|Yes, you read it right.
Always Sometimes Monsters has been on my radar as soon as it was released. The game is clearly an RPG Maker game yet it happens to look different simply because it's not your typical fantasy role-playing game and is instead set during modern times. While I was intrigued by the game I decided to wait until it was discounted at 50% or more. Fast forward to now and the game, along with RPG Maker and several other RPG Maker-developed titles, are on sale. Consequently, I thought that $5 USD wasn't a bad price so I promptly purchased the game.
The game advertises itself as one where you "have to endure the hardship of making story-defining choices that affect your life and the lives of those around you". So the game changes depending on the choices you make and I've always liked those sort of games, ones where your choices mattered. It goes one step further though and the game will also change depending on your sex, race and sexual orientation; there's very few games that I've experienced where that is the case so I'm pleasantly surprised to see it at least advertised for this game (I've yet to experience it in a second playthrough though).
So is this just another RPG Maker game to deride (not that I normally deride RPG Maker games, but you know the sort of people I'm talking about) or is this game as good as some of the so-called professional critics make it out to be?
What I like
- Music: As soon as the game boots up you're treated to some pretty funky 80s-style music and most of the soundtrack is synthpop (I wonder what's the deal with Devolver Digital and games with 80s soundtracks? Hotline Miami anyone?). I liked the soundtrack so much I made sure to purchase it since it was on special too. Be warned though that the soundtrack available off Steam is only a partial soundtrack. There's actually another two compilations available off Laser Destroyer Team's Bandcamp site.
- Awesome character selection sequence: This is the best character selection sequence I've experienced in a long time, maybe ever. Basically, you tailor part of the story right from the start by deciding which character you are and that of your partner, and this all fits in seamlessly with the story as well, forming the game's prologue. Now that's how you start off a game!
- Plot: The game is all about ethical and moral dilemmas and while the game seems to be dark, gritty, mature and cynical, its underlying story still has some melancholic sweetness to it, similar to another RPG Maker game, To The Moon. You really get attached to your character and the other characters in the game, wanting to find out what has happened to all of them one year since the party in the game's prologue. It's kind of like wanting to be a stickybeak at a high school reunion.
What I don't like
- Interface: I do realise that RPG Maker has its limitations and while Vagabond Dog have done their best to work around it there's some gameplay elements where the use of menus becomes frustrating, especially during some of the mini-games. The use of hotkeys would've been a better solution although I'm not sure if this is even possible to implement in RPG Maker or not.
- Pacing: While on the topic of mini-games, there are a couple of times in the game where you'll have to save up enough money by doing repetitive, mind-numbing tasks. Okay, that's not entirely true since as this is a game about choice, the amount of work you have to do will depend on your morals. The more morals you have, the harder the game becomes and the more actual work you'll have to do. While I can appreciate that the game is teaching us a lesson (i.e. taking the high road isn't easy) it would've been nice if it didn't take almost an hour or two of real time in order to grind the cash required to progress to the next chapter of the story.
VerdictAlways Sometimes Monsters does have its minor faults with respect to gameplay and it's fiddly RPG Maker interface, but the excellent music, memorable characters and mature, almost philosophical plot elevates this game into To the Moon territory - i.e. another example of how good a game can be despite it being developed using game creation software (such as RPG Maker). I can't wait to finish the game and maybe even try it a couple of more times to see how different the experience can be.
[ LINK: Official Always Sometimes Monsters website ]