Circus Reviews - Sweetest Monster
Well, you know me. I'm a sucker for girls in black.
Sweetest Monster follows Robin Hawkins, a disillusioned piano teacher with a strained marriage. While out walking one night, he comes across a girl named Bell who claims to have last met him as his great-aunt Clarice's cat. Now in a human body, she has come back to thank him for attempting to save her life. But her motives aren't nearly as simple as gratitude, and it quickly becomes apparent that Robin has no idea just what he's getting himself into.
Right off the bat, I have to admit, I don't like the main character. Robin is irritating and wishy-washy, has a disturbing lack of concern for his family at times, and the unsurprising way in which his character arc progresses does not do anything to increase sympathy for him. Also, the particular way he complains about children and other aspects of his job as a teacher made me ask, several times, why he ever chose that as a profession. And yet, it works. I kind of equate it to the anime School Days—I keep watching because I want to see someone get what they deserve. (That's about as much as I can say without spoiling either medium.) Robin's wife, Sally, and his daughter, Melody, aren't given a lot of screen time, and as previously stated, Robin tends to ignore them in favor of his own feelings. Sally comes across as rather insensitive for the most part, and Melody plays the role of a withdrawn, rebellious teenager; at times these portrayals feel like they're just there to service the plot or force the reader to sympathize with Robin, but the further into the game you go, the more they're fleshed out, and towards the end they start feeling like a real family. It's kind of sad to see what Robin might lose out on if he doesn't change something.
Sly, mischievous Bell drives most of the plot through her actions; she's not necessarily a difficult character to predict, but figuring out exactly who she is and what she's plotting makes for an intriguing mystery. As has possibly become a signature for developer ebi-hime, there is eventually a plot twist that, again, I can't discuss without spoiling; at this time, I would like to smugly announce that I did manage to guess it about halfway through the game. I can't necessarily say that everyone would, though, and it is a well-done twist in the end. Also, the game does warn you before playing that there is sexual content; it's decently detailed, so steer clear if that sort of thing bothers you.
The art style has the look of colored sketches, in a nice way. Something in particular about Sally's sprite draws my attention—the way her smile is done, sassy and knowing. The music is appropriately creepy, and I was quite happy to unlock the music box at the end so that I could play through a couple of the tracks over and over again like the strange-minded reclusive person that I am. An issue that I will make note of—despite having unlocked them, I was not able to access the author's notes no matter what I did. However, the computer I'm playing on has had issues with Ren'Py-based games before, so it's entirely possible that this is unique to me and not a problem with the game itself.
All in all, I can't say that this is the most surprising story, but there's a certain fascination in watching someone slowly bring about their own inevitable destruction that this game takes full advantage of. It looks good, it sounds good, and it carves out its own twisted niche. Just don't go into it expecting an actual tale of sweet monsters like the title implies; think of it more as a dark parable on the consequences of extramarital affairs and familial neglect. Or, possibly, a warning against getting too close to a black cat.
Final verdict: A fascinating if not overly surprising story with high production values across the board, Sweetest Monster continues to establish the developer as a writer of delightfully twisted stories.
Sweetest Monster is developed by ebi-hime and published by Sekai Project. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was given a free copy of this game in exchange for my review. This review was originally written for Anime Backgrounds.