Review: Monster Hunter Stories
Posted 22 Sep 2017 at 09:48 by Dean Anderson
What happens when you take an action game and turn it into an RPG? Wait, what? Mario already did it you say!? Well fine! We’re gonna do something different, we’re gonna mix our game with Pokémon! No, the result isn’t the Pocket Monster Hunter that you’ve all been asking for, but rather it’s a Pokémon esc RPG that ends up feeling a lot like Okami! Wait, what!?
Monster Hunter channels Pokémon, it’s Super Effective!
First thing’s first, a bit of background is in order I reckon. This game was intended to be Capcom’s big ploy for the kids demographic in Japan and it was treated as if it were a mainline entry in the series, with a budget to match. Joint developed by Capcom and Marvellous, Monster Hunter Stories was not a cheap little spinoff to tide people over, but rather was meant to be a big step towards broadening the demographics that the series would appeal to. With huge production values for a 3DS title, a full length tie-in anime series and even an exclusive line of amiibos, this game had big shoes to fill; but sadly, it failed to live up to Capcom’s lofty expectations in terms of sales, selling just over 300,000 copies compared to the multi-million numbers that the series was known for.
As such, it was quite a surprise when this game was chosen for localisation over the newest 3DS and Switch mainline game, Monster Hunter XX (that’s pronounced Double Cross and no, the irony is not lost on me in the slightest). You know what though? After playing through Monster Hunter Stories, I’m glad they chose this one.
Capcom might be leaving Nintendo fans in the cold when it comes to the mainline series, but this game should be given more far than a frosty reception by fans!
Now, the Monster Hunter series isn’t exactly known for its gripping stories and exquisite pathos, so it should come as no surprise to hear that the story isn’t particularly stunning here. What it IS known for however is its gripping blend of arcane systems and deliberate action, alongside a colourful cast of monsters, funny NPC dialogue and globs of eccentric charm. All of this carries over shockingly well to the RPG format, in a package that both fans of the series and kids are gonna really appreciate.
Unlike most RPGs, the world of Monster Hunter Stories feels very interactive. You can jump, climb, glide and ride across every landscape you see; in fact, the one thing that really stood out to me immediately once I left the first village was how much it resembled Okami of all things! The world design is strikingly similar, immediately bringing Shinshu Field to mind as I took to the first area on the back of my trusty Velocidrome (no, really, I swear I could hear that music playing in my head!) and while this isn’t a pure action game, world traversal very much feels like you’re playing one until you jump into battle.
Go on, admit it! You’re humming the Shinshu Field theme right now aren’t you?
The production values are immediately apparent here, with large and beautiful environments that are filled with little nooks and crannies to explore; it’s a real treat for the senses and even in the age of Switch, it still impresses mightily and stands out as one of the very best looking 3DS games of them all (and yes, it has full support for S3D, unlike a certain other monster collecting series…). Also, much like Okami, you’ll come across portions of each field area that you can’t access right away; substitute the celestial brush powers for the monsters that you find and you’re on the right lines! Each monster that you befriend comes with their own set of abilities and distinctive qualities that not only factor into battles, but also allow you to access closed off parts of the world when you come back to them later on. It’s the kind of stuff that I wish more RPGs did in general and it makes world traversal just fun in of itself; sometimes I’d find myself just heading out into the field and just exploring aimlessly, seeing what new things I could find along the way.
Oh and yes, it has towns. Lots of them in fact! Take THAT Final Fantasy!
Make no mistake though, this is a Monster Hunter game and that means that you’re gonna be doing all the things that you would expect from one, be it gathering materials, stealing monster eggs, completing quests or fighting monsters. It all feels quite familiar despite the genre shift and there are plenty of nods to the main series that will undoubtedly draw plenty of chuckles out of long time series fans (the fact that your method of fast transport is the cart that carries fallen hunters back to the camp from the main series always makes me laugh). While your next story objective is always clear, you’re free to go off and tackle any of the sidequests that appear on the quest board in each town at your own leisure; and each new area is rife with new monsters to fight, earning materials for armour and weapons in the process that play into a simplified version of the infamous Monster Hunter weapon and armour forging loop (thankfully, you only need a certain number of a monster’s materials in forging stuff, no rare drops here!).
