When it comes to visual novels, you’ll find a vast array of genres available on Steam. Many fail to see this, however, and instead only notice the most common of games with their slice of life high school romantic comedies. There’s nothing wrong with that, but after a while, it starts to grow stale. Thank goodness for developers like Ebi-hime. Despite being rather prolific, each of their releases manages to offer something different from the norm. The latest title from Ebi-hime is Sweetest Monster. This tale forgoes comedy as well as the generally taken for granted teenage-ish aged protagonist. It might seem weird on the outset, but it doesn’t take long to become wrapped up in the narrative.
Sweetest Monster instead focuses on a tale of marital disillusionment. Players follow in the footsteps of Robin, an unhappily married 42 year old elementary school music teacher. Despite — or perhaps because of — living with his wife Sally for over fifteen years, their relationship has degraded into petty, daily arguments. The latest battle revolves around Sally’s unfounded belief that her husband is cheating on her with one of his student’s mothers. The notion is entirely nonsensical to Robin. After all, he knows that this single mother is in absolutely no way alluring to him. Still, the fight rages and immediately illustrate the problems in their relationship to the reader.
It’s not as if Sally is the only one bringing trouble into their marriage. As is the case with many real couples, both parties contribute in their own way to the dissipation of their relationship. Since we’re seeing the game through Robin’s filter we just get his warped take on Sally initially. Another issue is Robin’s insistence on focusing on work as opposed to trying to improve family life. Instead of spending time with his own teenage daughter Melody, he drowns extra hours into work and meetings. With this father daughter relationship so tenuous, he ops to avoid it entirely rather than try to rebuild anything. You don’t need to have experience in a similar relationship to both feel bad for Robin and be utterly annoyed by him. After all, he’s in his 40s – shouldn’t he know better? This of course helps it feel like a fairly realistic dramatic depiction.
That is, until one late night when Robin comes upon a young woman named Bell with piercing green eyes. He has no clue as to who she is and can’t help but be transfixed by her unusual eyes. What really sets off his personal alarm bells, however, is when she not only knows his name but plainly states that she is in love with him. Sally’s initial hunch may have been wrong, but it seems that Robin may still fall for another woman after all. Sweetest Monster is not a particularly long visual novel so this introductory description is as much as anyone should really know before jumping into the game for themselves.
The true excitement and horror of playing Sweetest Monster is watching the story unfold. The name itself implies that there’s something bad lurking underneath, and it works well as a mystery to give hints to the player. As you go along in your one to four hour journey, there’s ample time to consider the nature of what’s going on and form a hypothesis. Whether you’re right or completely off, the ending proves eye-opening. This isn’t a visual novel with a twist that comes out of nowhere or a lull in the beginning or middle. Due to the short playtime, most story beats are important and supports its eventual conclusion.
Sweetest Monster features some gorgeous visuals to accompany its mostly typo-free text. The sprites have a few facial expressions and help keep the game feeling dynamic. CG sequences are surprisingly common – and surprisingly sensual. It’s incredibly interesting to see a visual novel use titillation in a way that doesn’t feel completely tawdry (see any Sakura game ever). There are some fitting songs included as well, but unfortunately there are not many tracks in the soundtrack.
A short gameplay length mostly serves the game well. With that said, it feels that the very ending – post climax – seems a bit rushed. There were also a handful of typos in the dialogue (though a patch has since been released to address most of them). These complaints are incredibly minor. After all, hearing the same song again hardly detracts from the tight atmosphere weaved by the narrative. A rare typo does not ruin a player’s emotional reaction to revelations.
The best thing about Sweetest Monster is the story it presents. On the other hand, it’s likely the storyline which is sure to turn some readers completely away. If you’re coming to this game from something vapidly sweet like Nekopara then it may totally rock your world in a bad way. Others with a taste for dark, disturbing tales may love it — or find it doesn’t go far enough. With such a wide array of opinions, the only way to know if you’ll enjoy this one or not is to simply play Sweetest Monster yourself.