Monster Super League: Mini Guide and First Impressions

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Okay: while I can definitely see the similarities to Pokémon, I have no idea where the app editor got a reference to Final Fantasy from Four Thirty Three’s Monster Super League (MSL). Maybe it’s the quest to restore balance between two warring goddesses, but that’s not necessarily a Final Fantasy exclusive thing. Hell I don’t even get the reference if you compare it to other mobile titles like Brave Exvius or Mobius Final Fantasy. So if you’re on the Apple app store, just ignore the pictured comment above. Look elsewhere if you’re wanting an experience similar to Final Fantasy titles.

However if you’re wanting a colorful creature-collecting title to play, MSL could very well fit those shoes. The game is simple to pick up, pretty fun to play, and can potentially be a cheap app to keep up with if you’re willing to grind. Yet like all other games, it has its pitfalls. And this game’s pitfalls are particularly annoying.

Monster Super League: the premise and general gameplay

So the game begins with a surprisingly great looking intro that tells the tale of a fantasy land caught up in the conflict between two goddesses: one that advocates order and harmony, while the other supports unbridled chaos. Yet rather than duke things out between themselves the goddesses choose champions from other worlds to fight in their place. These champions are granted the ability to communicate with the native lifeforms known as Astromon. By battling, catching, and raising the Astromon they meet these champions can then take part in the Astromon League, which is essentially like the Olympics in that champions of both goddesses can compete on neutral ground to resolve their problems with each other.

This is where you, the player, comes in. The goddess of order has called out to you in your dreams and tasked you to be one of her champions to help protect the land of Latecia.

Yeah the Pokémon references are pretty strong actually. And perhaps the app store editor was thinking of Dissidia Final Fantasy with their comment, as the plot does sound pretty similar. But really that’s the only connection I can make. Regardless you’re then taken to the character selection screen to customize your avatar and pick your username.

Character creation: you get three choices
Character creation: you get three choices

At this point there were a couple of things that caught my eye. For one the game’s graphics and art design are actually really nice. The art style might not be for everyone, but I give 4:33 kudos for going all out with the style they chose. You can pick between being a boy or a girl, and I have to say that I actually liked both character’s designs. They’re vibrant and simple, yet unique looking compared to other mobile app protags.

Neither character is overly sexualized either: they both look like average teenagers, which is a plus. Though the female variant does have jiggle physics, which I don’t understand why they felt that was necessary. Granted it’s not really noticeable unless you blatantly stare…which is all the more reason why I’m confused they decided to have them at all. I’m personally not bothered by jiggle physics on characters, but either go for it or don’t bother. We only see the protag’s front during catching scenes against Astromon so it just feels like a bizarre choice.

You also get to pick between three color pallets, one of which I think was supposed to be an option for people of color. It’s nice to see it there but…the character looks more sun-burnt than ethnic. Unfortunately that’s all you get to do as far as customization goes. Which is a shame because you do actually see your avatar run around in your home base and in the dungeons with your Astromon, so it would have been nice to have more options. Though I could easily see there being cash shop costumes for your character in the future.

Finally: this game is not re-roll friendly as usernames are unique. Once a name is taken no one else can have it. So if you’re one of those people that enjoy re-rolling to get the best possible start, have a list of usernames ready or tack on a number to the end of whatever you want to call yourself.

As for the actual combat of the game: if you’re familiar with Summoner’s War then you already know how to play MSL for the most part. Battles revolve around you sending a team of four creatures called Astromon into dungeons to fight your way to the boss. By tapping one of your creatures they’ll attack a random enemy. However if you tap one of the enemies beforehand they’ll attack that specific target instead. Each Astromon has a set of skills that can activate randomly during the fight, and every Astromon has a special ability that can range from AoE attacks to party healing that you can initiate once a monster’s blue (SP) gauge is full.

MSL is primarily a PvE game where you go through dungeons of various difficulties in search of Astromon and loot. However the Astromon League mentioned in the story is a real thing and is where the PvP takes place. While these matches can be fun and challenging, you’re limited to ten a day unless you level up your character or use premium currency to buy more.

