Monstania was developed by Bits Laboratory: the same company who gave us Ai Cho Aniki, so you know it’s gotta be good. I say this unironically; underneath its kitschy exterior, Ai Cho Aniki actually is a good shooter and yes, that is a hill that I will die on.
You also know Monstania’s gonna be good, given that it featured the music of Noriyuki Iwadare, also known for his music on Langrisser, Lunar, and later on, Grandia and Ace Attorney. I would direct you to this page and ask that you put on “Battle,” “Caves,” or “The Road to Adventure” before continuing this article.
I’m not 100% sure if you could really call Monstania a SRPG, but I believe it’s close enough to my definition that it qualifies at least as “SRPG-Adjacent.” In Monstania, the turn system is quasi-real-time: for every action that your character takes, the enemy also makes one move. Actions can include moving 1 tile, using an item, recovering HP for oneself like in Langrisser, or attacking an enemy.
Were there any other games (at the time) which played like Monstania? Perhaps the Mystery Dungeon games are similar enough, but the structure of those games is much different. Monstania uses the classic SRPG structure in its linearity, whereas the Mystery Dungeon games had you explore dungeons and sell your items in town. There are certainly similarities, but because of its totally different format, I would not say that Monstania is a roguelike. Plus, the idea of “pair-ups” is something new to Monstania’s engine.
The main problem is how limited the system is. It’s solid, to be sure, but there’s so much more it could’ve done: your max party size is 2, battles are mostly very easy, and the whole game lasts in the vicinity of 3-4 hours. Given these limitations, it never feels like Monstania ever realizes its full potential and achieves everything it could’ve achieved. I would’ve loved to see this system expanded to include up to 10 playable characters at once, larger battlefields, and a few minor tweaks like higher accuracy (because misses are unpredictable and add nothing to the game).
Aside from the battles, another noteworthy thing about Monstania is its puzzles. These all take place by utilizing the game’s battle system. In a few “battles,” you’ll need to traverse every tile on the map once. In another “battle,” you need to sneak past some guards. My favorite puzzle was in this one cave, where I needed to position my two characters and three items in specific spots, while working within the confines of very constricting terrain:
Story-wise, Monstania isn’t anything special, though it’s at least done well. Your main character, Fron (perhaps spelled the same way in Japanese as Disgaea’s Flonne?), is searching for a fairy because… he wants to, I guess. This search for a fairy eventually blossoms into an island-wide adventure throughout the titular island of Monstania.
It works well enough. Oddly, I thought this game feels more like a Genesis game than a SNES game. Typically, Genesis games (e.g. Phantasy Star 4, Landstalker, Beyond Oasis, Light Crusader) would rely on charm, style and simplicity; SNES games (e.g. Final Fantasy 6, Fire Emblem 4, Chrono Trigger, Front Mission) would try for complexity and multilayered, mature storylines. If you ask me, Monstania certainly seems more at home among its Genesis contemporaries. It even lifts some sound effects from Langrisser 2! Probably because of Iwadare, although I’m not 100% certain on that.
Monstania is a game that I really wish were longer. I am typically more satisfied by playing a short, great game rather than a long, mediocre one, so I’m at least happy that Monstania is enjoyable for its entire run time. Still, 3-4 hours for an entire playthrough is among the shortest I’ve seen of any RPG, so I feel the game deserves a minor downgrade for this.
Aside from that, I don’t have anything else really negative to say about Monstania. It’s too short, it’s a bit too limited for my taste, but it’s a very enjoyable game all the same.
Developers: Bits Laboratory
Get the English patch here: https://www.romhacking.net/translations/392/