Monster sanctuary review: Opening screen sample. New Game, Options, credits, continue

Monster Sanctuary: Metroidvania or Monster Taming? Why choose?

By: Dr. Ritch

Hello, everybody! This is my first article and video game review and it’s one I have been eager to write. I just finished Monster Sanctuary on the Nintendo Switch (the main story at least) and I wanted to share my experience and thoughts on the game. I will do my best to keep this article spoiler free though, there will be mild spoilers, but I won’t go into detail. Just the standard, unavoidable stuff that goes with any game review. If you are a fan of both “Metroidvania” and “Monster Taming” style games and want to go into it completely blind, then I advise you to just go buy it and play it. Enough with the pleasantries already let’s get into the review.

The Story

Monster Sanctuary starts out like a lot of “Monster Taming” games… choosing a starter. You, as the protagonist, are a member of one of four bloodlines linked to a spectral familiar. You get to choose from the four respective monsters (Wolf, Toad Womp, Eagle, and Lion) before the game begins. The game presents you with the sprites, basic stats, and the elemental attacks of each. You make your choice and the adventure begins!

Spectral wolf: Monster Sanctuary Review. Water and wind dual typing. Starter Selection screen
“Hmm… Toad or Eagle maybe?”

The story of Monster Sanctuary is, in my honest opinion, really good especially for a “Monster Taming” game. I never found the dialogue to be dry or uninteresting. Each character seems unique and has their own personalities, traits, and manner of speaking. Even being the style of game that it is (“Monster Taming”), I found it hard to focus on just my monsters in between story segments. I always really wanted to see where the developer was taking me next and was excited to get there. 

In a world of games that hold our hand with quest markers and waypoints, sometimes it’s hard to go back to the old way of just figuring out where to go. NPC dialogue typically points you in the right direction without being too specific most of the time. However, in our busy lives, we might have to put the game down for a spell. Or maybe you get distracted trying to bring some newly hatched monsters up to par with the rest of your team.

You may also find yourself with unexplored sections of the map you want to check for treasure before pushing forward with the story. Whatever the reason, the developer has an app for that. In your menu there is an option to talk to your familiar about different tasks given to you by the NPCs. These conversations point you back in the general direction of where you should be heading.

monster sanctuary review sample photo: asking creatures for assistance
“A little help here, Buddy?”

The Monsters

Here we get into the best aspect of Monster Sanctuary… the monsters (Duh). The monsters in this game range from cutesy, cuddly critters to big, brutish beasties and so many places in between. While not boasting a roster of monsters comparable to other “Monster Taming” games such as the ever popular Pokémon franchise, I can say with confidence that it isn’t a bad thing. I, myself, am what some people in the community have come to so lovingly dub a “Genwunner.” The first generation of Pokémon games to this day remains a very beloved piece of my childhood and are still among my favorites in the series. Having a smaller pool of monsters to choose from keeps it from becoming overwhelming for both newcomers and veterans of the genre alike.

In order to obtain most of the monsters in Monster Sanctuary you must battle them and get a high enough rating to get a chance for rare loot drops (more on that in the next section). If you get those ratings you have a chance for eggs to drop as loot which are then placed into your inventory to access and hatch. Some of the higher tier monsters require a five star rating in order for their respective egg to drop. Don’t worry if you get repeat eggs of monsters you already have or don’t want because the developer thought of that too and there’s a very good mechanic for dealing with those. There is a specific NPC that will take those spare eggs and even monster you don’t want off your hands and even reward you with loot for reaching certain milestones with your donations. A handful of monster have the ability to evolve when given specific items called catalysts at a certain location in the world.

Monster Sanctuary stat page. equipped morning star, tome, mana ring, helmet. Stats: mana regen, Damage reduction, critical hit damage, crit. chance, dodge
“Yo, Adrian!”

Each monster has different typings as well as different elements available to them. The typings range from standard types like Beast, Bird, and Warrior to the more awesome typings such as Dragon, Spirit, and Occult (my personal favorite). Most monsters carry two or even three different typings making them synergize on more team set ups and very few have a singular typing. The typing system adds some very dynamic elements to the combat which will get into a little later. The elements available for attacks are fire, water, earth, wind (includes electrical type attacks as well), and neutral. Each monster also has different weaknesses or resistances to these elements as well as physical, magic, and debuffs. You are also given a weapon slot and three accessory slots to up each monsters stats as well as the ability to feed each monster meals at a time that last until they are given new meals or evolve to bolster their stats even further. 

The designs and bios for the monsters are exceptional. You can really tell how much work, love, and care they put into them. Some monster designs are even winners from various design contests hosted by the developer. Along with great designs the monsters are given some of the best skill trees I have personally seen in the genre. The way the developer designed the skill system makes these cool creatures seem more like fleshed out RPG characters than battle born pets. Most monsters have a variety of elemental attacks, stat boosts, buffs, debuffs, and passives for themselves as well as other monsters that are in combat with them. Each monster also carries with it an “Explore Ability” which aids in the platforming aspect of the game in terms of traversal, puzzle solving, or treasure hunting. You can even ride a few of them as mounts!

As far as the monsters go in this game, I would rate them with a 9.5/10. It is a varied roster with lots to choose from without overwhelming the player. The designs and skills are great. The only real fault I find in the monsters is repeat explore abilities of monsters found within the same area of the game.

