For over two years, Tetris Online has operated quietly as a small developer on Facebook with its two moderately successful Tetris games, Tetris Battle and Tetris Friends. But the Tetris rights owner appears to be branching out, publishing high-quality Japanese RPGs to the social network — first Lost Trails, which we reviewed a couple weeks ago, and now Monster Fantasy.
From its lengthy beginning, Monster Fantasy looks nothing like other social games, both in style and operation. Instead of placing players directly into an engaging tutorial, as most social games do to prevent Facebook’s notoriously impatient users from immediately bouncing out, Monster Fantasy starts with an intro that clocks in at three and a half minutes. For many games made earlier this year, that would be an entire play session.
If users make it past the intro (which admittedly has a skip button) and the equally-intimidating requirement of downloading extra Flash content, they can enter the tutorial. But there’s another immediately distracting feature: freedom. Monster Fantasy is an attractive 2.5D open world, in which your character can run around and interact freely. This unusually complex environment is also the reason for the extra download.
Monster Fantasy packages itself into square rooms, large enough to run around in without feeling like you’re in a box; series of these rooms make up larger areas. Each room can contain items, monsters, characters and buildings to interact with. After a short intro to the controls, the game pushes you into the beginning town, which is spread over half a dozen squares.
Although the initial tutorial extends into the town, it doesn’t remain a prominent part of gameplay, allowing you to forget what you’re doing. Without the tutorial telling to exactly what to do, the town becomes a confusing warren, full of characters, houses and shops of unexplained significance.
Anyone who has played smartphone RPGs will be able to recognize the layout. At any given time you’ll have a quest telling you what to do, and the quest will almost always involve the same basic action: killing monsters. Movement between areas is controlled through a world map.
But for the average Facebook player, Monster Fantasy will present a problem. Quests, character screens, skills, shops and most other information are hidden away in windows that don’t feel particularly intuitive, at last by the standards of Facebook’s inexperienced gamers.
Away from the various menus and pop-up windows, the game could still be too much. It’s not always clear where you’re supposed to go, either to talk to a particular person or kill a specific monster. Compounding the problem, there’s no visible way to make the game window become full-screen, so the dialogue, menus and everything else are too small to comfortably interact with.
Monster Fantasy appears to have been originally created for one of Japan’s bigger social networks, Mixi, by a company called Headlock. While it was probably successful at home, among much savvier Japanese players, it’s not likely to make much headway here, unless Tetris Online spends more time on localization.
But even with the problems, it’s interesting to see this kind of game appearing on Facebook. Although Monster Fantasy is a far cry from the simplicity of an RPG like Crime City, the 14,106 monthly active users it has gotten so far suggest that there’s also room for a more complex RPG than those we’ve gotten used to.