Monster Monpiece is a game that is receiving recognition in the West for all the wrong reasons. In previous years, games of this nature which centered on the idea of fan service would never reach gamers outside of Japan, due to cultural differences and publishing costs. But times have changed, and thanks to growing services like the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live, and an increase in digital sales, games like Monster Monpiece can reach a larger audience. Monster Monpiece is a card battling video game for the PlayStation Vita that features an all-female cast, a strong core gameplay experience, and plenty of cards to collect. Sadly, everything good that Monster Monpiece offers is buried under an overly sexualized, and unnecessary, rubbing mechanic that leaves the player feeling uncomfortable and bored.
Card games such as Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, and the Pokémon Trading Card Game have dominated nerd culture for years. Players would meet at a local comic book shop, slap down some money on some new packs, and spend an afternoon competing, trading, and socializing with other players. The video game landscape has always been a possible home for potential card games, but many of the popular outlets never reached the same amount of success as they did with the physical cards.
The recent success of Hearthstone from Blizzard, the makers of World of Warcraft, has shown that not only can card games in video game format be fun, but it can also be pretty successful. Monster Monpiece demonstrates this nicely, and is a good example of how selling packs of cards digitally can work, and not impact the main game in a negative manner. Players can either play the entirety of the game offline, following the main characters on their path to save the world, or they can compete with other players online, and even buy new packs of cards. The DLC is entirely optional, with several voice packs being offered for free, and does not detract from or inhibit the single player experience.
The card game itself is played out on a map that features a castle on each side, and a grid system comprised of three lanes. Every lane is filled with squares that the cards can be placed in. Each castle represents the player, and has a life meter in the form of hit points. Once the hit points reach zero, that player loses the battle. To damage an opponent, you’ll play from your hand of cards various monsters that have abilities, hit points, attack levels, attack range, Mana costs, and Mana points. Each turn, all of the monsters on screen will move up automatically and attack anything that is in range.
Every single card in Monster Monpiece is actually a monster girl. There aren’t any spells, magic, traps, or anything of that nature. However, each monster is placed into one of four categories: melee, ranged, healer, and booster. Melee monsters will act as the bulk of the fighting force. These cards are used on the front lines, much like an infantry, and feature high attack and health. Behind these cards are the supporting units. Ranged monsters carry a bow and have a larger attack range. Healers have a set amount of Mana points, and will heal the card directly in front of them. And lastly, boosters increase the attack of the card in front of them. Add in monster fusion, and quickly the game becomes ripe with multiple strategies during every turn. Already, the basics of the card system are pretty complex, and the game offers text heavy explanations of how everything works. But the best way to learn in Monster Monpiece is to perform, and I found it more helpful to play several matches then go back to reading the tutorials.
Battles in Monster Monpiece are really fun and require strategic thinking. The gameplay is a mix up between Magic: The Gathering and League of Legends. Many elements and strategies are similar to Magic, like gaining and using Mana every turn, and deciding which cards will provide the most benefit during that turn. You’ll also have to be aware of what each monster on the field is capable of, so that the card you eventually play remains useful. Sometimes, you’ll even have to consider taking damage to your castle to survive in the long run. All of this strategy is formulated and enacted on a battle field that features three lanes. Much like in League of Legends, the lanes must be carefully guarded and monitored at all times. Pushing one lane with your best monsters and not focusing on the other two can end up with a game over screen.
With so many different card element and characteristics, and the layout of the battle field, no two battles will ever be the same. Not to say that there won’t be some similarities between each match, but generally speaking, the amount of cards keeps things fresh during the story of the game. The only real issue is that everything in the game quickly becomes repetitive and slow, especially when you go to level up your first card.
Every card in your deck can be leveled up multiple times. To do this, players need to turn their PlayStation Vita vertically and rub the monster girls, often in a sexual manner, until a meter is filled. After that, the card will level up, the monster girl will shed some clothing, and your deck will be more powerful. This mechanic is called a First Crush rub. Monster Monopiece’s main gimmick is the card leveling system, but it also acts as a double edged sword. While it gives the game plenty of exposure and certainly has people talking, it also devalues the overall experience and prevents people who would normally consider a title like this from purchasing it.
I’m a very accepting person, and my only real requirement for a video game is that it is fun to play. I’ll give almost any game a shot and I normally enjoy many Japanese games. Lately, there have been several fan service titles making their way onto portable systems due to the lower production costs. On one hand, I’m very glad niche titles like this are becoming available in North America, but on the other, I don’t think fan service should take precedent over good gameplay. The ability to level up cards is a great idea, but Compile Heart forced an uncomfortable and boring way of doing it onto players. After every few battles, it’s time to go and open some card packs and manage your deck. This process becomes tedious after a while, and the novelty of the First Crush rub quickly turns into a chore. The core card experience in Monster Monpiece is lessened by the inclusion of this mechanic.
Monster Monpiece is very aware of its target audience, but because of this, gamers on the fence might be turned off by the experience. The bulk of the gameplay is strategic, interesting, thoughtful, and fun; but the leveling system quickly becomes boring and drawn out. Suggesting this game comes with some major stipulations. If you’re interested in a fun card game that plays out in a Japanese role-playing fashion, then definitely consider Monster Monpiece. But if the forced and repetitive rubbing mechanic is too much for your tastes, then pass over this title that is centered around fan service.