Lighthearted but definitely not light on your heart, Meg’s Monster is a beautiful story-driven adventure meets JRPG with gorgeous pixel art, a melancholic soundtrack and occasional ─ albeit clever ─ turn-based combat. Contrary to the majority of games covered here on TBL, it isn’t a heavy hitter in the strategy department but a heartfelt journey about friendship, honesty, and spirituality, inspired by games like Undertale, Mother, and To the Moon.
A Drop into the Dark
The story takes place in the Underworld, a dark and toxic place inhabited by monsters. One of these, a brutish amalgamation of Resident Evil 2’s tyrant and a lobster called Roy, is out with his best bud Golon when a little girl appears, seemingly out of nowhere, looking for her mom. Being addicted to a dark sludge called “Magic Tar”, Roy doesn’t care about the child but Golon, in his best monster fashion, wants to take a bite out of her; Humans are a rare sight and even more so are their little ones.
Yet, something unexpected happens: Meg, staring down the maw of her demise, starts crying ─ and the world trembles. It seems like this little girl’s tears are droplets of doom that could very well end the world. Or, to use the catchy phrase from Meg’s Steam page that instantly caught my attention: “if she cries, the whole world dies.” Meg clutches Roys leg and thus begins their unlikely friendship.
It is a simple yet strong and effective hook. Many of us, having kids or not, are instinctively driven to aid a child in need. The Underworld is filled with quirky mutants that neither know nor care about the danger Meg might pose and it is up to Roy to act as her monster-sized meat-shield. However, there is a unique twist in how the game approaches these encounters: The nigh-invincible Roy cannot be harmed by anything that crosses his path and he won’t let anyone or anything put a hand, a claw, or tentacle on Meg. Yet, Meg’s Heart, seeing Roy taking all the beating, becomes more and more heavy, to the point that she might start crying. If her heart drops to zero, the world is lost and the game is over. Try again.
From the two dozen encounters you’re likely going to have, only a handful might pose a mild threat. If you ever played any of the old Pokemon games, chances are that picking Charmander gave you a bigger headache when fighting Brock and Misty than finishing off the diverse cast of monsters in this game here. Yet, looking out for Meg’s well-being adds a layer of strategy that feels oddly satisfying, mostly due to the way you’re interacting with it as a player. Throughout the course of your 5-7 hours of gameplay, Roy collects some toys, which he then uses to cheer Meg up. Some have additional effects, like increasing Meg’s Defense, but they all show a little animation of what Roy is doing with them; Meg wasn’t the only one smiling there.
The more difficult fights add new gameplay elements, requiring the player to act on point, remembering a short sequence of codes or finding the ace of hearts in a shuffle of cards. These additions felt new and inspired, always starting with the easiest variant to give players a chance to learn and internalize the process. What’s more, is that the character of the monster you’re fighting is represented in its fighting style. So, despite basic attacks, no fight felt the same and made them even more memorable. A catchy tune surely helps with alleviating the fighting spirits and Meg’s Monster does not disappoint on this end either.
Uplifting battle themes, brooding, metallic swamp sounds, and the melancholic whispers of a night sky filled with colorful stars compliment the tight narrative on screen so well, it reminded me again of Undertale. I sat, what felt like an eternity, watching the end screen, just listening to the beautiful voice of Laura Shigihara while the emotions of the adventure were still weighing my heart down, too. Where are Roy and his toys when you really need them?
Thank you for being friends
Meg’s Monsters offers creative and funny writing that seems to always be one step ahead of the player whilst anticipating your reaction. The plot is linear but filled with enough twists and turns to surprise, even when the outcome might seem clear as day. Yet, at some points, the constructed scaffolding underneath showed. One moment in particular, that I found myself feeling unsatisfied with, offered an explanation that very much sounded like your typical assertion without proof: It’s true because I say so. But, to be honest, I was happy to move on and progress with the rest of the story. After finishing Meg’s Monster, I did some research on Odencat, who developed this and many other games, including Fishing Paradiso and Bear’s Restaurant.
Like Meg’s Monster, these titles seem very casual at first glance but offer deep and meaningful reflections of inner thoughts, dealing with loss and questions of life that technically seem too big for these small games. They aren’t, at least if I’m looking at the tale of Meg and Roy. This game might have worked as a Visual Novel entirely but the motivation to guard Meg’s heart in a fight is a clever instrument to make players feel more attached to the odd pair of friends.
Obviously, I’m a fan of Meg’s Monster. If you’re only looking for tough fights with three turns planned in advance, this won’t be your game. As stated earlier, Meg’s Monster is light on the brain but heavy on your heart. It also picks up the well-known leitmotif of asking the question: Who are the real monsters? With an emphasis on story, the gameplay only serves as a vehicle to drive the plot along. But, in doing so, opens up space for the writing with a strong focus on honest, emotional conflict.
The jokes are great, the artwork superb, and I can highly recommend listening to the soundtrack long after finishing the game. There is a demo that offers a great first impression for those yet unsure and I highly recommend giving it a try. Personally, I felt very touched and inspired after having finished the game and I’m glad that turn-based battles were included in the first place. Otherwise I might not have had the chance to praise this little gem.