Disc Creatures is a fantastic mons RPG that effectively captures the feeling of old-school Pokemon while bringing plenty of new things to the table. It is also, unfortunately, a very standard jRPG that got boring for me extremely fast, but if that doesn’t bother you there’s a lot here to love.
Atmospherically, this game feels like everything Pokemon tried to be, but failed at. Mons can talk and wander around towns like other NPCs, and are even shown owning property. This might be the first mons game I’ve played where I could actually believe mons and humans live in harmony. Unfortunately, it still can’t come up with an ethical justification for creature collecting, so it sidesteps the issue entirely by saying your creatures are clones who can’t talk and (presumably?) aren’t sapient. So, kinda like Digimon Story except it makes any attempt at all to make this seem not horrible. I should note that doing this (dodging the issue entirely) is still way, way better than making it hideously unethical and then saying it isn’t, Pokemon.
There is also a delightful amount of flavor text! Despite the graphics being less sophisticated than Monster Crown‘s, the world felt far more alive, interactive, and enjoyable to explore. Even NPCs often have enjoyable quirks and tongue-in-cheek twists on standard NPC help dialogue, especially given that, as I said, many of them are mons. The NPCs provide actual honest-to-god worldbuilding details too, and all of them fit together instead of the slapdash contradictory mess of Pokemon. The world made sense to me as a society that could actually exist and function, where humans and creatures really are able to work together to make a better world.
It even manages to have a more sophisticated plot than Pokemon without going 2edgy4u like Monster Crown. There is enough evil and danger to make you feel genuinely cool and heroic for overcoming it, but without compromising the promise of a world that is on the whole a nice, uplifting, and cozy place. It even engages with the ethics of mon taming without turning into a complete cop-out like B/W by letting the mons be part of the conversation, fancy that. There’s also a lot of really fun and clever twists on Pokemon‘s tropes — there is a point where the Evil Team pretends to challenge you to a creature battle then sucker punches you unconscious, which is hilarious. This is clearly a game made by someone who has thought as deeply about Pokemon as we have.
…But I just can’t stick with it, because the gameplay puts me to sleep. This despite being by any mechanical measure better than Pokemon‘s gameplay in all aspects — all battles are 3v3 so synergy can exist, moves use a regenerating energy system instead of PP, and the overworld uses touch encounters instead of random. Despite the game’s obvious love of retro themes, it does a good job of recognizing what retro mechanics were actually bad and modernizing them when necessary. Unfortunately, the one thing it didn’t modernize is the jRPG’s insistence on forcing you to fight dozens of identical battles every time you wander through an area. I dealt with every regular encounter basically the exact same way, so every dungeon just felt like a chore and I barely made it to the third chapter.
I will say it didn’t help that the menu navigation is very clunky. Even things as basic as swapping out moves requires navigating multiple submenus, and swapping out mons requires scrolling through the entire creaturedex to find the one you want. And you will be doing that a lot, because the game harshly restricts team size — you aren’t allowed to bring any reserve creatures with you, only your active team, so effective type coverage is difficult and if one of your mons gets KO’d you have little choice but to trek all the way back to a healing spot. While RPGs do, technically, only require two buttons, I feel this one could have benefited from using more for shortcuts, like the modern Pokemon games do. (Still way better than Monster Crown‘s nightmarish menus, though.)
One thing I did like were the types — the mechanic is the same as in Pokemon, but the total number of types is reduced to 12, which I think is a great middle ground between Pokemon (which honestly does have a lot) and the pitiful single-digit offerings of Monster Crown and Coromon. Also, this is an incredibly low bar but evidently I can’t take it for granted: dual types exist, hallelujah. They even made an attempt to balance them: they get reduced STAB bonus compared to pure types, unlike in Pokemon where they just get a free second STAB.
This all makes me think once again about RPG design and how to make it more engaging. This game is a wonderful concept that was tragically held back by its genre conventions. I’m increasingly of the view that RPGs for shoot for quality over quantity — a few unique and engaging set piece battles over tons of repetitive samey ones — but I’m not sure how you’d do that for a mons game, which is intrinsically about the joy of randomly stumbling over some wild creature. It might be enough to make the battles more tactically engaging — Monster Sanctuary did that and it got me to stick around to the end — but even in Monster Sanctuary I was getting tired of the battles by the end. Something more like Undertale, perhaps, where every mon has unique behavior and set piece interactions? That would be nice and could even work into the recruitment mechanics, but good golly just imagine the amount of work that would take for a roster even half the size of Monster Sanctuary‘s. Something to ponder.
Sounds to me like if someone was insane enough to making Undertale style combat for all 100 mons in their game you’d also get fatigued from that as well. I can’t remember the game, but it had a Bell that you could equipped at will to turn on/off random encounters. Which to me sounds like the best compromise without reinventing the wheel.
I mean, not really. I didn’t get tired of Undertale’s random encounters. Although they also turned off after a certain point so as not to overstay their welcome.
…How many regular enemies did Undertale have, actually? …The wiki tells me 27, not including minibosses. So 100 would be a very tall order, but, say, 50…? Also, most of the work that went into Undertale’s enemies seems to have been the animations and unique bullet patterns; if a simpler SMT-style text interface is used, it would probably be much less daunting of a task.
More games are doing that, and while it’s better than nothing, it’s treating the symptom and not the disease. If players are actively avoiding your central game mechanic, something has gone horribly wrong and needs to be fixed at the design level.