Astromon: what they are, how to obtain them, and how they affect combat

Example of the Monster menu
Example of the Monster menu

Astromon are the creatures that you battle with, and there are four ways to obtain them:

  • Catch them in the wild Pokémon-style
  • Summon them from soulstones or free eggs
  • Use the rebirth system
  • Chuck your hard earned/bought premium currency at the gacha summon and pray.

So there’s actually a surprisingly large amount of ways to collect characters in this game compared to others of its type. Which is a nice change of pace. However as you progress through the game you’ll find that they’re all very RNG reliant, and not all methods are created equal.

o8bpqhu-imgurThe first method MSL teaches you for catching these critters is to use your Astrogun to shoot poker chips at the little guys and pray they decide they like you enough to be trapped in one. Yeah…these are very clearly their copyright infringement escape from Pokéballs, but the system overall isn’t bad. You get three tries maximum per stage to catch something. In order to be able to catch Astromon in future stages you must refill your gun with more Astrochips, which is done by paying 5,000 gold.

You’ll notice very quickly that the odds of catching even common critters are actually pretty low: the game will show you your percent chance of successful capture. If you fail, that percentage goes up for the next try. However how much it goes up depends on the rarity of the creature in question. Now you can, again, use gold before entering a stage to increase your odds of success and again within the battle itself. However you start with a measly 1% increase…wtf? Really? This is supposed to be the game’s “free” way to obtain low rarity creatures to tide players over until they can save premium currency to get the “better” characters, yet you’re going to be that stingy with it? As much as I like the mechanic, I’m sorry: that’s bullshit.

Now you can catch super rares and legendaries this way. I find that farming Miho’s is actually very worthwhile as she’s a good character. You’ll also need duplicates for the evolution process (more on that later). There are only two legendaries currently in existence. You also have a slim chance of finding variants of Astromon (which again, we’ll discuss in a bit).

Then you have the summon screen, which feels oddly named as most players would assume that’s where you go to perform your premium currency gacha summons. But nope, that’s the special shop. You can thank me later for sparing you that minor confusion. The summon page is where you can incubate any free eggs you’ve collected for more Astromon, trade in the Soul Stones you’ve collected for their specific Astromon (you need 30 of these), or use five 3-star Astromon that are collecting dust in your inventory to roll the dice and rebirth them into one new Astromon you’d rather use. As of this post you have a chance to rebirth for different Miho elements, including Light and Dark Miho (who both are apparently 4-stars).

Then finally you have the typical gacha summon where you can toss your hard-earned premium currency into the endless slot machine and hope for the best. Single summons cost 60 gems, where a 10+1 costs 600. The later guarantees one variant Astromon as well. Now thankfully the game allows you two free summons: a free 1-3-star draw every day, and a free premium draw (3-5-star) once a week.

The game uses the typical rarity rating system of one to five star creatures, with six stars only being obtainable through evolution. Of course the higher the star rarity, the better stats and skills of the Astromon.

The typical elemental trump system
The typical elemental trump system

Astromon when discovered will be governed by one of five elements: fire, water, wood, light, and dark. If you’re familiar with Pokémon, or just about any other mobile app that uses an element system, then you won’t find any surprises here. Fire Astromon have advantage over grass/wood types, and light and dark trump each other while suffering no weaknesses from the other three elements. The element chart isn’t just for decoration either: there’s a huge difference in damage dealt depending on if you’re using a creature with an advantage or one that’s weak against the enemy.

With that said it is crucial to keep around Astromon of a couple of different elements as maps will specialize in certain types. For example: your supped up fire team will not last in Aria Lake! And while it may be tempting to focus on a light or a dark team to get around that, actually obtaining monsters of those types are pretty damn difficult at the start of your account. Unless you’re a determined, re-rolling heathen. I tip my hat to you.

Understanding Your Astromon: skills, types, and gear gems

Like a lot of more recent mobile titles you don’t just summon or catch a character and use it immediately (though you certainly can). While MSL is deceptively simple in its mechanics, the real strategy comes into play by taking the time to understand the following things about your Astromon:

  • Their element (Fire, Water, Wood, etc.)
  • Their type (Tank, Attacker, Balance, etc.)
  • Their skills (can your creature taunt, can they inflict a status ailment, etc.)
  • What kind of gems they can equip
  • Base star rarity
  • Variant leader skills

Element is easily the first thing you can spot and understand, as all characters follow a specific color scheme to match the element they represent as well as have an icon on their page. And so long as you remember the element chart it’s quite easy to form a team to stack up against a specific stage.

