Some games, like roguelikes, are desserts. You can have a short, sweet bite and get on with your day (though, in all likelihood, you’re going to binge it far past what is sensible). Some games are full meals; some AAA 60+ hour games are a full nine courses, even. And then you have games like Monorail Stories, which I like to think of as the perfect snack — short, deeply satisfying, and pleasing enough to have you coming back for more without needing to consume the entire thing in one go.
Monorail Stories has you control Sylvie and Amahl, two commuters on two separate monorails, one which goes from Island M to Island L and one which returns from there. Sylvie and Amahl never meet each other, but they do asynchronously share a train car, and many of the commuters who show up on one train will also appear on the other.
Over the course of a week, you get to know your fellow commuters through short (and fully voiced!) interactions, going on minor, mundane quests like finding your scarf or helping an old lady find her cat. Though the interactions with the people on the monorail are short, you get a real sense of community from the people aboard. Part of this is the repetition of the game — with a few minor exceptions, you spend the entire game running up and down the same train cars, running into the same faces.
You may find yourself surprised by how much you come to care for these people — or, at least, come to be reassured by their familiarity. It’s a strange little family of tired people caught in a mundane liminal space — everyone has their own lives, their own struggles, but a long commute is something they all share in. You only scratch the surface of who they are – something that’s also true of the protagonists – but you get a real sense of what they’re about. Every person on the train has a unique feel to them.
The gameplay is deceptively simple. The challenges are not too difficult to solve, and though you have what seem to be very few options that affect the story, there are some major differences in the endings you can achieve all the same. While I’m a sucker for RPGs with a dozen branching dialogue options in every exchange, I appreciate the simplicity of the writing here — you’re not playing a version of yourself, you’re living the lives of Amahl and Sylvie. You don’t get to change who they are…just nudge their attitude a little. There’s a system of positive and negative reactions you can get from people, and it is charming how easy it is to just be kind.
Even the worldbuilding is a relatively simple affair — you get glimpses of the world beyond the monorail, strange and vibrant flying machines right outside the window, newspapers you can find that speak to the political situation in broad strokes. It’s a sci-fi setting, technically, but the feel of it is still grounded in the feeling of a mundane travel experience, and that’s the game’s biggest charm. You almost start to regret it when the game’s characters get drawn into a larger plot.
The voice acting — for Sylvie, especially — is top notch, very personable. There’s a lot of life breathed into the dialogue, which does a lot to endear you towards the characters. The music is a soothing lo-fi that makes walking up and down the monorail an almost meditative experience. If the game has one flaw, it’s that the reasoning behind less-than-perfect endings can feel a little opaque. I got what I feel was half of a good ending, and I’m not entirely sure what I did wrong.
That being said, there is enough variation in the game to be had to encourage replays — especially for a game that can easily be finished in two hours. On top of that, the multiplayer mode makes this even more of a snack-sized game — you and a friend can take control of either Amahl or Sylvie, and play a correspondence game of sorts, passing the game’s story between the two of you, only seeing one side of the story, to enjoy discussing it after.
What excites me most about this is that Monorail Stories is not just a complete game in and of itself — the developers have spoken of adding more stories down the line if you’ll excuse the pun. Monorail Stories has a wonderful format, and I am deeply excited for future stories to come. Rarely have I played a game that satisfied me with this much ease — and I’m more than happy to keep coming back.