Games Business

Monolith Soft Review: Are Monolith Soft Games Any Good?

Photograph of the blog post author, Sam Jones

Sam Jones

9.7.2021

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Monolith Soft is one of Nintendo’s most celebrated first-party game development studios. However, you may have heard of them in a not so positive light. The studio had a very bumpy history before it became the respectable name it is today. In this review, we will tell you who Monolith Soft are and what games they have developed. 

monolith soft

You might recognise Monolith Soft as one of Japan’s best game developers. Alternatively, you might recognise them as the developers of the not so successful “Xenosaga”. The studio’s early life was not one of roaring success. Despite their original and outstanding ideas, their execution was far from perfect. Nonetheless, Monolith Soft has risen from the ashes of its past and stated its claim as a formidable games studio. 

We will talk about their controversial history and the source of their downfall. Their journey to success was long, facing many challenges. Still, they endured and their hard work has gained them worldwide recognition. Their story of becoming one of Nintendo’s best game developers from a failed studio is remarkable. 

Who Is Monolith Soft?

Monolith Soft is one of Nintendo’s most original game development studios known for its Eastern RPGs. 

Even though the studio now holds that reputation, it was once tarnished to the point of humiliation. Their history is extensive but interesting and worth learning about. We will now take a look at a brief history of Monolith Soft.  

Tetsuya Takahashi and Masaya Nakamura were games developers for Square Co. working on the likes of Final Fantasy. After a proposal for Final Fantasy VII from him and his wife, Kaori Tanaka, was labelled as too dark, they were given the freedom to develop their ideas into a new game in itself. This was the birth of Xenogears. However, due to Square’s lack of support in the game, they decided to leave the company taking several developers with them and form Monolith Soft in 1999. 

Now a subsidiary of Namco, they started working on Xenosaga as they couldn’t acquire the rights to Xenogears. The games were unfortunately received badly, and the series was cancelled. However, simultaneously they had worked closely with Nintendo on the GameCube’s Baten Kaitos prequel. This created a positive relationship between the two and resulted in Nintendo buying 80% of their shares in 2007. 

What Does Monolith Soft Do?

Animal Crossing, one of Monolith Soft's flagship titles.

Now we’ve discussed Monolith Soft’s rocky past, let’s take a look at what they currently do. 

Since 2019, Monolith Soft operates from 4 studios, developing the majority of its games for Nintendo. Two are located in Tokyo, one in Shinagawa and the final one in Kyoto. Nintendo recognised the creativity and originality of the studio’s games, and bought them out. This creative freedom was what Monolith Soft lacked in the past and the reason they have now become so successful.

The studio themselves support a comfortable working environment with no overtime, unlike most Japanese studios. Their drive for creative freedom means they support young developers and designers with innovative ideas. They give these young developers a chance to make a name for themselves within the industry. They also have a considerably higher number of women working for them compared to most Japanese game developers. Their focus on creativity, supporting young developers, and being inclusive makes them one of Japan’s best companies for working ethics. 

They now have a focus on developing role-playing games for a worldwide audience. One of the factors that also boosts their creativity is the fact they do not keep development in-house. They also freely assign staff depending on how the production process is going. Even though this might not be the most efficient method, it has led to much of their success. Their focus is less on budget and logistics and more on developing original games to their highest possible standard. 

What Games Has Monolith Soft Made?

So after their failed attempts, what Monolith Soft video games have been successful?

Xeno Series 

Xenoblade Chronicles, one of Monolith Soft's flagship titles.

Both the Xenogears and Xenosaga franchises were intended to be 6 parts. After their failure, however, Takahashi didn’t give up on his dreams. Now under the wing of Nintendo, Monolith Soft started development on the Xenoblade series for Nintendo Wii in 2010. Now with the freedom to work as they like, the first Xenoblade Chronicles game was a success. The game saw universal acclaim with near-perfect scores from all gaming websites. 

The game is an RPG that features an open world for players to explore. With the success of the original release, 3 more main tiles followed. Xenoblade Chronicles X was the second release in 2015 for the Wii U. Finally the third main release was for Nintendo Switch with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in 2017. However, there have also been 3 additions to the original games. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition released last year, as a rerelease for the Ninendo Switch 

The plot of the Xenoblade universe starts with a battle between two formidable beings called Bionis and Mechonis. The two battle to their deaths and their corpses become the cradle for life. From Bionis formed biological life and Mechonis mechanical life. The main story centres around a biological species called Homs and their fight against Mechon, a mechanical species. 

Legend Of Zelda 

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, one of Monolith Soft's flagship titles.

In 2017 Nintendo announced that Monolith Soft had been helping them develop the new Legend Of Zelda game. Not any old Zelda game, however, but The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. This game has now become one of the most successful game titles in history. Monolith Soft has come a long way from their failed original Xeno games to helping develop this masterpiece making this a Monolith Soft new RPG compared to other releases. 

Their contributions to the game are questionable, however. Nintendo is famously secretive with their production process, so Monolith’s input was not made public. Nonetheless, comparing the game to the Xenochronical games there are some obvious similarities.  

Most notably, both use epic scenery to grab the attention of players. The designs of the worlds are unreal and take game visuals to a high level. Both games also use a similar story structure. There is an opening setup and then important chapters in the story occur when reaching key moments in the game. Side missions also generally follow the same structure of fetch, battle or discovery. One exception to this is a side mission where the player has to visit the whole world and set up a thriving town. This is very different from the side missions and is considerably lengthy. Surprise surprise, Xenoblade features a mission almost identical to this before the release of Breath Of The Wild. 

