Monster Sanctuary Review — A Beautiful Trip Into the Past

Recently, I wrote an article about indie role-playing games (RPGs). I wasn’t sure what I was looking for even though I had the topic for the article. It was just a topic, and I was left to my own devices. Somewhere, in the sea of indie games, I stumbled on Monster Sanctuary.

The pixel art is what pulled me in. I had the same feeling I had when I was younger. It was like being ten years old again and trying to figure out how good a game was based on the back of the box or by the cover art. So, I downloaded the game and started playing.

What I found was a game that reminded me of a few things. I was reminded of playing Pokemon Blue, playing The Legend of Zelda on the NES, E.V.O.: Search for Eden, and strangely of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. I know that’s an odd collection of games for my mind to wander too. They don’t seem to have much in common at first, but they all have something in common.

As I went further in the game, the gameplay started to shine! It turned from the games I have mentioned and became its own thing. Monster Sanctuary did something that few games I’ve played recently have been able to do. It made me want to keep going, to find a way around the obstacles in my way, to figure out how the developers expected me to get into specific areas, and it made me happy to do all of this.

TLDR: Monster Sanctuary is a splendid RPG. I love the pixel art, and the gameplay is terrific!

The Games it Reminds Me of

Earlier, I mentioned a few RPGs. Let me explain myself a bit here. Monster Sanctuary is a side-scrolling RPG where you collect monsters to fight your battles. It has a lot of parallels to Pokemon.

  • Party of 6
  • You’re given a started monster at the beginning of the game
  • Turn-based combat where your monsters use different attacks
  • Rock-paper-scissors style of combat for the monster strength and weaknesses
  • The ability to get the enemy monsters to join your party
  • Your monsters have abilities to overcome obstacles outside of combat

There is A LOT of Pokemon in this game. This isn’t a bad thing at all. Monster Sanctuary feels more different, though. It feels like a game I didn’t know I wanted.

It separates itself from Pokemon in a way that I find hard to explain fully. Parts of it feel like Pokemon, but the game improves on it.

  • Combat is 3 on 3
  • You have a choice of four starters
  • The monster types have more of an impact on the gameplay
  • You carry more than six monsters, although six are in your main party.
  • It also has more puzzle-solving in it than Pokemon

I should mention something here. I’ve always felt that Pokemon was a starter RPG. Granted, most of my experience is with Red, Blue, and Yellow. I’ve played others, but this is where I’m coming from. Monster Sanctuary feels more sophisticated. It’s still an RPG that I would recommend as a beginner RPG, but it’s more complex than others. This is where Final Fantasy Mystic Quest comes in.

While I was playing this game, I read a book called Story Mode by Trevor Struck. Overall, I wouldn’t say I liked the book. One part of it stuck out to me and is relevant here. He was talking about how successful Final Fantasy was in North America. Specifically, he was talking about the early 90s. This was a strange statement, and I had to question where he got that idea from.

RPGs weren’t very popular on home consoles in the early 90s. Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games struggled to sell in North America compared to Japan. That’s why Square Soft created Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. It was supposed to educate Americans on the genre.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is a simplified RPG where you don’t have to worry about a party, things are easy to understand, and many of the things people like about RPGs were stripped out of the game. The pixel art, on the other hand, is very good! It’s also a fun game to play. The art in Monster Sanctuary reminded me of Mystic Quest, along with the map.

In Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, you’re limited in where you can go. You can’t do too much exploration. You can only go where the game wants you or lets you go. With Monster Sanctuary, you have a Metroidvania-style map. While not the same, it acts similarly.

The visuals in the game also made me think of E.V.O: Search for Eden. This is an action-RPG. It’s not a particularly good game, but it is a beautiful game on the SNES. It’s also a side-scrolling game like Monster Sanctuary.

In Monster Sanctuary, some of the map aren’t accessible right away. It opens up as you collect more monsters, though. They are the way you overcome most of the game’s obstacles, except the double jumps.

The last game I mentioned was The Legend of Zelda on the NES. This is one of my favorite games of all time. Playing Monster Sanctuary gave me a similar feeling to when I played Zelda. It’s not an action-based game like Zelda, but it has the same focus on exploration, and it’s just fun to explore the game’s world.

I found myself enjoying the exploration that this game encouraged to some extent. It was like playing in a sandbox that had all of the toys in it! It was such a fun experience.

The Story of the Game

This is another time it reminds me a bit of Pokemon. You play as a youth who is, for some reason, sent off into the wild to fight monsters. It makes more sense here than it does in Pokemon, or the Monster Sanctuary team explains it a lot better!

It seems like everyone in this world is what the game calls a Keeper. Your character is one of four spectral Keepers. These are families of importance in the game’s world. These are people who raise and train the monsters, which you hatch from eggs even if it doesn’t always make sense to have the monster come out of an egg.

It’s explained that the Keepers were once a part of the Old World and were forced to flee into the Sanctuary. Another group, the Alchemists, were also forced to flee the Old World. When they showed up in the Sanctuary, they tried to get the Keepers to help them take over the Old World.

This didn’t work, a war or some conflict happened, and our stock bad guy went into hiding. It’s a story that I’ve heard before, even if the players were different. I think that’s what I liked about it. You know who the bad guys are, and you know what you need to do. There are some twists and some side quests, but this is the basic premise.

The Four Starters

You get the choice between a Wolf, a Toad, a Lion, or an Eagle. These are the spectral monsters. They are immortal and have been in your character’s family for an untold amount of time.

Each of these is stronger than normal monsters, and they have their unique abilities. I don’t think one is better than the others; it’s just a matter of personal preference and how you want to play the game. I personally don’t like Toad that much, and I have enjoyed using Lion the most.

Depending on the one you choose, the other three Keepers are affected. Their personalities stay the same, but like Pokemon, your rival will take water if you pick the fire-type. I’m almost done with the Pokemon references, I think.


Final Thoughts

I spent a reasonable amount of time thinking about this game. I was wondering why it made me feel the way it did. What was it that made me like Monster Sanctuary more than other games? It might have been the Catzerker. It’s an anthropomorphic cat with a giant sword, and it looks adorable!

While Catzerker is a solid candidate, I think it was something else. This game was something I had been missing for some time. It was a modern game that was what I wanted from other games.

I also had been playing some games that I felt were lacking something. They might have looked good, but they didn’t have the gameplay. Monster Sanctuary had both. It also had a story that I wanted to unravel.

What I think it did was bring me back to the 90s. This felt like a game my friends, and I would buy and talk about before and after school. It felt like something I would race my friends in, share tips with them, talk about strategies, and talk about the monsters we had collected.

Monster Sanctuary is a splendid game! I loved playing it this week, and I look forward to playing it again and again.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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