Monochrome Mobius: Rights and Wrongs Forgotten is a Japanese RPG by the creators of Utawarerumono, a multimedia project that began as a series of visual novels. Its tale technically occurs between Utawarerumono: Prelude to the Fallen and Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception. I say technically because Monochrome Mobius is more tied to the latter. I suspect many of the big questions someone may have when looking at Monochrome Mobius are in the vein of “Do I need to play Utawarerumono or watch the anime first?” or “Does Monochrome Mobius function as a standalone game?” The answers lean more towards “probably” and “not really.”
Monochrome Mobius explores the rise to prominence and power of protagonist Oshtor, a key character from the Utawarerumono games. He meets a mysterious young woman named Shunya, who claims to be the daughter of his father, a father she has only recently separated from. Confusingly, Oshtor believes his father has been dead for years. These events propel Oshtor into a quest to discover the truth of his father and Shunya. Along the way, he becomes a faithful servant of the god-ruler of their land, the Mikado, as did his father before him — the Mikado also features heavily in Utawarerumono. Even your third and fourth party members, Munechika and Mikazuchi, are big names from the Utawarerumono games.
So Monochrome Mobius closely ties with the other games in the series on numerous levels. Locations, characters, and concepts are not always explained enough for series newbies, and almost all of them are introduced more thoroughly in the Utawarerumono games. It is hard not to see Monochrome Mobius as a companion piece made for fans.
That isn’t to say references and reveals are all Monochrome Mobius has going for it. The backdrop of the series is lavish and unique and inspired by the Ainu people and culture. Monochrome Mobius brings players the first opportunity to explore its series’ world in 3D. Characters have distinctive personalities and numerous optional scenes to build them up even more. On top of all of this, Aquaplus has managed to create a surprisingly compelling battle system to build off of.
At a basic level, battles aren’t complex. On a character’s turn, they can attack, use abilities or items, defend, or attempt to flee. It is Monochrome Mobius’ representation of turn order where things get interesting. Icons representing your party and their foes circle a series of concentric rings called the Action Ring. Movement on these rings signifies turn order. The inner rings of the Action Ring are smaller, and therefore you (and your enemies) take turns faster and more frequently when occupying the inner Rings. The most straightforward way to move Rings is to hit staggered enemies, which pushes them to an outer ring and you to an inner one. This movement amongst the rings can result in an enormous momentum swing. It isn’t only turn order that employs the rings — buffs and debuffs affect characters on the rings in various ways. For example, a defense buff may affect characters whose icon occupies any ring in a fan shape. Another ability, perhaps a speed debuff, might only affect the ring a character inhabits. Defeating enemies, dealing critical hits, and using skills can also drop gems onto the rings that grant boons (such as healing MP) when one of your characters passes over them. The Action Ring is a fun addition to combat that feels like an abstract replacement for character movement.
Zeal adds a further dimension to battles. As you deal and take damage, Zeal builds up. When it reaches maximum, it grants you the opportunity to activate “Overzeal.” This mode lets a character take an immediate turn, boosts their stats, and unlocks more powerful moves. One character gains an additional tier of Zeal during the story, increasing their power even further. Overzeal can save you in a pinch. Another gauge representing the energy of the hideous mascot character Halu fills as you do battle. When the gauge fills all the way, you can call him into battle for a few formidable actions.
All in all, I am pleasantly surprised by Monochrome Mobius’s combat system. If I had a gripe with it, it would be that battles become too easy if you do any side content. Without doing any side content, combat requires appropriate equipment to make the most of resistances and elemental attacks. If you do the side content you will be over-leveled enough to flatten even bosses solely with your most powerful moves.
Of course, if the side content wasn’t worth exploring, it wouldn’t matter that it makes the game too easy, but Monochrome Mobius surprised me with the quality of its quests. Many, if not most, of them take you to new areas and lead to powerful treasures, and they often give you deeper insight into the world and characters to boot.
So that’s combat and questing, but what about exploration? Monochrome Mobius has chests, materials, vistas, and super bosses hidden in every nook and cranny of its overworld and dungeons. The map marks these once you come close, so they aren’t onerous to find, but there is a simple joy in running about the lush fields and grabbing items. One thing it does lack is proper dungeon puzzles — outside of the final dungeon, where some real promise starts to show.
At this point, I sound very enthusiastic about Monochrome Mobius, but I have been focusing on its gameplay, which I maintain is fun and full of potential. Outside of gameplay, I have quite a few complaints.
Monochrome Mobius constantly attempts to make you laugh with its juvenile, crass, and sometimes creepy humour. I won’t deny it gets a handful of laughs out of me, but I often find my eyes glazing over until a significant conversation begins. I would be more forgiving of the humour not landing for me if the game didn’t have a strong “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” mentality. The number of times the punchline of a joke is “Men sure are immature” or “Women sure do have feelings” is far too many. The character designs lean into this attitude too, where many women are highly sexualized — control Shunya while you explore, and her panties are exposed almost constantly.
Graphically, Monochrome Mobius is not exactly a stunner. Textures are rough or sometimes missing (at launch, NPCs did not have faces, which has thankfully been corrected), the draw distance isn’t great, and the camera feels wonky. I played on Steam Deck and found the game needs to be locked to 30 FPS for a steady experience. Still, somehow the combat animations (and some of the cutscenes) are impressive, and Monochrome Mobius likely has the coziest mine break-room in gaming. On the other hand, I have little negative to say about the soundtrack. It does a great job of feeling exploratory, wondrous, and mysterious and always put me in the right mood to play the game.
My greatest complaint after writing and graphics is the pacing. Monochrome Mobius can slow to an excruciating crawl moments after some of its most hype-inducing events in a way that makes you wonder if those events even happened to the characters. It will also take away gameplay for far too long, which works in visual novels because you can save anywhere. But here, you have to use save points, so you may find yourself stuck in near-endless cutscenes and dialogue. Somehow, despite the deluge of cutscenes, the story ends up feeling oddly barebones and padded too. The pacing is at its best very early and at the very end, and I do think it sticks the landing.
I alluded to the fact the game has received patches earlier, and I want to end on that note. I am pleased by Aquaplus’ decision to improve this game after launch. Most importantly, there was a time when the player character’s sluggish running animation gave me motion sickness in a way no other game has, which is now fixed. Alongside this animation fix, movement speed has also increased, which makes it much more feasible to dodge monsters in the field, a requirement in any RPG with symbol encounters.
Monochrome Mobius may not be a game for everyone — or even many people. It is clearly written for Utawarerumono fans, and in changing its design philosophy from a visual novel with occasional tactical combat to a full-fledged RPG, it likely loses many of those fans as well. It also has glaring flaws in its pacing and writing and could use a graphical upgrade. But it is a solid proof of concept for what an Utawarerumono RPG could be, and I see a lot of potential in Aquaplus’ future as an RPG developer if they wish to pursue it.