The catchy refrain in a song at the beginning of Monster High: New Ghoul in School declares - "We are Monsters. We are Proud.". Its words sum up the game's positive message of "who you are is more important than what you are". Soon thereafter, players are led into a character creation mode to decide the kind of pretty monster you want to be. If this seems ironic and somewhat shallow, welcome to Monster High.
Monster High: New Ghoul in School is a strange game. It's part high school simulator, part Persona 3 and 4's high school social links without the status building effects, part RPG and adventure, and part fashion extravaganza.
The fashion part to New Ghoul is not surprising, as the game is based on the Monster High dolls. The dolls are based on popular fictional monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein but re-imagined into fashionable, pretty high school girls with less to none frightful gore - unlike that of their fictional origins. Draculaura may be a vampire, for instance, but she insists that she's vegan; just as the zombie characters have no rotting flesh to show for their zombie status, other than greenish or greyish tones to their skin colour.
The fashion-centric design to the game also starts right away with a decent character creator. Players will be able to select from a variety of ghouls such as sea monsters, vampires, zombies, ghosts, dragons and others. Skin tones involve pastels, tiger stripes and a few more with odd coloured eyes to add a little monster flair. Hairstyle choices go into the double digits, then there are clothes, which start with a basic wardrobe with options to buy new outfits as the game progresses. Of course, everything is colour-coordinated, and your sense of style cannot easily be botched as everything is just so fashionable.
There are unexpected things to New Ghoul, like how it throws you into your new school life that plays like a simplified RPG adventure. A major point of the game is to be integrated as a new student at Monster High, by making friends and completing objectives through joining school clubs. Just like high school can be a trial in dealing with catty or unhelpful peers, so will your character be put through social challenges in interacting with some yawn-inducing high school stereotypes like the tough cheerleading coach or the self-serving student council president.
The game starts by meeting the school's head as an objective. It's here that New Ghoul shows the size of its environment. The school's deceptively large at the start, and navigation is done by an arrow that guides your character to her destination through the school. There's quite a bit to see, and classrooms and hallways have some character by virtue of being messy among the pastel pinks and blues of the floors and lockers. It's creepy in parts with cobwebs lining the corners of attics, or gargoyle statues in others while ghoulish school kids roam the halls - the perfect atmosphere for a school for monsters. The in-game music, while limited in what you'll hear during day hours and night hours, or with particular quests, is not bad at all with its young vibe of teenage years and edgy pop rock sounds, mixed with the creepiness of being in a monster school.
New Ghoul shows some of its flaws in navigating the school, however. As decent as the arrow guide system is, the included map itself is scant; for example rooms are not clearly marked, other than your point of interest for the objective you have to complete. It makes exploration feel restricted (though it doesn't have to be), and limits the openness of the game, making objectives a dull routine of getting from point A to point B. You can go off the beaten path and discover events waiting to be triggered by talking to people with exclamation points over their heads, but with the terrible map system the game doesn't encourage you to do so, especially when exploring the school will not reveal anything too exciting other than a secret locker code here or there. These are details you'd probably discover anyway during the course of the game while on a mandatory quest.
This routine navigation describes New Ghoul's gameplay as well. The RPG adventure element means that your character gets to complete all of these objectives as part of the clubs or talking to students with problems, which usually entails being sent on fetch quests or engaging in simple dialogue selections. Go talk to this person. Go look for secret cheerleading moves. Go get some carrots for a dynamic lunch recipe. All of these things make New Ghoul a bit tedious, which isn't surprising as these are often the worst elements to RPGs. It's a very scripted game too, though there are moments where dialogue choices allow for an illusion of freedom in what you decide you want to do and how people react to you in the moment. None of these things ultimately matter as friendships nor stats are affected; it doesn't include that level of sophistication.
It's not all bad though, as doing these fetch quests results in mini-games and puzzles which are sometimes fun. Searching for items is an exercise in pulse seeking mechanics like a metal detector. It's easy as arrows will point you in the direction but getting to higher, secret areas to find hidden items means there's some platforming to New Ghoul too. Your character can jump on bookshelves and hang from bone railings ledges like Lara Croft might. The platforming would be more exciting if your character could move faster than she does, and movement does sometimes feel sluggish. There's also the issue that, at times, your character will get stuck in weird places such as between boxes, forcing you to quit the game. Frequent autosaving is a blessing in this case, so progress won't really be lost.
The mini-games that result from all your hard work can be a little bit of a challenge, such as perfecting those cheerleading moves by doing a series of timed button presses, which gets a little harder by masking the buttons in a game of memorization. Then there's the reasoning behind each quest, in which New Ghoul has a lot of text dialogue and some spoken dialogue for fleshed out narrative threads that run the course of the game. Each day a little more story is revealed for each club or student as you meet and carry out missions, and there's one major event that plays out like a mystery. Even if the stories are tied to simple things like perfecting plant food for the Enviro Club or creating a Super Heroine for Comic Book club, these narratives give the game a level of entertainment that's not entirely mindless, at the very least. They cross clubs and involve many characters, giving the NPCs a bit of personality.
Your character does get very involved in her life at the school, and it's a nice addition to give the game some depth in that role as a high school student. It's rather unfortunate that much of the dialogue is riddled with groan-worthy puns like "defrightful" or spoken dialogues have intonation that are stereotypical, as you'd expect a vampire to speak. It's not kind on the ears (or for reading), usually. Some of the voice acting is fine, some of it's just downright awful.
New Ghoul is in touch with its modernized culture by including a menu that's connected to your character's mobile device. Text messages come in to alert you to objectives you can take on (and you can select them in whatever order you wish to do them in), messages from friends to meet up for help with will trigger new events, or messages will occur for completing events, from friends praising or discussing the cool things you did. The problem with the message system is the annoyances it will bring in alerting you. It blares at you multiple times, but the game doesn't always register that you've already read it, or will sometimes not show messages when you've already read them, so it'll alert you again.
The message system also alerts your character to items in the shop, which you buy with currency you can collect floating around the school, hitting vending machines, and completing objectives which will net you bonuses at the end of the day. These items are all for fashion, and you can buy accessories and outfits or change your hair to go to school fresh and stylish. New Ghoul never lets you forget it's based on its fashion doll brand, even though it does a lot to balance and focus on school life and your character's role in it on a daily basis.
Once your day of activities, solving problems and attending classes is complete, it's off to bed to start a new day at school where more drama unfolds in the cross-threads and stories that involve more of the same; it's rinse and repeat. It's just like daily school life, really. Routine. Interesting at times. But other than new stories to hear or mysteries to solve, it's the same old cycle.
Monster High: New Ghoul in School is a mixed bag. It's a game for a particular audience which includes some RPG adventuring and platforming elements to it, while maintaining its fashion doll sense. In a lot of ways it fails to do anything incredibly interesting, with the repetitive actions of fetch quests being one of its biggest offenders, and gameplay can become dull as it takes the most drab parts of RPGs and fits them in. The multiple narrative threads do make integration into its world fleshed out and interesting to a degree, though it should be noted once more that this would only be interesting for its specific target audience. Is it a downright terrible game? Not exactly, but it's definitely ghastly in various ways.