Visual novels are all about choice. Your choices determine where the story goes and how it ends; there are all sorts of possible outcomes based on what you pick. Now imagine if there were an RPG that took this idea up to eleven, and that's kind of what you get with Always Sometimes Monsters.
Your protagonist is a down-on-their-luck author who's lost the love of their life and is close to getting kicked out of their apartment. Upon finding out that their ex is getting married in another city, they resolve to get things together and make it to the wedding to win their former partner back. You have thirty days before the wedding happens...and also, you have no car and only thirteen dollars in your bank account. How are you going to make it across the country in thirty days?
Interestingly, you get to pick your protagonist and your ex at a party that happens at the beginning of the game; while this only changes the cosmetics, it's a nice touch nonetheless. Whoever you pick, though, your character is the same: a struggling author trying to find motivation and finally resolving to do something better when faced with losing everything they have. It may hit a bit close to home for some of us writers...I admit, it hit a bit close to home for me in parts. Your ex seems supportive at first, but I kind of lost all liking for them when I found out the details behind the breakup...I'll let you figure that one out yourself. There are other characters around, including your former roommate and book partner Sam, a heroin-addicted rockstar named Darkeff, a flirtatious druggie named Hailey, your publishing contact Larry...the list goes on for quite a while, and the characters are well developed for the most part. Sometimes the bad luck and outside blame thrown at your protagonist borders on ridiculous, but it gives you that much more to struggle against.
I think my favorite thing about this game is the world they set up. It's a very open area, and you're free to do pretty much whatever you like, with your only constant goal being to get to your ex's wedding before thirty days are up. You can choose what jobs you'll take to earn money; you can choose where to sleep; you can choose which of your friends to help out and which to ignore; you can choose whether to reach your goals through moral means or cheat and steal your way out of town. The places you can go are just so vast (and nicely designed to boot!). I love the openness of the setting; I love getting to wander around and pick what I do each day.
...not that I always pick that option, per se.
The game has a high emphasis on moral choices and their consequences, as well. The right thing to do in a given situation is not necessarily what's going to be the best thing for you, and sometimes the best way out of a jam is to screw someone else over. You can rip off your kind elderly neighbor; you can blackmail a doctor into helping out a friend, or smash his car instead; you can pickpocket the coats at a temporary coat-checking job. The entire course of the game is left up to you, and when you get one of the many endings, you'll know you've earned it all on your own.
From the outside, this might look like a casual RPG. But the way it throws you in with a bunch of tough choices and then deconstructs the very concept of being a good person gives you a lot to think about. The game is a good length; getting through thirty days takes a good bit of time, and of course you'll want to try it again with different choices and see what other outcomes you can get. Overall, this one is well worth a play or several.
Final verdict: A gritty RPG with a large open world and a dizzying array of choices, Always Sometimes Monsters takes a hard look at choices, morality, and consequences, and will provide large amounts of replayability and maybe provoke you to take a look at yourself as well.
Always Sometimes Monsters is developed by Vagabond Dog. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.