Fantasy Eroge exist in a rather unusual spot. They’ve fallen from their glory days of the past era (PC-98) after the slice-of-life school genre gained popularity and the genre is now sustained both by extremely old guard companies and sometimes doujin/indies attempting to break in.
I’m not particularly familiar with the “Monster Girl” underground scene that led to the creation of this game. Presumably even amongst Fantasy Eroge fans, there is a tendency for the games to go for very generic choices of Elf/Catgirl/human beings (extra lame!) and not fully utilizing the freedom that a fantasy setting offers.
Enter the Monster Girl verse, a scene that is focused on the lesser known fantasy creatures such as Lamias, Harpies, Mermaids and so on. The result of this fanbase has resulted in this particular fan-game, which ended up being one of the most surprising stealth releases of 2011.
Before we begin, a bit of a disclaimer: This game has a lot of sex in it. It’s filled to the brim with sex. Unlike several other modern “white-washed” eroge such as Fate/Stay Night where sex is an afterthought thrown in to increase sales, and then eventually easily removed once the game gains popularity and enters the mainstream through anime adaptations and so on, in Monstergirl Quest, sex is pretty much tied very strongly to the game. The sex in it isn’t all standardized “fluffy” romantic sex either (in fact, that’s actually probably the exception) so if the really tame scenes in games like Katawa Shoujo squick you out to the point of disabling adult content, there’s a high chance that you probably would not like this game.
The game starts out fairly predictably. Luka, our hero, receives divine guidance from the goddess Illias in his sleep. She tasks him to set forth on his quest to destroy the Monster Lord.
His traveling companion is the Monster Lord herself. This is when you know things aren’t quite as simple as it looks.
Surprisingly enough, despite being marketed as a “fetish” game (just take a look at the game’s description on vndb!), the writer actually took the time to explore the world in regards to how a population of super powered monster girls and weakling humans would coexist, and delves into several themes that most JRPGs completely ignore in favor of beating up a big stupid monster as an end-boss.
As examples, amongst these themes are power dynamics between races, especially when one severely overpowers the other (even if they use their power for benevolence), the viability of coexistence between predator and prey and the futility of bringing peace to the world through the use of violence.
Sure, the game isn’t exactly Kant or Tolstoy but considering how completely undeveloped the standard Videogame plot is? It’s a refreshing breath of fresh air to see topics that aren’t the standard melodrama get tackled.
But a plot wouldn’t be worth much without strong characters to tie them together. Thankfully, this game delivers in that regard.
Luka, our hero, is a standard JRPG idealistic hero, but he actually works really well here. What makes this character work is that in a standard JRPG, the hero’s idealism is constantly rewarded to an almost puke-worthy level. It makes their jobs look pretty easy when getting two races who have been in a long lasting war to make peace is as easy as having some random doofus come along and shout “Stop fighting! War is bad!”
In this game? Just lose a battle and see what happens. Early in the game, Luka is hampered due to his unwillingness to kill or even harm his opponents, even though they are perfectly happy to dominate, enslave or eat him! It’s a fantastic contrast to pit the idealistic hero against enemies who apparently don’t care much about the concept of mercy and show you exactly what is at stake if you aren’t strong enough.
The main heroine really steals the show though. Alice, the Monster Lord, is a snarky, cynical lady who will provide a stand-in for the other half of player base rolling their eyes at Luka’s antics. She constantly criticizes his simplistic morals and forces him to reevaluate his ethical stance, causing them both to develop throughout the game. Their chemistry is fantastic and their banter really serves to highlight their differences and sometimes their similarities. A huge departure from the standard virginal white mage that overpopulates the genre!
Those two pretty much make up the only “main characters” in the game, but the supporting cast is pretty fun too. One thing that separates the game from the pile is that its writing is actually… my god, filled with wit. Villagers are fun to talk to because the characters actually have witty conversations, rather than making terrible pop culture references or relying too heavily on slap-stick humour.
The game isn’t a pure visual novel, it actually does have an RPG battle system tied to it, although it’s pretty light in that aspect. The battle system is a bit hit and miss. Obviously, an RPG battle system with only one participant on each side is never going to be a tactical experience the likes of chess, but the later battles do offer at least multiple methods of achieving victory apart from the “puzzle” battles. Some of them are just kind of a drag though.
A quick summary, you have “SP” that is built up through your normal attacks and is spent to execute special attacks, each with its own properties though some are more useful than others. Battles are an attempt between balancing your SP for both defense and offense. Dragging out the battles too long means a higher chance of screwing up somewhere and losing.
Enemies will attempt to use a wide variety of status and binds on you and losing the first time is actually quite common, since you have no information on them at the start and once you learn what they CAN do, it’s usually way too late to salvage the battle. Thankfully the game makes it very easy with a choice to automatically respawn at the beginning of the battle when you lose and a handy “hints” feature is available for those who are too lazy to figure out the strategies for each fight.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t great all the time. Due to the nature of an indie game, the art in this game are drawn by multiple artists. It can be pretty jarring to see the graphics quality drop rapidly from one area to another, or sometimes even within the same area!
Perhaps through coincidence, the weaker artists tend to get the more “inhuman” enemies. It’s easy enough to draw an attractive mermaid or harpy, but when your enemy has tentacles for tongues, a giant lion body and claws which emit lightning, I question the choice of giving the more amateur artists the task of illustrating them.
This extends to certain parts of the plot too. Certain areas of the game are filler that tends to drag on and the game could be rather improved by going for quality over quantity. Thankfully I do believe that the good areas of the game makes up for the slow pace at times. This is certainly a game of high peaks and low plateaus.
This probably isn’t going to be a popular opinion but I believe this is the true hidden gem of indie Visual Novels as opposed to Katawa Shoujo. Whereas KS used its setting as a gimmick for fairly standard slow-paced slice of life and “drama” plotline in a school setting, all of which has pretty much been done to death by studios with much bigger budgets, this game just oozes with originality and tackles a relatively undeveloped area.
The creator could have easily settled for a sexfest game (the overwhelming majority in the indie department) as the original concept would already have made the game sell pretty well but he went above the call of duty and actually packed some good writing in, which is commendable.
An English translation for the game is being worked on at a fairly rapid pace and the translator is pretty fantastic at keeping the wit and charm of the game intact.
Roguetranslator’s site (Translation and instructions on how to buy the game): http://roguetranslations.wordpress.com/