Always Sometimes Monsters Game Review
Always Sometimes Monsters by Vagabond Dog is a choice and consequence RPG. It’s built in RPG Maker so has an old School, JRPG look to it and is very light-weight with simple controls.
The Character creation is interesting. You don’t realise you are creating your character (although I guess I’ve kind of clued you in, huh?) but are instead asked to recruit a writer. So I picked the guy who (from the dialogue) seemed like to best. The Writer is then asked to introduce their Significant Other so the Player picks them. I once again chose based off the dialogue, therefore ending up with this Emo-looking Dude as my main character and a sharp-looking Black guy as their SO. I named them Adam and Wayne. In theory I could have gone back and had another go (often I will pick a character that looks like me) but I liked the random element of generating characters this way so I stuck with my gay interracial couple. And I did get the impression that my choice of characters had a subtle consequence on how my character was treated. The developers didn’t just seem to pay lip-service to diversity but that it actually mattered that we were LGBT, and that my characters partner was a POC.
At the start of the game you are a struggling writer a pay cheque away from eviction. You have to make tough choices such as whether you should eat, and whether you should eat cheap or eat well. Unfortunately the ‘eating mechanic’ is one that is buggy so some players report well-fed characters starving whilst others have managed to survive without eating for the entire game! A better example (and one that does work) is that you need money desperately to pay the bills. Do you take risks? Do you take ‘nice jobs’ for little money? Or take morally dubious ones for more? Are you willing to do tedious tasks? Work long hours? These are all options and come across as very ‘real.’
The game is all about desperate circumstances. You and your Significant Other have split up and your life has gone into a downward spiral but you are trying to get it back together. In fact there’s a bit of a ticking clock for that because your SO is getting married to someone else. So you have to go and break up that wedding and show them everything they’re missing! Better get that life together pronto, right?
The first half of the game I found very good, particularly as a life simulator. It seemed very relatable with your choices having an impact on both your own circumstances and the people around you. You encounter tough and emotional issues such as homelessness, drugs, suicide, and gambling. It’s frustrating and monotonous at times, much like life, but you do get to feel like you are getting somewhere. However I should probably mention there are sections where there is no clear ending for the task (how many boxes did you load?) The second half seemed a bit more rail-roaded with less choices and far more ‘Complete task A to achieve Objective B’.
The ending was somewhat disappointing for me because I didn’t feel like my characters objective was to ‘stop the wedding’ by the time I got there. I felt like my character had grown and learned from their experiences and was ready to let their lover go. But stopping the wedding is the only way to get the ‘good’ ending (which is pretty hard anyway). It would have been nice to have more options. SPOILER: It also seemed a little be hypocritical that the Main Characters best friend Sam is demonized for gambling yet to win you basically have to accrue a ton of money by gambling at the arcade. Is the message the gambling is okay so long as you win?!
Despite the flaws I have mentioned Always Sometimes Monsters accounts for itself in gameplay and mechanics better than many ‘flashier’ games. The choice and consequence mechanic is perhaps the best executed I’ve seen. Although I’ve yet to see it executed perfectly it’s still done better than Mass Effect or Dreamfall Chapters in my opinion. But be warned you will not be ‘uplifted’ by this game because it is deliberately pessimistic. It’s philosophy is “We are always sometimes monsters” and goes out to ‘prove’ that, including deliberate railroading. However, I will still totally be grabbing the sequel Sometimes Always Monsters. Why? Because A.S.M is an artistic, thought-provoking game and I’d like to see what S.A.M does to improve upon. The developers are doing a lot to take feedback, and study how players interacted with Always Sometimes Monsters for developing S.A.M. which sounds like a sequel (assuming you got the nearly impossible-to-achieve ‘good’ ending)!