This is going to be a slightly unusual review. You see, Always Sometimes Monsters (ASM) by Vagabond Dog, is a game all about choices and consequences. So when you play through the game you choose nearly everything: who you are, what you do, why you’re doing it. Do your choices make any difference? That’s for you to decide. Hence, while there is a central storyline, the meaning behind it can be very different depending on who you are. This is my review of my playthrough of Always Sometimes Monsters.

Well, alright, I technically did two. My first one ended after two in-game days when my character starved to death in an alleyway after eating five sandwiches. An ignoble end, but a likely one – ASM protagonists need to eat at least their own body weight just to make it through the night.

So I started again. This time I played as Argle, a struggling artist trying to make her way across the country to get to her ex-girlfriend’s wedding. I found it amusing that despite naming said ex-girlfriend “Bargle”, all the NPCs instinctively knew I dated a woman. Argle was desperate. She had been commissioned to write a book, but she hadn’t been able to complete it. She had no money, no job and pretty soon nowhere to live. She tried her best to pay her rent but ended up sleeping in an alley.

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The next day she received an invite to Bargle’s wedding. She decided to go. Why? I put myself in Argle’s place. Now, I’m really a naturally private, even secretive person. Maybe it comes from the whole hiding my sexuality thing. So I hesitate talk about myself, but I think it’s best for the review. In any case, like Argle, I have not had a very good year. I left university to embark upon what I thought would be a career that would last the rest of my life. It was a disaster. Now I’m spending my time reviewing video games.

Joking. I love reviewing and talking about video games. Still, though, I kinda know what it’s like to be in that situation where nothing has gone right. I’m prone myself to the occasional extravagant and stupid act. I decided, not even consciously, to have my character reflect that. I decided that Argle had nothing left, that she was pinning all her hopes on the slim chance that Bargle would take her back. At least, perhaps, she would get some closure.

ASM likes to talk about choices and consequences. In particular, when we claim that we had no choice in committing an action, is that really true? Is it like in No Country For Old Men, have we been putting it up whole lives and never known it? Or do we really have no control over what happens to us? Is everyone a monster to someone?

I tried not to be. Actually, the “evil” actions I committed tended to be accidents. I didn’t mean to pickpocket that one time, I was scrolling through these repetitive dialogue boxes and stole the money by accident. However, I did deliberately choose to deliver meth for a guy. It was either that or cut someone’s brakes. Later, when I was held to account for my actions, it was hard to say that I always had the right intentions – that I hadn’t hurt anyone I didn’t need to.

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ASM, despite having a rather whimsical atmosphere, tries to ensure that all of your choices count. It is possible to perform breathtaking evil acts, or submit to terrible humiliations, or forgive unforgiveable transgressions. Again, even with the cartoonish RPG Maker graphics, ASM strives to be far more real than any realistic game. Significant NPCs are fully rounded, for good and bad. You feel disgust as one acts incredibly racist or homophobic, yet feel sorry for them after their back-story is exposed. It means that when you choose something, it’s like you are hurting or helping a real person. There are consequences.

I went for the hopeless romantic options. I tried to do the best I could. Yet, ASM, by the choices that I made, turned everything round on me. I wasn’t being romantic, I was being selfish. I was using every favour owed to me, letting people put their jobs and lives on the line for me, just so I can ruin my ex’s wedding. I tried my best to be good and I earned my bad ending. That hit me hard. Not in a ephiphanic way, but it shook me.
I was given so much freedom, I felt, yet the narrative came together, landing both the overall theme of ASM and what I personally had put in. It was wonderful.

Maybe there are no good endings. Maybe ASM will always lead you into despair. I’m playing through it again on Twitch right now. Some parts are the same, but I’m also discovering plotlines I didn’t know where there. There appears to be significant depth here. Enough to recommend you play it at least once, anyway. When it comes to the point where we can write a retrospective, I suspect that we will say a lot of the freedom was an illusion. Nothing wrong with a trick done well, though.

Sometimes the wires do show. In particular, there is a time skip late in the story which is nakedly there to move everything in place for the finale and retroactively removes a lot of the tension. Sometimes the game makes mistakes about smaller choices: getting mixed up about character’s genders, for example.

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I haven’t spoken much about the graphics, sound and gameplay. It’s an RPG Maker game, so it looks the same as every other RPG maker game, but it does have some nice artwork on the characters. The music is frustratingly repetitive. If I didn’t dislike playing in absolute silence so much I would have muted it.

The gameplay is mainly speaking to NPCs and making decisions, but there are also a fair amount of minigames. These are a weak point of the game. They mostly take the form of jobs: working in a meat packing plant, in a community garden, etc. They do a good job of showing the boredom that comes with temporary working class jobs, but they are also, well, BORING. And they always last longer than they should. I recognise their point, but I sure hated them.

ASM is not perfect. However, it did make me feel, it did make me think. I will remember it for far longer than the 10 hours it took for a playthrough. If you think this sounds like a game you would enjoy, you too can find out if you are a monster.

Review: Always Sometimes Monsters
A deep, yet funny, journey through the nature of choice and consequence. Shame it sometimes detours into boredom and frustration.
Pros
  • Engaging, deep storyline
  • Amusing and whimsical atmosphere
  • Pretty artwork
Cons
  • Boring, grindy minigames
  • Sound isn't great
  • Too easy to accidentally skip dialogue
8Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)
9.8