If you've played through a role-playing game before, you may be too skilled to fully appreciate Juka and the Monophonic Menace. Even though Orbital Media's take on the genre is aesthetically pleasing and contains a couple of interesting gameplay ideas that might appeal to experienced players, the game is clearly intended for a less-experienced audience. The game involves the same kinds of enemy encounters, puzzles, and collect-a-thon quests found in the majority of action RPGs, except that everything has been made easygoing and straightforward. Combat situations and puzzles don't require much in the way of finger acrobatics or intellect. Nor is there ever a question of what to do or where to go next, because characters in the game are constantly telling you what your next course of action is.
The story takes place in the land of Obla, where the austere people lived a peaceful existence until robots began appearing and taking people away. Soldiers tried in vain to stop the robots, but they were no match for the sonically charged attacks of the machines. A young alchemist, named Juka, eventually learns that his staff can absorb and reflect the robots' attacks back at them, so he volunteers to seek out and stop whomever or whatever is behind the robots. As Juka, you must travel the land, talk to people, defeat the robots you come across, and use potions to transform the environment around you...so that you can collect the objects necessary to reach and ultimately defeat the monophonic menace.
There's actually quite a bit that you can do as Juka, but what you can do at any given moment is limited by the kinds of creatures and structures in the surrounding environment. Juka can walk around, pull himself up from petite ledges, swim in the many rivers and lakes around Obla, and pull switches to open doors and activate elevator platforms. The majority of trees and plants can be shaken to yield the ingredients that you'll need for making the potions that Juka can use against certain enemies and in designated spots around the environment. When you encounter an enemy robot or soldier, you can use Juka's staff to capture and reflect the robot's shots or use a sleep potion to put the soldier to sleep. Other potions interact with structures in the environment and allow you to do things like rearrange rock walls and revive ancient technology. While it may seem like you can do all sorts of fun things as Juka, the reality is that most areas contain only a couple of enemies or a single environmental obstacle to surmount, and very few areas give you the opportunity to put multiple talents to use. The notable exceptions are the minigame challenges and boss fights that happen periodically. They're not especially difficult, but they do tend to bring all of Juka's abilities into play. It's too bad the rest of the game isn't like those challenges and fights.
You must avoid or knock out living enemies with sleep potions. But if you come across robot enemies, which are more plentiful, you must destroy them with a two-step process that involves Juka's staff. First, you have to swing Juka's staff at nearby shots that match the symbols indicated in the display at the bottom of the screen. Then, once you've collected all of the indicated symbols, you can reflect the amassed ball of energy back at the enemy robot. It's a neat concept early in the game, when you need to grab only one or two symbols to trash a robot, but it becomes tedious when you later have to collect as many as four symbols and do so multiple times just to get rid of a single robot. Enemy robots don't move very fast or attack with much frequency, which means battles aren't difficult. However, the battles are time-consuming because of all the waiting and dodging that's involved in gathering the right pattern of symbols.
Compared to other role-playing games, Juka and the Monophonic Menace handles the way potions are acquired in a different way. They're not found or bought. Instead, you make them yourself by collecting and mixing ingredients. Ingredients are gathered by shaking trees and plants. As you go through the game, characters will give you recipes that tell you what amounts of each ingredient are required to produce any of the 10 different potions in the game. It's an interesting setup, but it's also a huge waste of time. Nearly every switch or obstacle in the game requires the use of a potion to get past it, which means you're constantly stopping to mix and use the appropriate potion. And because you're constantly making potions, you're also constantly running out of ingredients, which means you have to spend a great deal of time shaking plants to replenish your stock. The game takes only about six hours to finish, but you'll probably spend one-third of that time backtracking to meadows to jostle trees and flowers.
Experienced players will likely be turned off by how easy and regimented the game is, as well as the length of the quest, which is artificially drawn out because of all the time that's wasted dancing around enemies and gathering ingredients for potions. However, beginner players, especially those of a young age, may not be as bothered by those same foibles and may enjoy Juka and the Monophonic Menace as their introduction to the role-playing genre. The game definitely seems to be aimed at inexperienced players. Along with how obvious everything is, characters in the game are constantly telling you what to do or where to go next. When you encounter an obstacle, Bufo or Merlin will tell you what potion to use or where to get the key you need. When you encounter a new enemy, they'll tell you how to defeat it. If you forget or accidentally skip past a bit of informative dialogue, you can always check the summary in Juka's notebook. There are never any moments of discovery, because the game holds your hand every step of the way.
Should you choose to take on Juka's quest, you probably won't be disappointed by how the game looks. The land of Obla truly is a sight to behold. The top-down environments are alive with earthy colors and resplendent with cute little animated touches, such as splashing waterfalls, meandering butterflies, and curious gophers that pop out of the ground and watch Juka go by. None of the houses and caves in the game are cookie-cutter structures. Instead, they're all uniquely designed and intricately furnished. All of the characters are also squat and charming. Juka's striped hat and backpack are constantly bouncing as he walks. Enemy robots move robotically, as robots are apt to do, but there's usually something eye-catching about them, whether it's a scarf wrapped around a robot's neck or steam periodically erupting from a pipe on its head. All of the dialogue is shown as text, but the character overlays and cutscenes employ large portraits and intricate scenes that span multiple screens and look like they were yanked right out of an expensive children's book. The music that accompanies the action varies from whimsical to moody, depending on the situation. The sound effects are mostly tonal, reflecting the game's overall theme, although there are some cute "oofs" and "ouches" here and there. If you're familiar with the way things look and sound in Don Bluth's animated films, Juka and the Monophonic Menace exudes that same sort of style.
There are dozens of role-playing games available for the Game Boy Advance. Some are intricate and elaborate; others are simple and easygoing. Juka and the Monophonic Menace is one of the simpler games. As such, it's a good way to introduce younger or inexperienced players to the genre, but it's not the sort of game you're going to want to pick up after completing the Legend of Zelda, Golden Sun, or the latest Final Fantasy.