Because of all this, we are confident in saying Monolith Soft’s contributions to The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild were considerable. Without their input, the game might not have become the extreme success it is today. Clearly, they heavily determined the landscape visuals of the game – a crucial aspect. 

Animal Crossing 

Animal Crossing, one of Monolith Soft's flagship titles.

Here is another huge title that Monolith Soft helped produce. Animal Crossing: A New Horizon took over the world last year. This life simulation allowed us to live fulfilling virtual social lives when we couldn’t do so in reality. Their Kyoto branch was also used to produce both Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Animal Crossing: Happy Home Design. 

Unfortunately, there is not much additional information available on their contributions apart from what we have already included. The announcement that Monolith Soft was working on Animal Crossing came as a surprise to many. Working on such a contrasting game to their other current Xenoblade games shows the diversity and ability of the studio. 

Baten Kaitos 

Baten Kaitos, one of Monolith Soft's flagship titles.

Baten Kaitos was a GameCube cult classic. This was Monolith Soft’s first project with Nintendo before they became a subsidiary of the company. Tri-Crescendo also helped develop this role-play game. 

The story takes place on a series of islands in the sky. After the earth was devastated by gods at war, these islands are the only hospitable place left on earth. There are two games in the series, Baten Kaitos Origins and Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean. 

Even though both games were relatively well-received, the Baten Kaitos DS edition was canceled with no new announcements that the game series will continue. 

Project X Zone 

Project X Zone, one of Monolith Soft's flagship titles.

Project X is also a Monolith Soft original series that was published by Namco who owned Monolith Soft after Square Co. did but before Nintendo. The game was a follow up to the Namco x Capcom game which features characters from Namco Bandai, Capcom and Sega. 

The release saw mixed reviews but did significantly better in the West than in Japan. For the UK it was recognised as one of the 20 best games at the time as well as one of the best selling games for the 3DS in the US. There are two games in the series, Project X Zone and Project X Zone 2. 

Alternatives To Monolith Soft

Did Monolith Soft’s contributions to some of those huge titles surprise you? They have come a long way since their Xenosaga days!

Now we’re going to discuss some alternative developers to Monolith Soft and discuss their similarities and differences. 

1-Up Studio

1-Up Studio, an alternative to Monolith Soft.

Formally known as Brownie Brown Co., 1-Up Studio is another Japanese games developer that was formed in 2000. Like Monolith Soft, they are a subsidiary of Nintendo. Even more comparable to Monolith Soft, their studio was formed from ex Square Co. workers! This developer is rather similar to Monolith Soft in the type of games they develop also. Originally, their focus was also on role-play games releasing titles such as Magical Vacation for Nintendo. However, after their name change their focus has shifted to action-adventure and action-puzzle games. 

Most noticeably, 1-Up Studio has worked on numerous Mario titles. Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario Odyssey were both developed by them as well as a few others. Unsurprisingly, they worked with Monolith Soft on Animal Crossing: A New Horizon as well as The Legend Of Zelda Tri Force heroes.

Bethesda 

Bethesda Game Studios, an alternative to Monolith Soft.

Bethesda is obviously a huge name in the gaming industry with franchises like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. The reason we have included them is that Monolith Soft has commented in the past on their desire to become similar to Bethesda. 

The company claimed that Japan has lost its touch when it comes to games and they wanted to reinvent it. They desired to produce games on a similar level to Fallout but for the Wii U console at the time. With Monolith Soft’s passion for role-playing games, they clearly respect Bethesda. 

Even though the recent games from Monolith Soft aren’t particularly similar to Bethesda games, their success has boomed over the past few years. They have gained the title of a world-respected games developer

Polyphony Digital 

Polyphony Digital, an alternative to Monolith Soft.

Similar to Monolith Soft, Polyphony Digital is a first-party Japanese game developer. However, they are a subsidiary of Sony rather than Nintendo. Also, their studios have a further reach than Monoliths, having 5 studios overall in Japan, the Netherlands and the US. 

They are most famously known for developing the huge success, Gran Turismo. A racing game that simulated the real-life skills of driving. Gran Turismo has pretty much been the studios sole focus whilst working with Sony releasing 12 games within the series. Unlike Nintendo, they are encouraged to work with past successes. Nintendo let originality bloom and is the reason why so many new titles come out of the company as well as their subsidiaries. 

Now You Know Everything About Monolith Soft

That was our review of Monolith Soft. You might have only previously known about this game developer because of their unfortunate history. Maybe you were a fan of the Xenoblade chronicles Monolith is most well known for but do not know their contributions to Animal Crossing and Zelda. Either way, we hope you now recognise Monolith Soft as a well-established first-party video games developer. 

If you are wondering if there are any Monolith Soft new games in development, we’ve got some good news. It is rumoured they will be working again with Nintendo on the second edition of The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. This is due to the fact the company is greatly expanding which has been attributed to this project. However, we can’t confirm this as Monolith Soft new games can be shrouded in secrecy due to Nintendo’s being reluctant to ever release any information on upcoming games. Despite this, we have our fingers crossed! 

Monolith Soft deserves to leave their old reputation behind and get the recognition they deserve for their recent works. We can’t wait to see what they’ll be working on in the future!

If you enjoyed this article, why not check out another on our blog? To get you started, we recommend our AI In Gaming guide, What Is A Graphics Card?, and our Game Character Design Guide.

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