When you’ve lost everything, how far are you willing to go to get your life back? Vagabond Dog’s Always Sometimes Monsters is a non-combat RPG that focuses on the experience, relationships, and journey of one lone writer as he sets out to reclaim a lost love. Rather than take the approach of most RPG styled games, Always Sometimes Monsters fights battles though dialogue and decision, letting players craft a unique identity for their character as he or she travels across the country to fix a relationship gone sour.
One of the flagship features of Always Sometimes Monsters is the ability to create a uniquely human character through which to experience the game. Rather than throw you into a Skyrim-esque character creator with sliders and check boxes, ASM accomplishes this through the game itself. The opening scene takes place during a party stocked full of possible playable characters. Talking to one of these partygoers chooses them as your protagonist. Your love interest is selected a moment later though the same method. The selection pool is populated by a diverse cast of characters, allowing for your lead couple to be almost any combination of race and gender.
During my time with this preview build of the game, I ran through the lives of two characters. As with any game that lets me determine the personality for my protag, I played my first character true to my personality. The second character? Biggest asshole possible. The beautiful thing about ASM is that you’re able to create vastly different characters and almost immediately see the impact their personalities have on the world. My first character, Alice, frequently took the high road. She made the right choices and often did things for the benefit of others, but she rarely came out on top as a result. Money was tight for her and she constantly had to work hard for what she got. Meanwhile my second character, Desmond, spent his free time ripping off old ladies and screwing over everyone he possibly could just to make an extra dime. While Alice struggled for money, Desmond was rolling in it from the get-go but at the cost of ruining (and sometimes ending) the lives of nearly everyone he came in contact with.
The actual game takes place roughly a year after the aforementioned party. While that introduction sequence saw you in a happy relationship and well on your way to becoming a published author, the next scene shows you alone and unsuccessful. The novel you were working on never got finished and turns out the love of your life is about to get married on the other side of the country in 30 days. With nothing left to lose, you set out on a cross country journey to reclaim your lost love and get your life back together.
In those 30 days, you’re tasked with traveling across the country to make it to the wedding, but from the get-go you’re flat broke. Penniless, even. One of your first interactions in the game’s main arc is a conversation between you and your landlord, which ultimately ends up with you sleeping on the street for up to a few nights. Making money is the pseudo-goal of the game, which can be accomplished through legitimate means or through sketchier methods, depending on your decisions. Each city offers you opportunities to make the cash to afford food and travel expenses through both plot driven interactions or just through completing mindless tasks via the cities’ employment centers.
The entire game then spans across 4 cities, though the preview build only took me through the first 2. Both cities are vastly different, each with their own set of politics and conflicts you must navigate. The goal of each city is obviously to raise enough money to afford a bus ticket to the next leg of your journey, but that objective quickly takes a backseat to experiencing the story arcs themselves. Each town has personality, defined heavily through both the major and minor characters that populate them. And though some conflicts in the city clearly have two sides, that doesn’t mean that there are only two ways to experience them.
What I’m getting at here is what I absolutely love about this game: every playthrough has the potential to be entirely unique. I kept finding new choices and new situations, even after going through a second time to make the choices I didn’t make my first time through the game. I’ve put in countless hours into this preview and I still feel like I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Always Sometimes Monsters is a game with a clear goal, but the game itself isn’t about reaching the finish line; it’s a story about self discovery told under the guise of a love story.