STAFF REVIEW of Monster Crown (Xbox One)

Tuesday, March 8, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Monster Crown Box art Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Small indie studio wants to make a game with their grand vision, so they turn to Kickstarter only to have their initial goals smashed and then finally get to release their game to the masses. It seems like a not so uncommon path these days, and while it doesn’t always work out, it sometimes does, as in the case with Monster Crown from Canadian developers Studio Aurum.

Self-described as “A Monster Taming Game with True Crossbreeds, a Dark Story and filled to the brim with content and imagination”, there’s no denying what its main inspiration was, and while it has many similarities to the uber popular classic Pokemon games, they do just enough to differentiate themselves in some interesting ways. If original Pokemon gameplay is something that brings back waves of nostalgia and you want something similar, look no further than Monster Crown, a story about a young child setting forth on a journey that becomes something much larger than themselves. Of course, you’ll be gathering and battling Monsters along the way as well, as par the course of being very similar, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Touted as a dark story, I had some expectations in my head, as I’m used to the more kid friendly Pokemon style of narrative when you see colorful graphics like these. While it does have some darker tones, it wasn’t nearly what I was expecting. It's a bit odd to have some swearing in a game that you instantly equate to the 'other' game, but the story overall was slow to progress and not all that interesting until near the end. You’ll need to make pacts with Monsters (not capture) to prevent an evil threat from someone seeking power enveloping over your homeland, and that’s about it.

There’s a few twists, but I never cared about any of the characters, even when my Father went missing in the woods for some reason. You start out as a young child on a farm as you begin your quest, travelling from town to town, but without any overarching reason or motivation for the most part. I stayed interested because I wanted to see the types of Monsters and level them up, actually forgetting about much of the story.

One of the main differences Monster Crown has is that you don’t capture creatures, but instead make Pacts with them. You offer to take them in under your wing with protection and food in exchange for their support and power in battling other Monsters. Seems a little odd that you shove a contract paper in a Monster’s face to get them to join you, but oh well. To get them to join you though you’ll still need to enter battle with them, getting them low on health, I guess to show them ‘who’s boss’ so that they agree to your Pact. The lower their health the more successful a chance they’ll join your Monster roster.

As you travel from town to town, exploring and battling Monsters, the overworld will feel very familiar with main roads to connect towns to small pathways that might house some secrets. Instead of having to find monster in tall grass though, they will appear on the overworld map as you explore it, meaning you’re able to engage with them as you see fit or ignore them and bypass their pathways. Decide to get in range and you can initiate a battle.

As a Monster Tamer, you’re able to bring along eight different Monsters with you into battle, and just like that ‘other’ game. Your creature choice will have a lot of strategy involved, as you’ll always want to try and counter your foe’s types. These types fall into five different categories and differ from typical elements: Brute, Malicious, Will, Unstable and Relentless. In other games, elements make sense in which beats which. Here though, even hours in, I’m not sure why certain ones beat other types. Luckily they are color coded and have icons, but I’m still having to constantly check which type is best against which.

Battles are what you’d expect, choosing which ability or attack you want to use on your opponent, ideally something that is their weakness to do more damage. You can choose to use your abilities freely each turn, as there’s no Power Point system to limit you, though there doesn’t seem to be as much variety overall in abilities. My main complaint is that the speed of text during battles is far too slow without any way to speed it up, so much of the time you’re simply waiting for your next turn as text finishesscrolling.

Another main differentiator is the mechanic of swapping Monsters in battle. You can freely switch to any other non KO’d monster in your party when it’s your turn, and doing so takes your turn, but the next attack gets a bonus multiplier to your attack. So there’s some strategy involved; do you skip a turn and possibly take damage to do more damage in return next time, or do less damage now and hopefully defeat them before they retaliate?

Now technically you won’t have to grind to beat bosses, but a few extra levels certainly doesn’t hurt as monster stats will grow and they’ll unlock new abilities at certain levels. You’ll need to defeat certain people to raise the level cap of your party’s monsters, much like a Gym Leader, so you can tell what elements were borrowed from other games. What was interesting is that when you get to certain story elements or area bosses, monsters generally far out level you, which initially thought I was going to have to grind for hours to catch up. This isn’t the case. Instead, these boss fights are almost like a puzzle in a way, as the first boss gives you hints about using an ability to infect them for massive damage, or the another boss where you’ll need to interrupt their synergy (monster swapping) to avoid getting bonus damage against you. Once you learn this aspect it becomes a bit more manageable, but it’s not explained all that clearly when you first see yourself facing off against a boss ten to twenty levels higher than you.

Monsters don’t evolve in Monster Crown the way you’d expect either. Instead, you’ll be breeding your friendly monsters with one another to create some really interesting and unique offspring that takes traits from both parents. With 200 base monsters to battle and pact with, this is expanded much further with this breeding mechanic. This comes in handy when you have certain monsters that have great abilities or stats and you want to combine them. These offspring also get unique pixel graphics based on the parent combinations which was a really interesting touch. It’s a really interesting system that is simple and works well, feeling like they are more ‘yours’ than the ones you Pact with in the wild.

Graphics are what you’d expect from an indie game that’s trying to mimic classic Pokemon games from the 90’s. While the art style is 2D pixel based, there is some decent detail in the world and creature designs all things considered, but there’s also a bunch of repeated tile assets that don’t always align properly which can be a bit jarring. With different biomes, you’ll have bright beautiful colors in one area, and dark and dreary tones in another. There is quite a bit of harshness when weather patterns change in an instant though, from day to night or rain without any transition or smoothness.

As for audio, it’s also what you’d expect for the area with some chiptune music and sound effects for your attacks, but aside from that, there’s not much else to mention. One issue that frustrated me though is that for whatever reason, audio is completely turned off and muted each time you load up your save in the game. I initially thought the game audio was broken, because I changed the default music and sound effect levels, but upon starting up again, it defaults back to mute every single time.

At a certain part of the story is where you’ll unlock the Monster Breeding and even an Online component where you’re able to battle other players, theoretically. I say theoretically, as it told me the feature was unlocked, but I was unable to actually find where to do so in the menus after searching.

With a unique Synergy system and Breeding, Monster Crown differentiates itself from being a simple Pokemon clone. Sure there are a ton of similarities, and while it is a shorter affair, the monster variety was what kept me wanting to play, more so than the narrative itself.

**Monster Crown was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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