Have you ever wondered what it would be like to romance a monster? No? Well, the creators at Beautiful Glitch do an admirable job of trying to convince you of the merits of doing exactly that. Monster Prom is an online visual novel that has you join a Monster high school in the three weeks before Prom, so that you can convince your supernatural love interest to be your date.
Considering their relatively new-found popularity in the west, you would be forgiven for thinking that visual novels are a new genre. However, they have existed since the beginning of video games and in some ways, longer than that. If you’ve ever played a game of Dungeons and Dragons or have read a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Goosebumps book, you already know what the mechanics look like.
You, the protagonist, participate in a narrative where, for the most part, you watch the story unfold before you until you are confronted with various choices that change the direction of the story. This can vary wildly from game to game, but the core gameplay is just text-based decision making.
Though it has taken some time for the genre to become anything more than a cult favourite in the rest of the world, over the past few decades it has risen in fame and has fast become a global gaming staple.
Monster Prom inhabits one of the more popular genres of Visual Novels which is the “Dating Sim”. Dating simulators involve a selection of desirable partners and making choices that would make your preferred partner like you back.
In Monster Prom, you play a teenaged monster and are given the choice of six supernatural paramours who are unhinged yet lovable in their own unique ways. When you start the game, you choose between one of four pre-set characters as your playable character (the gender and pronouns of the characters are up to the player). You then take a short quiz which determines your main stats/who your love interest will be and you spend the rest of the game attending monster high school trying to make your monster crush like you back.
What makes Monster Prom fairly unique is that the game is randomised each time you play it. The run-time for a single game is about an hour (shorter if you so desire) in which the three weeks before Prom are broken into time segments where you interact with the various characters. During each interaction, you are given a choice. The success of each choice will depend on your stats which you can build by doing various activities in the school.
If this seems like a lot of explanation, simply, the game mostly boils down to making a series of wacky choices that have even wackier conclusions in pursuit of your love interest. On one memorable occasion, when trying to romance the demon heir to hell Damien, my character found themselves in an aggressive voguing match where they were horribly defeated, while Damien chanted “Paris is burning, motherfucker”. Needless to say, my character did not succeed in taking him to the Prom.
The randomised nature of the game ensures that there is variety; there is a truly herculean effort that has gone into making the massive number of scenes and outcomes that manage to keep you hooked and coming back for another round. Even romancing the same character several times continues to hold your interest as you see how they respond to various behaviours.
The draw of these kinds of games is fairly self-explanatory but they can be elevated by having truly wonderful characters and narrative that you immerse yourself in, just like any other romance book, but just with more agency. For the most part, Monster Prom succeeds in doing this but is perhaps let down slightly by the tone of the game. It is intended to be a self-referential parody of 80s B grade horror films and does so with great fervour, right down to its bass-driven Monster Mash inspired theme song. As such, the game is filled to the brim with endless quips and punch line after punch line which can get a bit exhausting after some time. Additionally, while all the characters are interesting and have a good amount of backstory, we rarely get any time to invest in the characters because they are too busy being goofballs.
Other romanceable characters include lovable jock werewolf Scott, ghost party-girl with a (redundant) death wish Polly Geist, ruthless business woman Gorgon Vera, hipster vampire Liam and cutesy, fascist mermaid princess Miranda. They all have moments in which they shine, making it clear that they are lovingly (if perhaps stupidly) created to draw the player in.
The game is playable in a multi-player mode, which I have heard makes the game that much more engaging. However, since I couldn’t convince any of my friends to play with me, I can only comment on the single player mode which did get a little stale after my 6th playthrough – though its ability to last quite as long is a feat in itself.
There is undoubtedly a growing demand for Visual Novels especially those that cater to queer players. The past success of games like “Coming Out On Top” established this demand and the enthusiastic response to Monster Prom’s Kickstarter has only helped to solidify this market. The success was so unprecedented that the creators have channelled the funding into making several follow-ups on the game. So, if it catches your fancy, there will be several more games to keep you occupied.
Overall if this is your first foray into Visual Novels or choice-based games, you can’t really go wrong with Monster Prom. Its wonderful characters, engaging writing and dedication to making an inclusive Visual Novel for all kinds of gender identities and sexualities is really admirable and serves as a fun, though short-lived, romp.
What’s to like: Great characters, hilarious quips, inclusive atmosphere, replay value.
What’s not to like: It can get repetitive, lack of in-depth characterisation.