You’ve ruined your chance at becoming a published author, you’re being evicted, and to top it off, you just received a wedding invitation from the one that got away. Life sucks, but in Vagabond Dog‘s Always Sometimes Monsters, they explore the idea that there are no right or wrong answers, just choice and consequence. You’ve got 30 days to get yourself together and make it to the wedding, but what happens in between is up to you.
Always Sometimes Monsters is a retro-style RPG that explores common themes experienced throughout all walks of life. You don’t level up, acquire gear or slay dragons, and the only potential monster you deal with is yourself. It’s not a traditional RPG with any sort of combat system, but rather a series of events and morality checks that you must choose how to deal with along the way.
Do you sleep on the street and save your money for a bus ticket, or work off your debt and sleep in your apartment? Do you work a mundane job to afford food, or steal from the tip jar? The choices you make will still get you to the end of the game, but how heavily your decisions weigh on your conscience will vary from player to player. Your decisions will still effect the lives of those around you, such as rigging an election or declining to help a family friend in favor of a lap dance, but I never felt like I was being punished for what I thought was doing the wrong thing. But again, there are no wrong answers, just the choices we make in life, dealing with the consequences and choosing whether or not to rely on the kindness of strangers.
The game starts off at a party and features a diverse cast of multi-racial characters who can be male, female, gay or straight. The character you choose to progress with can select anyone at the party to be their significant other, and without knowing that, my Caucasian female blonde in a tank top was suddenly in lesbians with an African American girl wearing a vest. Since this was all part of the experience, I just rolled with it to see how things played out, but aside from a few jabs at my sexuality, I didn’t notice much of a change in anyone’s attitude.
The objective of the game is to somehow travel across the country for your former lover’s wedding, and you have 30 days to get there. Starting off homeless and broke, you can explore the city of Dubstown and find odd jobs to take on in order to move on to the next town, but man are those jobs tedious and boring. I know the game is supposed to reflect real-life situations, but spending 45 minutes in a tofu factory shuffling through menus just so I can buy lunch wasn’t very fun at all. I suppose this was the part where I was supposed to question my choice to work versus my choice to rob someone, but following my morals left me more frustrated than satisfied. I respect the game for making me reason with myself, but I just wish the alternative was a little more rewarding.
Always Sometimes Monsters features a great story and some excellent writing, and this is where the game was at its best. While I was viewing flashbacks and progressing the story, I was madly in love with the concept of the game, but every time I had to break from that in order to work or pass time, I was a little bored. Always Sometimes Monsters features a day and night cycle, but the clock doesn’t progress from morning, noon and night until you’ve either progressed a plot point or worked one of the mundane temp jobs. I would have much rather had a shorter, more narrative-driven experience than one broken up by boring activities.
I’m a big fan of retro art styles, and the RPG Maker style of Always Sometimes Monsters was instantly appealing to me. Towns were set up great, characters all had flavor, and the overall humor was spot on. During my time with the game, I visited an all-bacon fast food restaurant, invested money in to a stock exchange that dealt with sandwiches, enjoyed a few jabs at the expense of Macroshaft and Sunny Entertainment, and attended a press conference with Destructoid’s own Jim “Starling”. I enjoyed that the game dealt with some pretty heavy issues, yet still found time to be charming and downright hilarious.
My initial playthrough of Always Sometimes Monsters was around 7 hours, but there was enough variety in the dialogue that I was always curious as to how things could have played out had I done something differently. I didn’t look forward to moving boxes, bagging marijuana or making tofu steaks again, but I enjoyed the game enough that I could overlook that major annoyance just to see if grass was ever greener on the other side. After all, one of the main reasons I chose to take those jobs was to eat, as the game has a stamina meter, but after experimenting for 6 days without consuming food, I’m confident that I’d enjoy the subsequent playthroughs much more.
Working a job doesn’t have to be boring — Papers, Please, for instance — and had the game provided more interesting ways to pass the time in its first half, besides tedious jobs or masturbating in the shower, I would have given it a higher score. To be fair, working only accounted for an hour and a half of my seven hour playthrough, so the weight of this complaint is going to vary from person to person, especially if you view it as an in-game life lesson. My only other complaint is the lack of D-pad support while using a controller, but it can easily be remapped using third-party software.
Always Sometimes Monsters does a great job tackling mature subject matters without pulling any punches, and offers a compelling story in the large scheme of things. It was dramatic and beautifully told, has a killer stoundtrack from LASER DESTROYER TEAM, and I always enjoy when a game causes me to question my own moral judgments. Sometimes it boils down to choosing the lesser of two evils, but in the end, aren’t we always sometimes monsters?
Recommended for fans of: Thought provoking games that tackle real-world issues, retro art styles, great writing and amazing soundtracks.
Bradley Keene is an avid gamer & aspiring writer from Baltimore, MD that handles news, reviews and editing here at What’s Your Tag?. If he’s not writing or knee-deep in an RPG, he’s usually watching low-budget horror films or following Orioles baseball. Follow him on Twitter, Twitch or contact him by e-mail. Love gaming? Join TEAM XBRO today!