“The basis of all true cosmic horror is violation of the order of nature, and the profoundest violations are always the least concrete and describable.” – H.P. Lovecraft
A Monster’s Insight is a cosmic-horror themed visual novel and psychological “debating” game centred on the power of words and how to exploit them. The game has a unique concept and ambitiously mixes choose-your-own-adventure style storytelling with stat building, word puzzles and strategic conversations. It was made in one month as part of the NaNoReNO 2021 game jam.
Released: 2nd April 2021
Price: Name your own price
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Available on: itch.io
In A Monster’s Insight, the player is a monster known as the ‘silver-tongued’ with the ultimate goal of convincing the most powerful of the cosmic-horrors into choosing you as their siphon (a being that needs the help of others to survive), essentially stealing their souls.
The world and characters are immense in concept but the wordy and hurried introductions of both result in a lack of clarity and immersion. At times, the writing shines, with graphic descriptions of the terrors but can be overly simple in places with indistinct characters and dialogue that want for the impact and gravitas one might expect from cosmic-horrors.
A Monster’s Insight takes place across three conversations with monsters of the ‘outerworld’. These are the silver-tongued’s interlocutors and players must use strategic stat building, ‘insight’ and tactical conversation to win them over.
Prior to each conversation, the player can choose to gain skill points by reading or to venture out and scout for keywords. Keywords are collected throughout the game and can be used to direct questioning. Other prominent words may appear in the horror’s dialogue, clicking these will also divert questioning but will also interrupt the monster and may cause annoyance! Insight is the ability to navigate the minds of the horrors being manipulated, using it will require the player to solve word puzzles to a timer.
The skill tree is made of the three P’s – Presence, Prescience and Perception. These include 5 sub-traits and affect things such as the ability to notice keywords or influence how the interlocutor perceives the player. Skill points must be assigned strategically in order to influence conversations in the desired way, for example, if the silver-tongued wished to play sycophant, they would require a positive number of points in the presence trait ‘charisma’ and negative points in a trait called ‘supreme’ that helps the player appear powerful. Players have base stats that can be built upon but will also gain stats during dialogue that will remain for the duration of the conversation.
The gameplay combines elements from a range of genres with an ambitious overall concept and mechanics that are really quite convoluted considering the short playtime of 1-2 hours. Despite A Monster’s Insight having multiple endings, with various strategies and outcomes for each interlocutor, there is a minimal sense of autonomy as the player’s influence gets lost in the fray of mechanics and lack-lustre characterisation.
At its core, the game is about the power of words, descriptions explain that reasoning, emotional manipulation and blackmail are fair game and exclaims players must ‘gaslight Eldritch terrors or die trying’. Whilst this is a potentially problematic concept in a number of ways, concerns do not extend to fruition due to the ineffectual and watery gameplay along with other issues caused by the rushed execution.
A Monster’s Insight’s OST is comprised of 13 original moody, lo-fi hip-hop tracks that could be enjoyed in their own right but mostly feel disconnected from the narrative and don’t match the tone of individual scenes. The music is also implemented in a clumsy way that lacks ambience, starting and stopping abruptly with no loop, leaving the player in awkward silence.
The art style is a little unremarkable and could generously be described as impressionist cartoons, however, there are elements of detail that stand out, such as the illustration of the character Cor Meum (pictured below). The parallax animation creates a nice effect for the most part but can also be incredibly jarring and distracting, a particularly erratic and fast-moving newspaper background animation is the worst culprit of this.
A Monster’s Insight has an interesting narrative concept and promising mechanics but the one month development time was not enough to effectively implement these ideas. The length of the experience is also much too short to fully showcase what could be very intricate and immersive gameplay. I admire the ambition of the developer, but considering the constraints they were under, I feel I would have preferred a solid conversation with one rather than three cosmic-horrors and the various associated outcomes as this may have resulted in a more cohesive and immersive experience overall.
For more creepy, Lovecraft inspired games, check out:
Transient: A Lovecraftian Cyberpunk Thriller – Free Prologue for In-Development Horror Game Lust from Beyond