Of the staggering 29 games in KEMCO’s Switch catalog right now, developer Hit-point has only been responsible for six of them, with April’s Monster Viator being their latest offering. Billed as a “journey alongside monsters,” it certainly favors everyone’s favorite creature collectathon, Pokemon, in certain ways, but not entirely. Although there are monsters to befriend here, the bulk of the adventure is your standard JRPG fare. Does that make Monster Viator a bad game? Absolutely not – in fact, it is one of the better offerings currently in the KEMCO RPG lineup if you enjoy a grind.
Monster Viator centers around Culter, an amnesiac boy that is haunted by fragments of memories surrounding the only thing he actually remembers, his brother. A witch soon appears, urging him to find his brother and ultimately rediscover his identity. Part of that endeavor, however, is first realizing his innate ability to converse with monsters, which is (for reasons) key in the recovery process. Now with some sense of direction – and a witch-bestowed cat sith by his side – Culter soon meets up with Aira, a monster tamer that decides to join the mysterious boy not only to aid him, but also to fully realize the important role she too is destined to play.
The two and their monster companions soon run into Biscute, a monster tamer and arrogant prince that serves as the antagonist backbone for a large portion of the narrative. This is where Monster Viator perhaps resembles Pokemon the most as there isn’t a clear “big bad” to face beyond this “rival” for the majority of the game. There is even a gauntlet at one point that feels like a nod to the iconic Elite Four battles. Regardless, the relatively easygoing story provides a bit of respite from many JRPG tropes you may have come to expect, but isn’t completely without some (ie. amnesia).
The protagonists, Culter and Aira, are a bit of a mixed bag, unfortunately. While they do develop some over time, it is in large chunks between huge gaps rather than bite-sized pieces that help guide you along the way. The narrative, in general, takes forever to mature and parts of it are easy to see from a mile away. There isn’t a real gradual buildup of the characters beyond Culter’s own flashbacks, but even those offer very little in terms of personal development. Biscute’s constant annoyance as the rival definitely helps though, and there are some side quests that have some interesting arcs of their own – one regarding an elf and a unicorn comes to mind immediately. That said, the story overall is still one of the weakest parts of the game.
The core gameplay of Monster Viator is both engaging and rewarding. Culter and company will travel the globe, befriending monsters, all while trying to iron out his scattered memories. There isn’t much to monster taming, only demanding specific criteria to be fulfilled (story/exploration-wise) rather than having its own dedicated mechanic. There are nearly two dozen monsters you can “tame”, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Many of the monsters will be unlocked with natural story progression, but there are some off the beaten path to discover.
Like Pokemon, combat in Monster Viator is all about exploiting the weaknesses of your opponents. Each monster is assigned an elemental affinity – fire, wind, or water – and countering appropriately will massively reduce damage taken or vastly enhance your offense. Although Culter and Aira can only call upon two monsters in combat, they can swap between their entire collection outside of combat any time. While this does limit your combat capabilities to an extent, you won’t have to visit town every time you want to try out some new monsters, either. I’ll take it!
Combat in Monster Viator is well balanced for the majority of the adventure. You won’t be wiping the floor with your starter monster alone, that’s for sure. The difficulty curve becomes increasingly challenging along the way, but never in an unfair way. This philosophy shifts a bit towards the very end, however, when a massive amount of grinding becomes necessary. Even I was extremely underleveled towards the end despite going through a lot of side content along the way.
Monster Viator is not the kind of RPG that you can skimp on combat because grinding is essential in not just leveling up, but also in improving your equipment. And, unless you shell out additional cash on top of the game’s base price for an encounter toggle (al la microtransactions) you’ll be fighting a random encounter every few steps. Thankfully, while the encounter toggle would certainly have been a nice bonus (for free), the game is very passive in regards to its microtransactions and never throws the few it does have in your face.
Monster Viator emphasizes the strengthening of gear on top of just buying new sets in each new area. This refinement process improves the stats of equipment drastically, and can be performed anywhere via the main menu. Each piece of gear can be improved up to five times, but the unfortunate side effect of the system is that it’s difficult to compare an upgraded piece of gear to the potential of newer, base level gear.
