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Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Always Sometimes Monsters

Oh, hey, it's another game I did a Let's Play of. Neat.

Always Sometimes Monsters.

Since I'm not bitter that my playthrough of this game ended in bitter, bitter tragedy and despair, this will surely be a very objective, unbiased review, as I make a calculated and rational assessment of the game that is not in any fashion influenced by sinking nine hours into it only to get what seems like the worst ending possible. Professionalism.

An indie game purportedly revolving around uncertainty and choice, Always Sometimes Monsters puts you in the shoes of a struggling writer who, having broken up with their longtime partner and discovered that they're getting married to someone else, sets out on a trip across the country to try to win them back. Faced with moral and practical choices along the way, the protagonist must choose between the easy path and a more difficult, but more morally upstanding life.

Okay, so, obviously I got off to a bad start when someone gave me money to buy drugs and instead I stole said money, and that would kind of define most of my playthrough: Acts of mild evil for the sake of convenience, while avoiding the really big ones (like, say, committing murder). The game does a good job of engendering a sense of desperation in you from the start, as you are faced with not only accruing enough money to leave town, but also with eating, finding safe places to sleep, and so on. That's important, because it's the main source of dramatic tension in the story, especially at the beginning when the thirty day deadline seems to be positively ages away. As the story progresses, and both time and money become tighter, the story gives you more leeway to be evil and more punishments if you don't, usually involving a longer delay.


(This, of course, then becomes a problem, since your success at the end - which I was really on edge about after spending so much time trying to get to the wedding and hopefully achieve a happy ending - seemingly depends at least partly on whether you make good choices or not.)

The problem with the choice system is that in a game about consequence, it's difficult to see what the direct consequences of your actions are - obviously, do too many bad things and you'll get the bad ending, but there's no causal link between what you do and that bad ending. Your love interest doesn't reject you because of the things you've done, because they don't actually know any of the things you've done - instead, it just feels like they reject you because a couple of hidden numbers exceeded a designated amount.

It would have been really easy to avoid that, too - your protagonist keeps a journal as they go through, and at one point their love interest's father reads it and confronts them about it: By replacing the father with the love interest, you give them a good reason to reject the protagonist based on their previous actions, instead of a vague 'oh, you haven't changed at all' type deal no, I'm not bitter, you're bitter.

Ultimately, the choices in Always Sometimes Monsters do feel like they have more weight than those in, say, a Telltale Games' game, and that's something, at the very least. 

Every town you go to seems really impoverished.

You can pick from any number of protagonists, and a wide variety of love interests for them, but both characters are fairly plain, with middle-of-the-road dialogue that doesn't really create much sense of character. You're never going to be able to write a novel on the character's motivations and personality, but they do a good enough job, and manage to at least feel like they have some semblance of a personality.

From a technical standpoint, the game is very obviously made with RPG Maker, but amidst the deluge of RPG Maker games, it's definitely one of the better ones, with a lot of custom assets as far as graphics go, a good soundtrack, and some interesting things done with RPG Maker's fairly basic interface - like a boxing minigame that relies on predicting and countering, and making good use of a stamina meter. 


Ultimately, I'm disappointed and - yes, quite resentful at the amount of time I invested into this game only to end up with what felt like a pretty unsatisfying and unpleasant ending, but I enjoyed the game enough that I probably will replay it, with an eye to using what I've learned to get a better ending. Who knows, maybe I'll record bits of it and make a montage to use as an extra part for the Let's Play.

I do recommend this game, albeit with some reservations - if it had a price tag any higher than the one it currently has, I would say in flat out terms not to bother with it, but it's a pretty good bargain for a surprisingly long and involved game, and it's definitely one of the more interesting games to come out lately. It also has a sequel, Sometimes Always Monsters, so I'm sure I'll get around to that eventually.

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