Not too long ago, the thought of seeing something like Monster Monpiece reach western shores would have been would be considered an unlikely occurrence, especially with its plethora of scantily clad monster girls and ‘unique’ use of the touch screen to interact with each one. It’s still a bit of a surprise that Idea Factory’s recently established International arm has been able to bring Monster Monpiece pretty much intact from its japanese release, save for a few minor edits which IFI have been quite upfront about in the run up to the game’s launch in America and Europe.
In the world of Yafaniel, humans and monster girls and humans coexisting after the monsters of the land were confined to humanoid bodies to restrict their power. The game centres on May, a student who is partnered with a monster girl and after an unexpected series of events, travels across the country to save her friend who has become possessed by an evil force. By working with her monster girl partner, Fia, and collecting more monster girls to fight alongside her, May will need to become strong enough to defeat the other opponents that come her way.
The process of collecting monster girls takes the form of building a deck of monster girl cards, usually adorned with some titillating character art, then using these cards in your battles with other monster girl ‘masters’ you’ll encounter during your travels. The actual battles differ from a standard card game by adding a grid based movement and an extra layer of strategy to the game, like if magic the gathering was mixed with chess or draughts. At the beginning of each turn, your player recieves mana, which you can use to play cards on the field. When you play cards from your hand, chibi 3D monster girls appear on the field and will move 1 square each turn automatically towards the enemy HQ, with your HQ at one end and the enemy HQ at the other. The aim of the battle is to reach the enemy HQ with your monster girls so they can destroy it and win.
This strategic element of the game makes it much more involved than simply playing the most powerful cards you have and defeating the other monsters on the field. Depending on how you choose to play the game, you can formulate multiple different plans in each scenario to achieve victory. Being able to anticipate where the enemy monster girls will move in the upcoming turns and taking action to counter invokes some of the feelings you’d get from playing a turn based strategy game. The different types of cards available also play into how you can form your battle plan since there are girls that are best suited for melee attacks, girls that can use ranged attacks from several squares away, ones which can buff your other cards attack power and girls that can heal your other cards each turn. Knowing when to use the different types of cards and pairing cards together can be really useful for getting your girls to the enemy HQ.
Between the battles, a few event scenes will occur once in a while to show some interaction between the characters and advance the story, which is nothing particularly outstanding compared to the standard JRPG fare. For me, the main draw was building my deck, training the cards and fighting opponents with the strategies I’d formulated over several battles. When nothing else is going on, you have the chance to view your deck & make changes in the card gym, buy new packs of cards from the store, and take part in online or local battles to test your mettle against other players. You can also level up your cards to imbue them with better stats, by using the ‘First Crush ♥ Rub’ mode where you ‘send magic into the cards’ by rubbing, tapping or pinching the girls residing within the cards. In this mode, you hold the vita vertically, while rubbing and touching the character portrait of the monster girl on various parts of her body and trying to hit her weak spots to build the tension gauge within 60 seconds. While that may sound odd, it’s even stranger to watch it in person. If you’re one to play vita games while out and about, you probably won’t be using the rub mode often in public either.
A uniquely quirky feature you’d only find in a Japanese game, the ‘First Crush ♥ Rub’ mode quickly becomes tedious as you’ll need to go through it dozens of times if you want to level up your cards, which can each be leveled up twice if you so choose. Even if you’re up for some virtual groping on your vita, I doubt this particular mode will be too enjoyable after the first couple of encounters. As the sole method of levelling up your cards, the First Crush ♥ Rub mode actually becomes a bit of a hindrance in your progress since you can only use rub mode by spending RP, which you acquire by winning battles. With decks having up to 40 cards each, you’ll soon burn through RP quicker than you can get more through normal gameplay, leading to grinding through previous story mode opponents or online battles. Certain cards later on in the game will also require special items to ‘unlock’ their level up ability, which you can only acquire by battling players online (or purchasing the items via the PSN store).
Later on in the story mode, the difficulty seems to increase sharply, with opponents bringing out cards that could take out my strongest ones in one hit and others imbued with special abilities to increase their mana much quicker, allowing them to summon their stronger cards with ease. The sudden rise in the difficulty of AI opponents seemed to be geared to sending you back to training mode and online battles to grind out some more money and RP to improve your deck, rather than increasing in line with the amount of resources you’d expect to have at that point in the game. Again, this can all be bypassed with more real money DLC on the online store, almost making the game seem like it’s taken some ques from Free-to-Play mobile games.
Side Note: – Even though a few people online have been up in arms about the thought of the game being censored, the removal of a few pieces character art for certain cards were barely noticeable in my playthrough. In some cases, it was a bit odd to see that a card has the same portrait after leveling up, making it a bit awkward to tell if it’s a leveled up version or not when quickly glancing through the deck, or when it’s in my hand during battle, but nothing that couldn’t be determined by taking the extra second or two to view the card’s stats instead.