There’s only 3 weeks left before prom and you haven’t got a date yet..and you’re a monster. But that’s okay ‘cause at your high-school everyone else is too! These are the stepping stones into the world of Monster Prom, a one-to-four player competitive dating sim that has you thinking: I never knew I was into that!
This is where the review is going to be a bit complicated for this reviewer, because the story doesn’t matter that much here. Many have said that about certain visual novels more concerned with fanservice than narrative, and it comes off more as a back-footed defense for bad writing. Here, when I say the story doesn’t matter, I’m not saying ‘shut your brain off’ and ignore bad content just to consume something. I’m saying that the broader plot is secondary to the goal of keeping the game funny. And since Monster Prom is reliant on its kinetic, blink-and-you’ll-miss it quips, inside humor and references, there really isn’t much time to establish a narrative per se.
The question is whether or not that is a negative for the title or a positive. And, after some time, the best answer I can give you is split. This is going to be the most negative part of the review, so if you want the roses and rainbows you’re going to have to hang on: because this has to be said first. Now, all of the negatives of this narrative decision come out in full force in Single Player: dampening the fun of the game with a toxic mix of repetitive choices and the same situational jokes are played for the same laughs again and again. It also isn’t so much of a satire of romance games as it is an homage to them. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. However, it is very familiar territory that plays things very safe.
As for the cast? Well, we run into a lot of the same issues. The problem is that the jokes that make the game work rely on their characteristics staying the same, the players figuring out the pattern and working to become attractive to them based on that pattern. It’s good for a competition, but as a narrative point it means your characters are stuck in a cycle where they never change. Even the most endearing characters here (Miranda) can quickly run themselves into the ground thanks to having a virtually non-existent storyline.
‘JP, it almost sounds like you’re saying the game ISN’T well-written!’
The story of Monster Prom isn’t bad. It never does anything that I can say is a detriment to the overall game. The problem is that it’s doesn’t do much else. Yeah, a game that feature jokes on drug use, rampant partying, sex, murder and jaywalking is, overall, decent at best. Again, it’s not a bad thing overall: it’s just a bad thing on its own. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT play Monster Prom in single player. Because the good parts of the story come out in Multiplayer, which will we cover in another section.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
Now we get back to the positives. Good because I did like this game even with its flaws. The Presentation for this game is solid. The style makes great use of expressions both small and large that fleshes out the characters’ personalities far more than the characters’….personalities. It doesn’t quite hit the atmospheric marks of others in its class, but it does properly set the tone of the game and makes the most of what it has to work with. I do wish there were a few more Event CGs to capture some of the truly insane hi-jinks these characters get into, but that is a personal preference.
Now we get to the meat of it: the Technical end. Due to the direction the developers went on this end, I’m writing it as a review of its Multiplayer mechanics and overall gameplay and not just focused on its functionality. However, damn near everything I said was a negative in the Story section flips to a positive here thanks to the extensive mechanics that encourage competition in Multiplayer. Let me explain.
At the start, the players are given a seemingly random personality quiz that is designed to boost their stats towards one of the potential romantic partners. It also gives you a taste of what you need to do before you get started as even if your answers don’t directly get you the points you need, your overall stats and choices can still help you get the date you want. From there, it becomes a game of tactics. Along with the hundreds of scenarios in the game, its main mechanic is putting the players against each other to get time with their romantic targets. With the cast spending a lot of time with each other, that provides one Hell of a challenge and it amplifies the game’s mechanics.
It’s amazing how you start tracking your choices and trying to figure out what exactly you have to do to get your preferred partner when that preferences is tied up with someone else’s. It creates a lot of agency for the player to figure out what they have to do and makes the direct competition elements of the game more exciting. The game throws several Cards Against Humanity-style segments at the players to determine things like playing order before the rounds where you have to come up with either the best or funniest (not always the same thing, believe it or not) to have the first crack at getting close to your target. Or, if you want, you can skip all of that and just agree to let the game randomize these types of options.
It also fixes every issue I had with the story. Yes, I can explain.
I’ve recently been getting more into multiplayer games and while I find them enjoyable, the reality is that no matter how innocent the game, it will bring out the competitive nature of whoever is playing. It would be weird if it didn’t: we’re only human after all. There are simply very few options to defuse a situation when you’re convinced the other person is lying to your face or targeting the same romance lead as you are: whether it be a game or not. So if this wacky competitive monster dating sim was going to work, then the focus had to be on having fun rather than getting too invested in the game…although that doesn’t always ring true.
It helps then to always have one of the characters break in and do something insane to keep everyone from getting too invested. As I said in the Story part, everyone mostly stays the same and the arc is less about developing the characters and more about developing a larger joke. It will keep you either laughing or mystified depending on your sense of humor, but it will also keep you from getting too invested and missing the larger point of the game: to have fun.
The gameplay can get deeper depending on the number of players, but the important thing to take from that is that every system feeds into the idea that you’re not playing it alone. And when you are not, it is perfectly balanced to keep the laughs rolling in and everyone having a good time. Effectively, it makes it one of the best multiplayer games since…well…I was going to say Mario Kart, but I’ve played Mario Kart….moving on.
This is where it gets tricky. Again, the full value of the game is dependent on playing it with other people. So, what comes next is a subjective value that needs to be taken into consideration: how much are you going to play a game with other people? I have played Monster Prom exactly twice: once with Chris Tenarium, Allison of MagicGirlAllison fame and Shadow (which was magical, if I do say so myself) and by myself. If you’re not into party games or multiplayer games, then the hard fact of the matter is that you’re probably not going to play it as much as something built specifically for a single-player experience.
I’m sure I’ll play it again, especially since the creators are fantastic at keeping the community together through updates for in-game costumes and new romance characters. But in the end it’s entirely subjective if that will be enough for you. I do think that it’s at least worth trying without waiting for a sale. At $11.99, for the experience is more than fair.
This is one I’ve thought of for a while because, on paper, a multiplayer dating sim should not work. It is, at least in concept, a uniquely single-player experience. Yet, through sheer irreverence and being hell-bent on having a good time, the developers here not only made it work but made it work well. By the end of the live stream I did a few months back, I was laughing my ass off after all my attempts to be a loner failed, successfully attracted a tyrannical mermaid to me, but not enough to get her to agree to a prom date. Monster Prom does so much well, with the singular caveat of playing single player.
I applaud the developers for trying to make a single-player run worthwhile, but it’s simply not the same experience. Buy this with the intention of playing it with others: preferrable with friends. You’ll have a lot to laugh over as you all scramble to make it through this insane world. And hopefully this opens the door to other multiplayer visual novels in the future. Now that it’s been shown romance games can work a multiplayer Ace Attorney-inspired courtroom drama or Jisei (really Clue) inspired mystery could be something to look forward to in the future.
For now though, I’m going to slightly bend one of my rules and keep my experience in mind while also judging the game on all of its merits. It is definitely one of the best of the year and hopefully you all will have your own Reverse Romanian Wilkinson story to smile over.
(Don’t actually look that up, by the way. You’ll regret it.)