This Game Hasn’t Mastered Anything
Dungeon crawlers are among the oldest type of RPG that’s still around today. Starting with such cult classics as Rogue and evolving into popular, casual-friendly titles such as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, dungeon crawlers are a popular and long-lasting genre of video game. One of Atlus’ latest DS titles, called Master of the Monster Lair, takes the oh-so-popular genre and adds a really interesting little twist to it. If you don’t particularly prefer dungeon crawlers, Master of the Monster Lair isn’t going to change your mind about them, but if you’re a fan of the genre, then this game is worth checking out.
The game’s story is definitely not its highpoint and frankly doesn’t make much sense in the context of the originality of the rest of the game. Master of the Monster Lair stars a boy named Owen who one day stumbles upon a talking shovel and is tasked with creating a dungeon that will attract all sorts of monsters. With this scant plot premise in place, you set off to develop a successful dungeon.
Before getting to the actual gameplay mechanic, I’ll spend some time ragging on the story. In addition to being sickeningly childish, the development team didn’t even bother to fill the game with any good writing. This is all really confusing — the development team obviously had a good idea, but apparently they weren’t very confident about it because they’ve set the game up so that it’ll have an obvious appeal to young gamers who can’t even properly appreciate what Master of the Monster Lair tries to do so well.
Regardless of any inconsistencies between originality and story writing, the gameplay mechanic here is what really makes Master of the Monster Lair interesting. Rather than simply wandering through a lot of mildly different dungeons, Master of the Monster Lair actually has you building your own dungeons to attract monsters, and then fighting them once they come to your dungeon. It’s a really interesting twist and while it’s not exactly groundbreaking, it’s a nice change of pace for the genre.
Actually building your dungeon is quite easy, thanks to an intuitive in-game building tool. Laying out a variety of different environments is easily done, and constructing paths, mazes, and rooms is also quite easy. The builder itself isn’t very complicated, but that’s okay because it doesn’t need to be. It gets the job done and you feel like the dungeon you’re exploring really is your own.
Hand-in-hand with the dungeon-building elements of Master of the Monster Lair is a micromanagement mechanic that actually reminded me a lot of Viva Pinata. Different monsters will be attracted to your dungeon for different reasons; by catering different areas of your self-made dungeon to different monsters, you’ll increase the variety of baddies that come. It’s a surprisingly addictive gameplay mechanic and personally, I found it to be the most enjoyable aspect of the game. Master of the Monster Lair actually works better as a management game than an RPG.
The reason for this? Frankly, it’s the RPG inclusions that really bring Master of the Monster Lair down. The battles are typical RPG turn-based affairs. You’ll see icons representing foes on the map, and coming into contact with them initiates a battle. Yes, battles can get pretty repetitive, but that’s not a huge problem. There’s a loot-drop angle to Master of the Monster Lair; defeating enemies will give you weapons and items that can make you stronger and permanently increase your stats. For this reason, the repetitive nature of the battles isn’t so big of a deal.
What is a big deal, however, is that Master of the Monster lair is way too easy for any self-respecting RPG fan. You always seem far more powerful than the baddies you’re fighting, which just serves to make battles ridiculously boring. Combine this with the repetitive aspect of the game and you’ve got yourself something of a role-playing flop.
There are other noticeable problems with this title that are worth pointing out. The recipe system allows you to use dropped items to create food, which gives your characters permanent stat increases. It’s a neat idea at first, until you realize that the items called for in recipes come from a specific enemy. So, you’ll be killing one or two enemies over and over and over again, every day, to get the ingredients for the best recipes and give yourself the best stat increases. There’s no experimenting at all, because it doesn’t make sense to use any recipe other than the best one.
Additionally, the enemy variety is severely lacking. Each floor is home to just a few monsters, so fighting through the same floors every day can get really repetitive. As you might be able to tell now, repetition is a huge element of this game. I can understand a little bit — there are very few RPGs that don’t involve repeating similar tasks quite frequently. But I feel that Master of the Monster Lair takes it to a completely unnecessary level.
One final complaint I have with the game is that actually building your dungeon is an excruciatingly slow process. The amount that you’re allowed to build is determined by the talking shovel’s MP; this stat grows so slowly that creating a sizeable, interesting dungeon can take a very long time indeed. This only serves to add to the monotony that really seems to characterize Master of the Monster Lair.
Both the graphics and music in the game are sub-par. Visually, this game doesn’t look that great. The dungeon itself is very bland, and the battle screens don’t look much better. The music is even worse; though you do have a choice of music, it’s all bad. The music is grating, repetitive (surprise!), and not worth listening to.
Add Master of the Monster Lair to the huge list of video game disappointments. This is a title that had a lot of potential; starting out, I really loved the new ideas that the game offered. But the more time I spent with it, the more I realized that this is not a game aimed toward a traditional crowd. It’s extremely dumbed-down, easy to play, and slow-paced. This game had some really great ideas, but execution was very poor. There are far better RPGs out there, and frankly even the interesting dungeon-building mechanic doesn’t provide enough of a reason to play Master of the Monster Lair.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
Bland, muddy, and uninteresting visuals comprise the vast majority of the game’s scenery. 3.5 Control
Traditional D-pad and face button controls get the job done for exploring and building your dungeon. 2.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is repetitive, annoying, and very simple. You’ll play with the volume off. 3.2
Managing your dungeon is surprisingly addictive, but too slow-paced. The battles are far too repetitive and not nearly fun enough.
3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.