Yet things start getting confusing and a little odd once you throw in types and skill sets. On top of having an element Astromon also have types. If you’ve played Brave Frontier then the set up will sound familiar to you. There’s a total of five types: Tank (HP focus), Attacker (Attack stat focus), Defender (Defense focus), Balanced (all-around equality to stats), and Recovery (low stat creatures that can be healed for greater amounts).

With these types party roles come into play. At the start it might be okay to throw in four Astromon of any type and rely purely on elemental advantage, but that won’t be all you need for later stages and for PvP. You need the damage attackers can provide, but you also need a more bulky tank or defender to draw enemy attention away from them as they’re somewhat fragile.

Now usually in other games like Brave Frontier or Phantom of the Kill you can use a neutral type such as Balanced to circumnavigate around this, and sometimes player communities believe that’s the best type anyway for PvE. However 4:33 has kind of made that impossible. How? Because battle type seems to be tied to what element your Astromon is.

Tying types with elements really doesn’t make sense with the game’s current structure

This is where the game starts showing some questionable design choices. For example, going back to Pokémon: when you look at Charmander you know you’re getting a fire type. You will never run into a grass type Charmander or a water type. Charmander is fire (now with Sun/Moon and all the variants this may change, but you get the idea). That’s not how things work in MSL. Every Astromon in the game can be any of the five element types. So the Miho you get at the start of the game isn’t just a fire type: you can also catch a water type, a grass type, and as of this post you have the chance of rebirthing monsters you don’t use to snag a light or dark type too. So rather than having hundreds of different characters locked into one element like Pokémon, you instead have only forty character families (not counting the two legendaries you can catch) that have variations in design and color scheme depending on what element they are.

At first blush this doesn’t sound like a bad idea. If you have an absolute favorite character then you can try to obtain that character in every element so that you can use them in whatever team you need. That idea I actually like. Nothing sucks quite like finally having your favorite character in these games yet not have the proper teammates for them, so they sit benched. This ideal originally sounded like a nice and simple way to avoid that problem of the heart.

But there’s a glaring issue because again: type and even skill set is tied to what element the Astromon is.

For example we’ll look at Miho, your starter. When you first play the game you’re given a 3-star, fire element Miho for free. Fire Miho is a tank type no matter how many different fire Miho’s you catch. She also comes with the following skills:

Fire Element Miho's skill set
Fire Element Miho’s skill set

Normal Skill is the basic attack your Astromon uses, while Active Skill is the special attack you can launch once you’ve filled the character’s SP gauge. These are exactly the same between all elements of Miho, just their effects and descriptions will match the element Miho is. What changes are the two passive skills.  Fire Miho has a chance to lower the enemy’s attack strength, and once you evolve her to a 5-star form, essentially has an hp drain ability.

Now let’s look at wood element Miho:

Wood Miho skill set
Wood Miho skill set

Wood element Miho is an attack type. Not only will her stat gains change because of her typing, but she has different passive skills, essentially changing her role completely when it comes to party building. And every single character suffers from this problem.

And yes I say it’s a problem because why the hell did they bother making these characters the same in basic design when they act like completely separate creatures? To be frank it reeks of laziness: it’s much easier to slap different skins and colors on the same models over and over rather than create new ones. Typings in these games serve to give players options as to how to develop certain characters (or just enrage you after a false hopeful gacha pull. Looking at you Brave Frontier). On top of that some Astromon face a serious dilemma of being fantastic additions to a party for one element, but being nearly useless in another due to unfortunate typing and the skills they’ve been given to try and compliment said typing. Which completely destroys the previous argument that you can use your favorite Astromon in any team, because they might be wonderful in one element yet disastrous in another.

