Review – Mon-Yu
Good afternoon, class. Today we’re going to be taking a look at a game called Mon-Yu, which comes to us from Aksys Games. Before we get any further, let’s address the elephant in the room: Mon-Yu is not the full title of this game. However, it will be next to impossible to find anyone willing to say the full name without checking a notecard, and merchandise with the complete moniker is sure to be billboard sized. At thirty-three words, Mon-Yu: Defeat Monsters And Gain Strong Weapons And Armor. You May Be Defeated, But Don’t Give Up. Become Stronger. I Believe There Will Be A Day When The Heroes Defeat The Devil King is just a ridiculous ask for anyone to continually say.
I understand that this name is an evolution of the light novel trend of trying to fit half the plot into the book’s title in order to grab eyes and get readers on board faster, but this is completely absurd. First, because the name, while accurate, also deflates any sense of intrigue or mystery that players might have coming into this game. It’s completely accurate: this dungeon crawler asks you to get better weapons and armor as you move forward to fight against the demons that control each level of a dragon-based tower. You will absolutely be defeated at least once, and that’s okay, and then you get back up and do it again. You know, like every other dungeon crawler ever.
But also the shorthand name evokes a game that simply doesn’t exist. For better or worse, Mon-Yu has the Mon in the title, which feels like there should be a focus on the monster aspect. However, monsters have the normal amount of importance in this game, which is you fight them and you get experience, gold and maybe equipment/items. Even though you can occasionally talk to monsters before battle, it’s not like with Shin Megami Tensei where that can result in party changes. You simply can get loot, avoid combat, or enrage the enemies into attacking first. Otherwise it’s just a straightforward dungeon crawler, complete with doors, walls, and traps.
You’re not getting anything special when it comes to the setup of Mon-Yu, either. You are summoned as the faceless, voiceless hero to plumb the depths of a vertical tower of monsters that contains the magic and power of a dragon within. Each floor is locked up by a demonic ruler, and you need to defeat them to unlock new powers and progress. You build a team of up to six party members, but you can basically have a nearly unlimited number waiting in the wings. The difficulty scale (which can be shifted to a point) allows for different interfacing with the map and how it’s created, but all three levels have the same core ideas. Fight enemies, get loot, move forward.
There are a couple of novel mechanics inside Mon-Yu that should be noted, as they both affect how to play and how you feel about the game overall. From the get-go, it’s clear that monsters are reasonably strong, especially depending on the engagement color (those who are stationary vs. those that chase you). Dying means a loss of some gold, but not all, and an instant trip out of the dungeon. You do have another effect, though: the Fairy Queen, who is responsible for saving your hide, will then bestow upon you a permanent if minor boost in HP/MP. The idea is that if you can’t succeed at your current state, you can go back in with a slightly amped persona and should be able to take it from there.
This concept is very cool and can very, very easily be abused. As long as you have a clear route, you can create a deathloop to give your whole party a decent boost right from the start, and more every time you unlock the next stage. The different layers of the dungeon have level caps, but those caps are still pretty reasonable in regards to where you need to be in order to succeed. Moreover, those caps don’t affect what equipment you’re allowed to hold, so, although certain max traits and skills will be locked, you can still grind out a mountain of gold, get just wildly unnecessary weapons from the shop and then go to town.
There’s a lot of classic feeling to Mon-Yu, and I can’t dispute that it really lands multiple elements. The animations of moving through the different rooms and areas are smooth as silk, arguably better than the remastered Etrian Odyssey brought. The monster variety is limited but colorful, and you’ll encounter a good number of beasts and baddies right away. Compared to the exploration of other dungeon crawlers, the layouts of the different levels of Mon-Yu are intuitive while still baking in plenty of surprises. The addition of skills that are learned between the different levels from the bosses do make for a decent amount of replay value…if that’s what you’re interested in doing.
