Heart titles). In sound, Monpiece is disappointingly redundant in the musical department with only a handful of uninspired tracks in menus and battle, while the nearly-fully voice acted cast is great, but suffers from a tiresome script.
Monster Monpiece is a niche title that certainly has its audience, but will fail to find wider acceptance. Not just because of its dubious upgrade system, but more for its lack of risk-taking in many other departments. These “tried and true” mechanics simply are not enough to make what could have been a supremely engaging strategy/collecting title more than average at best.
Monster Monpiece was developed by Compile Heart and published by Idea Factory. This game is currently available exclusively through the PlayStation Network for $29.99.
A digital download code for the PlayStation Vita was provided to Save/Continue by the publisher for review purposes.