The generation of blue souls is critical for tougher battles so you can unleash special attacks
The generation of blue souls is critical for tougher battles so you can unleash special attacks

4-star Astromon Jeanne is a good example of this. As a base 4-star character you can consider yourself lucky for pulling her at all. However it seems agreed upon in the community that fire element Jeanne doesn’t really stack up to her other elemental counterparts. Fire element is a tank-heavy one, and that’s what fire Jeanne is: tank type. While her skills compliment her type, they don’t really help out her party. Remember that tanks specialize in HP and are supposed to help defender types keep the heat off everyone else. But fire Jeanne is a selfish Astromon: she might lower one enemy’s special attack gauge, and her other skill converts all blue orbs she generates into red ones to help with healing. This means she’s far less likely to activate her AoE special attack and potentially hinder the rest of your team from performing their special attacks (because they’re not getting any blue orbs from her either). On top of that being a tank type means she has lower attack stats compared to others. So not only is she selfishly keeping herself alive, but she’s not dishing out the damage you need to justify it. Evolving your fire Miho is probably a better idea if you want a fire Tank type because she at least lowers enemy attack and her self-heal doesn’t hinder anyone else on the team.

Dark Jeanne on the other hand has a 100% chance (you read that right) to increase her blue gauge with every attack, while her other passive has a chance to silence the target for two turns. Now which sounds better to you: a chance to decrease an enemy’s gauge by 10%? Or a chance to make their gauge useless for two whole turns while also being able to spam her AoE? On top of this Dark Jeanne is a defender type, of which there are only four Astromon total for that element, and the bulk of them can’t serve that role well due to that character’s innate stats. All of this makes Jeanne a must-have for dark teams.

Again: what was the point of making all the Astromon the same across different types if this was the scenario you were planning from the start? And yet again I say laziness. It’s a half-baked attempt at variety when they could have just designed more characters to make exploring dungeons repeatedly worth it. I don’t care if it’s my first time seeing a water Squirrus, after twenty of the damn things I don’t want to see more of them.

Which is a shame because I do like the character designs of the Astromon. They fit the art direction, they’re animated nicely, and the changes between evolutionary states are varied enough that I look forward to evolving the ones I like. There’s not a single ugly character (in my opinion), so I don’t even mind keeping base forms around while I farm for gold to complete the evolutionary process.

There’s also a painfully punishing RNG aspect to the game now because of this whole element+type scenario: you may have finally summoned the 5-star character you wanted, but OOPS! It’s the wrong element. Worse still: it’s the worst element and type that Astromon could have. Thanks for playing!

Fuck you Four Thirty Three…

Variants only add more headaches to the RNG

And finally there’s bloody variants. In most other games similar to this characters come with a built-in leader skill. A leader skill is an ability that kicks in when you place your character in the first slot of your party. Your leader’s skill also comes into effect when someone on your friends list decides to borrow your leader to take with them on a mission.

Yet in MSL whether or not an Astromon gets a leader skill is up to pure, teeth grinding RNG. These are called variants. Variants have yet another cosmetic change compared to their normal counterparts and come with a coveted leader skill (such as buffing a whole party). They’re essentially the shiny Pokémon of the Astromon world. And heavens is it annoying to get one. Be prepared to grind the exact same stages over and over again only to pray a variant appears, or chuck 600 gems for one guaranteed variant (more than likely a 3-star).

Now luckily you can use variants to make non variants monsters into variants themselves. What I mean is that let’s say you got lucky this week and snagged a 4-star dark element Miho from the rebirth menu. Obviously you’re going to want to use her and if you had a choice, you’d like her to be a variant for her leader skill. Well Kuroro Gaming has a quick guide that shows if you use the variant Miho for the evolution process, you’ll change your dark base Miho into a variant (I know it’s Ran in the video, but the process is the same).

You can also use variants of Astromon you don’t use in the rebirth system, however it’s a real risk. You can only use five monsters to rebirth, and each variant only grants 5% chance of the rebirthed Astromon to be a variant as well. Which means at best you have a 25% shot. Yeah, good luck with that. RNGesus is rarely ever that merciful.

I get what they’re trying to do by having variants in the game, but taking a mechanic as simple and basic as a leader skill and hiding it behind super rare creatures doesn’t make sense to me. Four Thirty Three could have instead let variants have different and unique leader skills compared to their normal counterparts. They could have changed them to have one definitive typing regardless of element that represents the “meta” type for that Astromon’s stats. Because then that way hardcore fans of certain creatures could hunt for their variants so they could go back to the possibility of using any element of their favorite character. Overall it just feels like a frustrating design decision made out of laziness to make us grind for something we shouldn’t have to grind for.