Truth be told, it feels like there’s some kind of imbalance between what the game sets out to do and how it ultimately makes you feel. The Fairy Queen puts forward a rather grandiose goal wherein you need to accomplish the boss fight before hitting a certain level with your party. The objective is to try and encourage players to really hone their fighting skills and utilization of the different classes in order to make a top tier team. In actuality, it results in one of two branches. Either you fight and die a record number of times to passively improve your characters to their maximum HP/MP cap each stage OR simply ignore the Fairy Queen’s challenge in order to succeed.
This honestly feels pretty awful because you always want to get the top rank when it comes to doing anything in a game, and Mon-Yu is no exception. But the setup seems like they want you to fail. For example, the very first boss is a flying beastie who, as a result, is weakest to lightning damage. But you literally cannot get electric spells until you can get your mage to level seven…when all characters are capped at level five for the first stage. No amount of creative rerolling will generate a character who can magically use lightning damage. Your only hope is to either get super lucky with drops and find a weapon with lightning attributes, or to just brutalize it with gunslingers, because the guns have better accuracy for flying enemies.
It’s very arbitrary and feels like you’re doing something wrong, which is a constant refrain in Mon-Yu. You can just reset skills, class and stats at any point for any character, which…how does that even work in a fantasy setting? How many barbarians can simply shout “AM CLERIC NOW” and can wield healing magic as well as they just were swinging axes? I don’t mind the approach but it really seemed like there should be a penalty besides “this equipment doesn’t work anymore.”
Oh, and the hidden scarabs! You have these things that are scattered throughout the dungeons that are valuable when you bring them back to Chuck, the piggy guild master. But they are completely invisible and can only be found through sound notification. As in hearing. As in you need to be able to hear to find the damn things, and there is no rumble option or visual toggle for the scarabs if you’re someone who can’t hear/aren’t able to listen at a time. This feels like a very simple thing to have incorporated into the game, and I’m shocked Aksys glossed over such an accessible notion.
When I think of any kind of game that I return to repeatedly, especially dungeon crawlers, the word I want to idealize is balanced. I want to be able to know that I can struggle a bit but will succeed because of tenacity and understanding the game. Mon-Yu is wildly unbalanced in the weirdest ways. Enemies are crazy strong, but dying is okay and running away is even easier (permanent anytime dungeon exit teleportation). The gear is important, but so much of the gear is weak that you shouldn’t waste time or money on lower level stuff, just save up for the big and keep grinding till you get it. You have so many portraits for characters (including some wild crossover appearances) but only a handful of classes with plenty of overlap (ninja and samurai are quite similar).
Mon-Yu is exceedingly well-coded, runs well, and is just exceptionally boring. The story is cookie cutter, there’s zero stakes ever, and the exhaustively long name just proves that there was the intent to distract from the very beginning. This can be fun if you’re a real dungeon junkie and just want to make a team of different catgirls to wreck house over and over again. Don’t expect anything more than surface level and you’ll be fine. But if you’re hoping for an exceptional crawl, you’re going to be quite disappointed.
Good monster variety, a staggering number of chibi portraits to assign to heroes, and some very cute choices for heroes, NPCs, and animations. Visually, the game is endearing and captures the attention of the player quite well.
Very bread and butter dungeon crawl. Traps, enemies and hidden stuff. Fights fluctuate wildly between just meat grinder mayhem and brick walls. The idea that you’re supposed to die to advance is novel but frustrating. Money is key.
Okay soundtrack but very unmemorable. Monster sound effects are standard, no voice acting available. Entire gameplay mechanic locked behind sound is very off-putting for hearing impaired players.
I love a good dungeon crawl as much as the next, and this one is definitely one. Mon-Yu had the potential to be more, but it’s so singular in its approach and drive that it comes across as dispassionate. In today’s diverse gaming ecosphere, you need the passion.
Final Verdict: 5.5
Mon-Yu: Defeat Monsters And Gain Strong Weapons And Armor. You May Be Defeated, But Don’t Give Up. Become Stronger. I Believe There Will Be A Day When The Heroes Defeat The Devil King is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Mon-Yu: Defeat Monsters And Gain Strong Weapons And Armor. You May Be Defeated, But Don’t Give Up. Become Stronger. I Believe There Will Be A Day When The Heroes Defeat The Devil King was provided by the publisher.