Meanwhile, you add new monsters to your team and collection by finding monster dens out in the field and raiding the eggs inside, bringing them back to the village to hatch. This all acts to encourage you to go off the story path in a very similar fashion to Pokémon, however, the cabalistic nature of its egg hatching mechanics are likely to frustrate some players, due to the fact that monster eggs are generally found in randomly generated dens that randomly appear around the map and you often have no idea where certain monsters are likely to be found. While it’s possible to use paintballs to force certain monsters in the field to lead you to dens that are guaranteed to have their eggs, you are unlikely to be able to complete your collection without the aid of a guide; let alone perfect the art of gene splicing (yes, there are mechanics surrounding monstie genetics, yes you can breed a fire breathing Lagombi!). Though the need for an online guide is probably a familiar process for fans of the Monster Hunter series, kids are likely to get frustrated by this.
Who’s that pocket monstie? It’s… err… hang on, lemme check Kiranico…
What about the battle system though? It’s half of the RPG experience after all! Well! Like the world traversal, battles incorporate many of the series staple mechanics into a turn based battle system in a way that works surprisingly well. Your core attacks are comprised of a simple rock-paper-scissors style setup where you and your opponents select between power, speed or technical attacks; with the winning attack type gaining the upper hand over the unfortunate loser and granting kinship points for successful attacks; these can then be spent either on special moves, or saved for a devastating Kinship Attack that deals heavy damage. Each monster you encounter tends to select the attack type that you would expect if you are familiar with the main series and even have attack patterns that bear striking resemblances to their original appearances; it actually captures the experience of learning a monster’s attack pattern from the main series quite well! While you have no direct control over your monstie, you can swap them out for other party members at any time and often need to do so in order to gain an advantage in battle; making for some interesting moments where you need to manipulate your partner’s AI to your advantage. While it’s generally rather simple stuff, it’s a fun system that I never found myself getting bored with (the fact that you can speed up battle animations at any time with a simple tap of the x button also helps a lot too).
That being said, the game is generally pretty easy breezy. Though there are plenty of wrinkles that get added onto the core rock-paper-scissors gameplay, such as elemental attacks, combo moves, weather effects and rider moves (hilariously modelled after the gestures from the main series), you are rarely challenged to plumb the game’s depths in order to complete the story; as such, those looking for a challenge from the main story are likely to be left feeling cold. It is in the post-game content and, especially, the multiplayer mode however where the full extent of the battle system is allowed to truly shine. That being said, the game is generally pretty easy breezy. Though there are plenty of wrinkles that get added onto the core rock-paper-scissors gameplay, such as elemental attacks, combo moves, weather effects and rider moves (hilariously modelled after the gestures from the main series), you are rarely challenged to plumb the game’s depths in order to complete the story; as such, those looking for a challenge from the main story are likely to be left feeling cold. It is in the post-game content and, especially, the multiplayer mode however where the full extent of the battle system is allowed to truly shine.
Multiplayer battles get the Brachydios Seal of Approval
Playable with local wireless and online, the multiplayer mode is surprisingly well thought out and far from a throwaway extra. It is here that your hard work in training your team of monsties pays off as you and a foe (or friend, hopefully friend!) square off and aim to psyche each other out to claim victory. You really have to put some solid thought into what moves and monsties to use as one wrong decision can quickly snowball into a match loss; especially if you let your opponent build up their special kinship move. Item selection is limited and you even have custom rulesets that you can apply, much like Pokémon; you can even download additional custom rulesets, meaning that this game actually beat Pokémon Sun & Moon to the punch with that feature in Japan! It’s all rather great fun and well worth checking out, especially if you got a kick out of Golden Sun’s multiplayer back in the day like I did.
Naturally, the game’s soundtrack also hits all the right notes; with a sweeping orchestral score that rallies the spirit and sets the tone for adventure. Alongside some great dialogue, some genuinely charming characters, utterly adorable renditions of fan favourite monsters and a simple but sweet story, it’s filled to burst with charm. There’s a lot to love for fans and newcomers alike and it’s probably my favourite RPG on the 3DS, period. It’s just a great all round RPG, the fact that it’s a brilliant rendition of the Monster Hunter series in the RPG format is just the icing on the cake.
N-Europe Final Verdict
If your primary motivation for playing an RPG lies in a gripping tale, then this game isn’t gonna do anything for you; but if you’re in the target market for a Pokémon style RPG that features huge production values, excellent world traversal, a simple and intuitive battle system that can get surprisingly deep in multiplayer and over sixty different monsters to collect, breed and perfect in battle? Chances are that you’re gonna love this one.
A near flawless translation from action game to RPG
Fantastic visuals and production values
A meaty single player and multiplayer experience
Rathian is so squee it hurts!
Arcane monster hatching and collecting mechanics practically require a guide for 100% completion
Some minor framerate drops, even on New3DS
Low difficulty… at least until you finish the story