12/22/2021

A Big Ol’ World of Critters in Monster Sanctuary

Into the Wilds

By Jared Petty

My parents didn’t always tell me to go play outside. It seemed they only really cared that I got out of the house when they noticed me playing video games. Even during the Nintendotastic days of the late 80s and early 90s, I wasn’t immune to the lure of nature: I loved a good snowball fight or jumping in a leaf pile as much as the next kid. But there was something about my infatuation with game tech that irked my folks and convinced them I needed to be outdoors. This was a sentiment the neighborhood kids’ parents all seemed to share. Banished from our home computers and NESes, we shrugged and looked for something to do in the park nearby. If there wasn’t sledding to be had, we mostly played Zelda, dividing up our parts as Moblins, Tektites, and Link and bashing each other with sticks. Those were strange days.    

The writer Wallace Stegner called the US National Parks America’s best idea. Some larger than many states, these scattered nature reserves serve as protection for animals and open habitats for wild species threatened by the encroachment of human industry. The parks give people a way to view some of the most splendid places on earth in environmentally-protected surroundings. I met the only American wolf I’ve ever seen in the wild during my time in Yellowstone, a huge, lanky, gorgeous blend of joy and fierceness flitting through the woods like some kind of hungry forest ghost, and the memory remains among the most moving I’ve ever experienced in nature. It stands up in my mind only next to my very close, very surprising encounter with a large bear at the edge of another nature preserve. 

When I talked with the team behind Monster Sanctuary, I was struck by their comparison of their game world to a wildlife reservation. I tend to think of game monsters as disposable fodder to feed my RPG leveling, but Monster Sanctuary takes monster lore and adds a story layer of park management that’s really neat. Take a look at some of the discussions I had with Denis Sinner, (Creator), Anton Sinner (Game Designer), and Adam Kling (Pixel Artist). And if you like what you see here, pick up Monster Sanctuary for Switch or PS4 at Limited Run Games.

Jared: So Monster Sanctuary is all about being a Monster Keeper? What does that mean? What does a Monster Keeper do, and how does that play out in Monster Sanctuary?

Anton: The world of Monster Sanctuary is a world in which Monsters have been pushed aside by most of humankind. The Monster Sanctuary is basically like a big nature preserve, where Monsters get to live in the habitats that they prefer to live in. A Monster Keeper is somebody who works closely with the Monsters to maintain peace in the Sanctuary. As Monsters are ferocious and fierce beings by nature, this is no easy task! One of the big challenges is dealing with "Champion Monsters" — powerful boss Monsters that can be found throughout the Sanctuary. Many of them are optional boss fights for players who are looking for an extra challenge!  

Jared: What does it take to design a good monster? Artistically and mechanically, what has to happen to create a creature that players will find memorable and enjoyable to play with?

Anton: We mostly designed Monster Sanctuary on an area-by-area basis. That means we would always start with the area itself. What Monsters would make sense in this area, what Monsters could call this area its home? After finding a couple very fitting and flavorful inclusions (like the undead Monsters in the Underworld area), we also try to come up with Monsters that could add some interesting variety to the area.

The key to creating creatures that are popular and memorable is very elusive, however. One solution is to just create a whole bunch of Monsters, with a focus on variety: Some Monsters that are cute, some that are scary, some that are funny, some that look really strong and bad-ass. So, create a hundred different Monsters, and make sure that there's something in the game for everyone. Another element we found was to include as many people as possible in the Monster designing process. That included different staff members as well as the fans. Some of the most popular Monsters in the game came from these "secondary sources:” Sutsune, Manticore, Shockhopper, and Spinner for example.  

Jared: Monster Sanctuary has a really lovely artistic aesthetic. What can you tell us about how that look came together?

Adam: I came on in the second half of the design process of the monsters, so I had a lot of monster style to reference already. I think it was already mentioned but it was important to make the monsters interesting in different ways, whether it be cute, strange, or meant to just look cool. One difficulty was trying to include as much detail in the small sprites as possible without making it too confusing or making the sprite too large. As the game went on it felt (at least for me) that there was some "size creep" where I kept wanting to draw the monsters bigger and add more details, so I always had to keep that in the back of my mind to rein it in. 

Denis: The artistic aesthetic was mostly inspired by 16-bit era games, especially Metroid games (for areas) and JRPGs (for monsters/characters). As the game started as a solo project, I as a programmer was doing most of the pixel art in the beginning. This is why I think it is one of the aspects of the game which has some room for improvement. On the other hand, it has this indie charm that other games like Stardew Valley have with their visuals. 

Jared: What’s a challenge you faced in developing Monster Sanctuary, and how did you overcome it?

Denis: Inspired by solo-dev projects like Stardew Valley and Axiom Verge, I had the goal to make the whole game by myself, including music, design, pixel art, and programming. With a successful Kickstarter and quite some ambitious stretch goals, it became too big of a task with time and I did get more people involved in the project: my brother Anton helping with game design & level design, Steven Melin creating the second half of the OST, Adam Kling doing half of all the monsters and characters, and last but not least Daniel Reis and Path of Pixels doing the Monster Journal images. This way we managed to finish the project in time as promised in the Kickstarter, but it surely was a challenge. 

Jared: What were some of your inspirations for Monster Sanctuary?

Anton: The main inspiration actually came from old-school JRPGs (SNES and PS1 era), like the Final Fantasy games or Chrono Trigger. The monster taming aspect was a way to increase the amount of different playable party members. At the beginning of development, Secret of Mana was one of the main inspirations in terms of how the world and the monsters looked. 

Jared: Combat in Monster Sanctuary looks really unique. Tell us about how it works. Just how in-depth does it get?

Denis: Oh, there was certainly the goal to have the combat be strategic, challenging, and deep, especially compared to other popular monster taming games like Pokémon. Some of the important points are:

  • The combat has a combo system which rewards using your monsters‘ actions in specific orders
  • With every monster having a unique skill tree and the possibility to be equipped with different weapons and accessories, you have endless options to customize your team and strategy
  • Your performance in combat is rated and depending on how well your strategy worked out, you're getting better rewards

Monster Sanctuary is available through January 16 through Limited Run Games on Switch and PlayStation 4 in both standard and Collector’s Editions.  

Limited Run Games:

the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games and soundtracks in addition to winning a number of awards for their bespoke Collector’s Editions. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form for casual fans and collectors alike. Visit limitedrungames.comfor the latest offerings, or follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.

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