I love RPGS. I love RPGs that give me meaningful choices. I love EPGs that make me feel like a complete asshole for making certain choices. Unfortunately, I don’t feel many games do the moral choice thing well. Mass Effect boils it down to Paragon or Renegade, Dragon Age does a bit better but choosing the “asshole” options tends to not give you the kind of rewards that you would get if you picked a “good” option. Games like The Witcher make it so that every choice you make leaves you feeling like an asshole.
Always Sometimes Monsters is a game about choices. There’s no combat, no grind, there’s just you walking around, talking to people, and making choices. Some of these choices are small, others have a huge impact on your life and the people around you.
The basic premise is that you are a struggling writer who is down on their luck, the love of their life is gone, they’re about to be evicted from their apartment, and, as if things couldn’t get any worse, they receive an invitation to their ex’s wedding! Having no other options, they decide to embark on a wild cross country trip to win the love of their life back!
It sounds like a typical romantic comedy, but this game is anything but….or is it? That’s up to you.
The first choice you make is to choose your character and your significant other (either can be male or female, so you can have a same sex love interest). You choose from a set of presets, so there’s no real character customization. Depending on what sort of character you choose, your character may experience homophobia, racism, and/or sexism: a gay black protagonist will have a different experience from a straight white woman. My character, a white lesbian, was on the receiving end of some sexist remarks and homophobic slurs, but I don’t think it was as bad for her as it could have been.
Once you’ve chosen a character, you’re free to wander around the town talking to people. It’s basically a JRPG set modern times with no combat, only questing, or, if you prefer, an adventure game with the visuals of a SNES RPG. The game does have a stamina system where you need to eat to stay alive, but as long as you are able to buy food it shouldn’t be a problem. To help break up the monotony, the game also has a variety of minigames, which range from the simple (packing boxes into a truck) to the annoying (hacking).
“How far would you go to get what you want?” is the question Always Sometimes Monsters asks the player, and you can go to very great lengths to get what you want if you like. Do you accept a bribe from a large corporation, or do you side with the people who are being forced from their homes? Do you spend time with your neighbour, an old widow, or do you take the job at a nightclub because you need the extra money? And you can do some really, really terrible things: theft, blackmail, murder, crapping on someone’s car, and the things that you do have an impact on not only your life, but the lives of all the other characters, even in ways you wouldn’t expect.
I started off playing the game as a “good” character, but soon, I found myself doing some things that were less than wholesome, and although I didn’t go quite as far as I could have gone, I was still left with the sense that, wow, I’m a real selfish asswipe, and I wasn’t really considering the implications of the things I was doing. Perhaps it’s needless to say, but this is a very adult game, and there’s a content warning attached to it for a reason: sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, potty mouth, slurs, compromising photos involving a ball gag and a giant stuffed bear, all present in this game, and that’s not even the half of it. Be certain to read that content warning carefully.
I do have some issues with the game. It’s short (a single playthrough will take about ten hours) although there is some replay value, the graphics are meh, although since this is an RPG Maker game, don’t expect much, the soundtrack is alternatively jazzy and sleepy and is pretty great, even if it does get a bit repetitive, and I did notice some bugs. There’s one particularly annoying bug where your refusal to do a certain action makes other characters treat you as if you went through with it and there’s one instance where the game neglects to inform you that the game spawns an infinite number of boxes that some unfortunate players were moving for a long time before they discovered that was the case, fortunately, these issues are being addressed in patches. Another issue is pacing, where sometimes I would be left with nothing to do and had to find a way to pass the time before I could do anything relevant to the plot (protip: doing temp work makes time pass). Something else I would have liked to see is an option to play as a character who wasn’t either gay or straight, even if it’s just a line about people you used to date in the past.
Overall, Always Sometimes Monsters is an interesting game about choices and consequences and the lengths a person will go to succeed. It’s short, not so sweet, and at times it’s downright dark, but it’s something different if you’re tired of the typical RPG Maker experience.
As an aside, this game was made with the same software that I used to make my little game.