A Monster’s Insight is a visual novel, but this one feels very much like a game even without incorporating its specific gameplay segments. Instead of splitting between story and game, you are forced to pay attention to hints in the dialogue that will help you understand the flow of conversation, learn ways to manipulate or win over others, and get your way. Oh and everyone you talk to is a horrific Lovecraftian monster, I almost forgot to mention that part. There are minigame sequences where you enter an abstract puzzle maze with word riddles or logic puzzles. But other than that, there’s a big focus on reading between the lines, and a bit of inner monologuing guiding your decisions, similar to LA Noire or the Danganronpa series.
Each cosmic horror you encounter has a different personality, requires different ways of coaxing/controlling them, and really makes use of the hellish soundscapes and amazing soundtrack. There are some light rpg stat management that helps inform the types of dialogue options you can pursue: for example you can spec yourself as a smooth talker oozing charisma, or a hard-ass who browbeats everyone into submission. You also have the ability to read body language, and it’s very weird to say it that way considering who we’re working with, and intonation/delivery of what the creature is doing. I encountered some game-breaking bugs that brought me to a Ren’py crash screen, but the save file system was flexible enough for me to navigate myself out of them.
I love that you kinda get an unreliable narrator thing going on whenever you pick dialogue options. You don’t just read people’s reactions: you get to see what your “silver-tongued” character is saying and the dialogue trees really feel like they matter as a result. As I explained before, this becomes especially interesting when you factor in being able to read how the recipients are acting, so you can make better informed decisions on how to approach speaking to them. The illusion of choice is masked brilliantly in this way, but outside of that, I’m pretty sure the actual paths you can take to victory are dense on their own! There are different paths from conniving, to intimidating, to sympathetic, to brownnoser, it’s really interesting to try different takes on different monsters. I also really enjoy reading all the mental asides that your character shares with you – it really feels like you’re reading into the mind of a sociopath or a savant depending on how you play things out. It also helps keep you engaged throughout the dialogue, as there are times that the exposition and character building is interjected by these asides that inform you possible wrinkles towards your decision making. I can be a little monkey-brained sometimes, so the fact that this game almost FORCES you to pay attention and not just spam spacebar else risk missing an interaction was cool. A Monster’s Insight does a good job in balancing the player input and its presentation in a way that never bore me. I found it that much more engaging, but some might dislike this feature. You can’t really abuse saves or rewind dialogue in the Log to change your path or undo mistakes. At least I think that’s a thing to some degree? It was a bit confusing to be honest because when I messed around with it, it often led to those error screens I mentioned earlier. I would say the game is at its best when you play it all the way through without messing around with saves or undoing things anyhow.
As far as I can tell, I didn’t see any Undertale/Doki Doki Literature Club shenanigans fourth wall breaks right off the bat, but I won’t comment any more on that for the sake of potential spoilers. The tone of the game is mostly serious and eerie, but there are points of levity sprinkled in. Especially regarding your pet/BFF dog-like parasite that hangs out with you. It’s just really hard to pin who this game is made for, I guess if I could, I’d call it a psychological thriller perhaps? I think that’s the best way to classify Monster’s Insight. It uses its mythos and world-building to great effect in terms of how it disarms you and unnerves you. The puzzle side games are all cerebral in nature, so it’s hard to recommend this as a chill, relaxing VN to snuggle up with. It’s a little difficult to say this game will even be “fun” for everyone because of its content and the way it presents itself. I’ll say I had fun because it really tickled my brain with its high concept magical realism deep lore aspects. But it might also just come off as dense and almost like you’re doing English homework. I want to see this game succeed though because it’s just such an interesting take on interactive media and storytelling, at least from my knowledge of Visual Novel style games.
All in all, A Monster’s Insight is a trip, but in the best way possible, I swear. It’s relatively brisk in terms of playtime, but the replay value is pretty good in terms of seeing through alternative good ends. It felt like a gripping book that I couldn’t put down, and this is coming from someone who is NOT an avid book reader in the least. I think you have to be in the right mood for it, because otherwise it can be a lot to take in. However, when it all lines up, it really hits differently and gets you fully immersed. I really have to give props to the soundtrack again too, most of the songs are real bops and shout-outs to the Navi from The Legend of Zelda. I recommend it if you’re looking for a good read, or a great atmospheric experience. It’s difficult to say if this will be fun for everyone who plays it, but I personally found the dialogue really compelling and well-written. It can get a little overly philosophical for those who want a lighter experience, so some may brush it off as edgy, existential bullshit. But I think fans of the Cthulu mythos and metaphysical commentary will find it just big brained enough to be engaging.
The reviewer downloaded a copy for free from Itch.io.
Hellfirebam has awarded A Monster’s Insight the Indie Gamer Seal of Approval. Never played a game quite like this one, was pleasantly surprised overall.