- Developer: Hit-Point Co., Ltd.
- Publisher: KEMCO
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch
- Release Date: October 10, 2019
- Price: $14.99 (micro-transactions in game)
- Review Code Provided: Yes
Monochrome Order takes place in a world where Arbiters are appointed to the various regions of the realm to cast judgement on various issues. Judgement in Monochrome Order is not as simple as making a decision with a group of peers, or having cases presented to you via opposing legal teams. It is actually the name of the magical force that Arbiters use in the game, making every decision you make binding. Each Judgement requires the player to collect information on each case to help them come to their decision. It may not sound like solid grounds for an RPG, but you would be mistaken.
Though Monochrome Order includes all of the typical mechanics, tropes, story elements as any RPG might, the Judgement mechanic really does add an awful lot to the equation. In fact, the first large portion of my time was spent investigating and casting my Judgement on around ten different scenarios. I could have easily tried to move the story along, fought some monsters, black-smithed some equipment, but I just wanted to complete as many of these scenarios as possible. I was shocked at how there was no real black and white in these cases. Everything requires special attention to the nuances of your conversations with those involved. Only basic details are recorded in the Judgement journal, which can be accessed from the menu screen at any time. Once you reach one hundred percent of the information available, also included in the Judgement menu, you can cast your Judgement from wherever you are. Once cast the immediate consequences of your decision play out in front of you.
An example of this, spoiler-free by the way, is an early Judgement where a distraught widower requests Judgement from an Arbiter against the man who killed her husband. Once all the details are collected, both the man who murdered her husband and the distraught widower both have solid cases as to why you should take their side. The powerful magic of the Arbiter, as well as their station in society ensure that whichever way you happen to judge must be honored, regardless of the outcome. Each outcome has an impact on the world around you as well, including taking on new party members, of which their are 18 of them. Right away you can feel the weight of each decision you make, whether just in the world’s economy, the amount of bandits in surrounding the area, or the opinion the people of the realm hold of you. I wasn’t expecting to be so enamored with this aspect of the game, but it truly is the most enjoyable part.
That’s not to take away from the other parts of the game, because they hold up incredibly well. Battles for example are pretty interesting, though they start of fairly mundane. This should be no surprise to any RPG fan, as the beginning areas tend to pose no particular challenge and typically include only basic actions. You have access to all the skills needed from the get go, but once you gain a few more characters in your party, the formation and order of your characters becomes a very important. This is either stumbled upon through random chance, or disclosed by one of the townsfolk in random conversation. Depending on which characters are queued and ready to go, and what skills you use, you can collaborate on powerful new attack combinations with the second character. These attacks do massive damage, and can be useful in a pinch, but are not integral to use if you manage your party experience and equipment well.
Another difference from most RPGs is that you have one weapon per character, which you need to bring to the blacksmith to level up and buff. The only equipment you purchase are accessories and armor. Even with this difference, everything is fairly standard here. You still spend in game currency on leveling up the items, the same as if you were to purchase new equipment. The novelty of this may wear off fast, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is a simpler gimmick and not something as consequential as the Arbiter’s judgement.
As for presentation, it could use some work. The character designs range from either really quite bland to quite good, depending solely on where they appear. What I mean by this is the sketched character portraits used in conversations all look like sick teenagers with angst and upset stomachs. Switch to the in game 16 bit sprites and each character looks fantastic! This discrepancy is seriously quite jarring, but the saving grace is that the sketched portraits only appear every so often. Oddly enough, this also extends to the game world design. The sprites of the forest, for example are quite bland, but infinitely more interesting than the battle backgrounds, which include a few smooth lines and pastel backgrounds. They aren’t altogether awful, but they are reminiscent of recent mobile ports of older RPGs where the graphics are smoothed over and look almost outlandish when compared to sprite based graphics, in this case the enemy and hero characters in the battle, that appear in the same scene.
The music and sound effects are, well, there but ultimately don’t offer up that much of interest. They’re passable, but nothing that adds or removes anything from the game. Like I said, they are … there.
Speaking of there, there are micro-transactions in this game. They are, as they are most of the time, stupid purchases. For example, on of them allows special abilities to no longer use SP. The game is not difficult in any way, so these buffs are not needed in the slightest. This would be egregious if they were in the consumer’s face begging to be purchased. They are not. they are hidden away in their own menu option as a special shop. They are there if you want them, but not required. It is ridiculous that they are even included, but the game content is not behind a pay wall, so they are fairly innocuous.
All in all the game really isn’t that bad. If you are expecting a sprawling JRPG, temper your expectations. At the $14.99 price point, most RPG enthusiasts know what they are getting into. The best aspect of the game is the judgement system and its impacts on the overall story and lay of the land. If that sounds appealing, then I would recommend the game. It’s a fun one to sink a few hours into at the very least. Whether it will hold your interest depends on your willingness to overlook some of the more bland inclusions in terms of the presentation.