This wouldn’t be a problem if strengthening didn’t cost an arm and a leg – but it does. Showing the base stats in parentheses next to the upgraded stats would have been a huge boon, but I digress. Fortunately, swapping gear between monsters is a completely painless process because it all is interchangeable, meaning you won’t have to worry about funding your entire army of monsters.
You can further customize your party with carmina – powerful passives that can be complete game changers. There are tons of these to choose from, though you are only able to equip two of them at a time. Culter and Aira also have access to an assortment of jobs that give them new sets of skills and bonus stats to experiment with. Jobs can be leveled up, and some will morph into superior versions of the base job after achieving a certain level threshold. The UI is a bit deceptive in presenting all of the differences between jobs, though, as there is no easy way to view or compare the stat bonuses provided by leveling the jobs. I commend the development team for putting some meaningful depth into these systems, but it can lead to frustration when the nitty gritty of it isn’t easily accessible.
There are a number of optional areas to explore, but calling them “optional” is a bit of a stretch since they all but become mandatory once you hit that end-of-game level gap. Either way, thorough exploration is recommended because of treasures – not just gold, gear, and carmina, but also permanently active trinkets that provide small stat bonuses to the entire party; some of which can level up jobs! Just be prepared to fight a lot while exploring; running rarely works and the autobattle toggle is basically useless (it can legitimately double or triple your combat time).
The flipside, of course, is that these extended combat sessions go a long way in funding your gear upgrades, and you may just find a new monster and some genuine treasure! There are also a ton of optional hunts that pit you against really powerful enemies, giving you a chunk of gold and some new items/gear should you be victorious. In short, you’re guaranteed to be rewarded any time you opt for the road less traveled.
A common criticism amongst KEMCO RPGs is their often “RPG Maker-esque” front – dull, uninspiring graphics and design. While this as a blanket statement is neither true nor fair, parallels can be drawn (to an extent) with many of the older products in their catalog (mainly by EXE Create). Monster Viator is a Hit-Point property, though, and they have a track record of exceptional, retro-inspired visuals. Monster Viator is no exception, boasting an impressive number of varied locales that leverage unique tilesets.
Combat visuals are equally pleasing. Enemy sprites make use of an array of animations despite the somewhat limited first-person perspective. The amount of unique enemy designs is lacking – palette swaps are common – but at least what is here looks nice. Ability animations are solid, too, but collectively slow down the flow of combat more than you would expect from a game in a first-person perspective. There is a 2x speedup mode, but it does very little for the plethora of animations that fire off in combat.
Additionally, Monster Viator features an above average soundtrack that really only suffers from budget constraints prevalent in most KEMCO RPGs. There are a limited number of tracks available, so they are constantly being reused in new areas. The only real complaint audio-wise are the menu sound effects, which become a bit obnoxious in the long run. Ultimately, Monster Viator presents itself quite well given its budget constraints.
Impressions and Conclusion
Those looking for their next budget friendly, retro JRPG grind need look no further than Monster Viator. I emphasize “retro” not so much for its aesthetics, but because of how much grinding will ultimately be required of you. Strategy is necessary in many of the fights, thankfully, but it wears a bit thin once you are beyond that point and have to slowly develop from weaker monsters. I’m all for a decent grind, but prefer for it to be evenly distributed rather than backloading it at the home stretch – and we’re not even talking postgame territory where it would actually make sense. Your mileage will vary, of course, but there’s a lot to enjoy if you don’t mind a good old fashioned grind.
Hunting down all the different monsters is fun even if it doesn’t have its own dedicated mechanic. Between gear with bonus properties, carmina, and monsters (all with unique skills), there’s a lot of room to experiment and find the comps you enjoy the most, or are most efficient for the situation at hand. Although its narrative falls a bit flat, the Pokemon-esque approach is refreshing in the realm of KEMCO products. Ultimately, Monster Viator is fun and enjoyable the majority of the time, and that’s what really matters.