Now, after reading that first paragraph, you may be having trouble reconciling my words with my score, but don't give up on me just yet. Keep reading to find out why Master of Monsters is one of the most intriguing, yet overlooked, titles of the entire Genesis era.
Let me begin by telling you that there is no story what-so-ever involved in this game other than the rudimentary half page of text on the inside cover of the manual explaining why the hell a feudal Japanese warlord is combating a necromancer for world domination. Safe to say we aren't going to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
However, that is almost completely irrelevant as far as this game goes because the real meat is in the turn based gameplay which will be detailed below. For now, let's hit the breakdown.
Graphics - 5
The field map where the action takes place is passably well done and shows you the various terrain elements well enough to differentiate between types. That's it though, otherwise it's quite frankly pig ugly, as are the map icons that represent your units which, I might add, are not always done differently enough to tell the difference between, say, a Soldier and a Warrior (two different classes of foot soldiers for two different leaders).
So, to recap, the overhead map does enough to show you what's going on, and that's it. The only place the graphics shine (relatively) is in the combat screen which pops up anytime any combat on the map takes place. Here you see a short animation of the two units involved attacking each other in a charming fashion.
Sound/Music - 7
I'll be blunt here, the sound effects are repetitive and often annoying. What saves this category is a series of 6 different selectable BGM's that can be used as the theme music for each Master that will play on a loop during their turn.
This, of course, will be subjective to taste, but I find the majority of them quite good, especially for the time.
Game play - 10
Ready? This one might be lengthy.
Here's where the game really shines. To start, your enjoyment of this game will be largely based on your access to friends/family members who are willing to play with you, because the AI stinks. If you can get some humans involved though, the different monster types are generally well balanced enough that anyone can be the victor.
As I implied above, you begin the game by selecting one of 5 Masters, of three different alignments (which will affect what phase you and your creatures are at your most powerful), all of who have a roster of monsters they can summon to field an army. Some of these monsters will overlap based on alignment, but for the most part, they are all pretty unique.
Your standard roster will contain ranged fighters, multi-attack melee fighters, power melee fighters, scouts, fodder, and sea monsters. As I mentioned above, these creatures are all generally pretty well balanced without any single unit able to totally dominate the field against all opposition.
In addition, as your creatures fight and defeat enemy army units, they will gain experience and be able to change classes as many as three times to more powerful versions. For example, a Dragon might turn into a Frost Dragon, and then and Ice Dragon (did I mention the naming conventions aren't the most imaginative? :P )
Fielding higher classed monsters will give you exponential advantage on the battle field and your ultimate goal is to annex all of the other Masters' lands and destroy them.
Your Master him or herself is also a powerful unit in their own right; able to cast spells on the field map with a variety of effects as well as summon elementals to battle any enemy on the field. The catch of course is that they cannot leave their own castle, so you must decide whether to have defenders hang back or to send force a throng to overwhelm your enemies.
Replay Value - 10
Since it's essentially just a skirmish game, you'll likely never play the same game twice. There are about 20 different maps to play on (total guess based on my memory) and as I've mentioned above, 5 different Masters to play and...well....master.
For the masochist, there are also two campaigns you may play against the AI where masters can summon monsters you have no access to as well as already level 2 and 3 monsters, but they are winnable as you carry over your units from map to map.
I'll close by saying this is not an easy game to find a retail copy of and it wasn't easy to find even in 1991. I have seen it in second hand game stores recently though, so it's still out there and worth the effort to track down if you like the premise.
One small thing that might irritate, the translation is absolutely terrible. Mermaids are Marmaids, Burst attacks are Brust attacks, the Daimyou is a Damiyo (if I recall correctly). You can tell what things are supposed to be, but it certainly reflects a lack of polish.
Still, I can't help but recommend it to SRPG fans, war gamers, and old school enthusiasts.