Cross Pokémon with a Metroidvania and what do you get? Monster Sanctuary by Moi Rai Games and Team 17, that’s what.
It’s been available on PC in Early Access for a while, but Monster Sanctuary is just about to get its version 1.0 release, and along with it a release on consoles. And trust us, if you enjoy turn-based combat, Metroidvania-style exploration, or Pokémon’s approach to collect-’em-all monster taming, you ought to have it on your radar.
Monster Sanctuary wastes no time in showing you the ropes. Things start off fairly easy, with gentle combat against low-level monsters. It isn’t long until you’re fighting your first champion, however, and from there the game really begins. You see, all across the titular Monster Sanctuary, more champion monsters have popped up than ever before. There’s something nefarious afoot, and so it falls on your shoulders – as a new Monster Keeper – to train up and face the evil that awaits.
Combat forms a large part of the game, so you’ll be spending a lot of time fighting your foes. Turn-based, battles are most often 3v3. And although you can collect dozens upon dozens of monsters, you’ll only ever have six active at once. Those six active monsters will gain XP for each fight, even though only three of them will take part. There are instances where you’ll use all six – but we’ll get to those later.
In order to prepare for combat, you can assign each monster in your party a weapon and two accessories. They sadly don’t change the cosmetic appearance of your monsters, but they do offer significant stat boosts. When a monster levels up, you can spend a skill point in a hefty skill tree. Each monster has a unique set of skills, and how you choose to spend those points is up to you. You can level up a particular skill, focus on adding passive abilities, or increase their basic stats. Eventually, you’ll have enough skill points to focus on all three. Over time, your monsters will become a formidable force.
To be truly successful in combat, though, you need to pay attention to monsters’ individual strengths and weaknesses. Each monster – including your own – has an element they’re particularly weak to, and their attacks will focus on specific elements. Attacking enemies with elements they’re weak to is key to being successful in battle; so putting together a party that covers several different elements is important. Having a solely fire-based party, for instance, is just asking for trouble.
But there’s more to Monster Sanctuary‘s combat than simply targeting enemies’ weaknesses. Each time your party attacks, you’ll gain a multiplier stack. The higher that multiplier stack is, the more damage you’ll do. There’s strategy involved in doing the most damage possible; most attacks do more than one hit, so having each party member perform a multi-hit attack will get you a big multiplier. Leave the heaviest hitter for last, and you’ll benefit from causing extra damage to your opponents.
Defeating your opponents in combat will net you some XP as well as some loot. This could be anything from a consumable, crafting materials, or a weapon. The best reward from a fight, though, is an egg from one of the monsters you’ve defeated. Collecting these eggs is how you grow your own monster collection. They can be hatched instantly from the in-game menu, and that monster will be added to your party.
You’ll undoubtedly have favourite monsters who’ll you want to keep in your party, but it pays to have a good selection levelled up. Those instances where you’ll need to use all six monsters from your party? They’re fights against other champions, and some ‘boss’ battles in the game – they’re the trickiest moments of Monster Sanctuary. You’ll start out with three monsters in the fight, but the other three will tag in one by one, as your other monsters get taken down. The same goes for your opponent; you’ll need to take out all six of their monsters to win.
These fights are much harder than any other in the game, and you’ll often find yourself needing to grind in order to gain a few levels before you’ve any chance of being successful. You may also find that your six main party members are completely incompatible with your opponents’ line-up, so having a wider range of monsters levelled up is helpful. Feeling challenged is nice, but needing to grind does break up the flow of the game somewhat.
Outside of combat, you’ll be exploring Monster Sanctuary‘s huge world, which is a joy. Here’s where the game’s Metroidvania influences come into play. Broken up into numerous different areas, you’re technically free to explore wherever you like, but you’ll find your progress gated by the need to have specific abilities. You’ll gain new abilities yourself – like being able to double-jump, or walk through cold water – but you’ll also need to make use of your monsters, too.
You see, they’re not just helpful in combat. Every monster has an ability that can be used while exploring; some can illuminate dark areas, some can break down walls, others can burn vines, and some can help you fly. Many of these skills will be used only to access secret areas, but you’ll occasionally need a specific ability to progress. As such, having as many monsters in your collection as possible is helpful to ensure you have a wide range of abilities available to you.
It pays to explore in Monster Sanctuary, because dotted around its sprawling world are many secrets and chests – many of which contain loot. It could be a new piece of equipment for one of your monsters, or a rare upgrade material that allows you to upgrade your current equipment. The more equipment and upgrade materials you gather, the better your chance of besting your enemies – and that’s your ultimate goal.
There’s a lot to love about Monster Sanctuary. Exploring its world is rewarding and enjoyable, and its turn-based combat packs enough depth to keep you invested. Hitting a brick wall and needing to grind can be frustrating, but the desire to progress is usually strong enough to keep you going. It’s the perfect blend of Pokémon and Metroidvania, and it works exceptionally well. Even if you’re a fan of only one of those, you’ll find plenty to love in Monster Sanctuary.