The Combat

I found the combat in Monster Sanctuary to be astoundingly fun, dynamic, and addicting. I constantly wanted to try out new combinations of monsters and their respective skill sets. Though there are unique mechanics at play in this title, there’s a familiarity to it. It’s extremely reminiscent of classic JPRG games from my childhood. I mostly compare it to the Dragon Warrior Monsters games on Gameboy, which was an apparent influence and inspiration for the developer. The combat is typically 3v3 monster battles except for Keeper duels, where you fight another Monster Keeper in a full party 6v6 battle, and the monster boss fights (called Champions) which are 3v1.

Monster sanctuary review: combat screen. Available skills: Arcane bolt, heal, slime shot
“Fighting fearsome, feathered foes for fun.”

One aspect of the combat that stands out is the Combo system. This allows you to up the damage output of subsequent attacks based on how many hits, heals, buffs, or shields you preform.

This made me feel like I was not wasting any actions by doing things that didn’t deal damage, like I was getting rewarded for actually buffing my allies beyond just the effects of the buffs. This allows you to run support monsters and a primary damage monster and still put out some serious damage.

The debuffs in this game are outstanding. Most games of the genre require you to use tanky stall tactics in order to make debuffs viable, but Monster Sanctuary makes it feel like you are just stacking on extra damage instead of turtling up your monsters and waiting around for your enemies to die. This is, of course, still a viable strategy if you choose to play that way but typically does not take as long as it would in other “Monster Taming” games.

Each element has its own debuff tied to it. Water has chill which slows mana regeneration, fire has burn which is damage over time, earth has poison which is also damage over time, and wind has shock which adds damage at the end of an attack. There are some attacks that cause debuffs from other elements but typically the debuffs are caused by their respective element.

There are two other debuffs not tied to an element: weakness which causes the monster to do less damage and armor break that makes the monster more vulnerable to attacks.

On top of debuffs there are also harmful effects which do not count as debuffs in the game’s terminology and coding.  This is where neutral’s “debuff” is, which is blind and causes the afflicted monster to miss more. Other harmful effects include bleed (damage over time based on stacks), wound (the monster is healed less once per stack), and tether (reduced evasion).

The loot system that goes with the combat, as I mentioned in a previous section, is based on a star rating system determined by how well you take out your enemies. Some factors that go into this calculation include: healthiness of your own monsters, hit ratio, and how many turns it takes to complete the battle. The developer didn’t overly complicate the loot like most games of any genre by having seven barely different rarities, they stick to just rare and common. The higher your star rating for a battle the higher chance you have of getting rare loot from that battle, including eggs. 

The combat system is easy enough to understand and get by with for even the greenest of horns to the genre yet complex enough to please the most hardcore theory crafters and team builders for hours. The monster typings play a huge role in the deeper strategies of combat as a lot of monsters can gain passive auras that grant unique benefits to the monsters that share one or more typings with it. This makes a noticeable difference in the synergizing of teams. This, I believe, is where the longevity of the game lies. The developer actually included an online battle system where you can fight other random Monster Keepers in a competitive capacity. They even included a leaderboard that shows a person’s team and how many wins and losses they’ve had. As with any game of the genre, the meta will ebb and flow as more people pick up the game and try to develop new competitive teams. Checking the leaderboard is a good way to try to stay current and rack up those W’s.

Monster Sanctuary’s combat is dynamic, fun, complex, and addictive. I was having so much fun trying out new monsters or different builds for my favorites that I didn’t want to put down my Switch until the screen turned black (which happened probably four times this last week).

I would definitely have to give the combat a sparkling 10/10.

The World

The world of Monster Sanctuary is artfully crafted and includes various regions and biomes each boasting its own array of monsters to collect. It’s rich with treasure and puzzles to solve which require the various explore abilities provided to you by your quirky cast of creature companions. The puzzles aren’t too awfully difficult to solve most of the time but the developer did throw in quite a few head scratchers and some that require late or end game monster explore abilities to guard some of the more lucrative chests and Champion monsters. I like the design of the world enough that it didn’t bother me having to revisit areas later on to acquire hidden treasure or monsters.

Glistening, sandy beaches with lofty cliffs overlooking them. Pools of roaring magma deep within the earth. A dark, dreary dungeon down below the sanctuary. The locations really have a different feel from one another and keep you wanting to explore more. The developer definitely nailed the atmosphere of each biome and made them their own separate worlds within a world.

Each biome is unique to the others in both appearance, difficulty, and available monsters. This aids in the want to explore every corner of the map without making the exploration boring or dry. Some monsters can only be found in one or two square sections of a specific biome so it’s worth it to go out of your way to figure out how to get everywhere.

I found the world of Monster Sanctuary to be charming, aesthetically pleasing, and quite fitting to the overall feeling of the game. I give the world a 9/10.

Final Verdict

Monster Sanctuary boasts an interesting story, great monsters, fun and addictive combat mechanics, and a beautiful world setting to encapsulate it all into. It’s reminiscent of a lot of classic games from both “Metroidvania” and “Monster Taming” genres. I consider it to be an instant classic indie gem and I give Monster Sanctuary an overall rating of 9.2/10.

Not quite perfect but I will definitely continue playing it for a while. If you are a fan of either or even both genres of games I highly recommend picking it up. I consider it to be worth well over the modest $20 price tag.

Thanks for reading!