It’s been a little over a year since I took my first real step into the Monster Hunter series when I reviewed Monster Hunter Generations. I did have a few issues while playing it but chalked most of them up to my inexperience with the series. Today I have a chance to redeem myself a bit as I’m once again diving head first into the world of Monster Hunter, though this time around things are a little bit different. Instead of the real-time monster hunting of the past games, we now have more of a traditional RPG-style of gameplay. Let’s take a look at Monster Hunter Stories to see how that change turned out.
Monster Hunter Stories starts out with your character and your friends finding a monster egg and pretending to be Riders, people who can befriend monsters and ride them into battles against other monsters. During a mock ritual by one of your friends, the egg you found ends up hatching and bonds with you, even though you’re not a Rider yet. After some time has passed you begin your journey to become a Rider with the monster you found a year prior. In addition, a threat known as the Dark Blight begins infecting the land nearby which results in aggressive monster attacks. Your goal is to find out what’s going on with the Dark Blight and become a full-fledged Rider while doing so.
The first thing that Monster Hunter veterans will notice is that Monster Hunter Stories plays quite a bit differently than previous entries in the series. You’ll still be going around and hunting down monsters, but instead of just attacking away as in previous games, now everything is done in a more traditional RPG-style. At any one time you’ll have your main story quests that you’ll be working on to progress the game, but there’s also over two hundred sub-quests that you can take on throughout the game by checking either a quest board or from the occasional person that needs something done such as finding a specific type of monster egg or catching bugs. Though not required, doing the sub-quests does make the game flow a bit more smoothly…if not too smoothly at times, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Battles are now turn-based where you can choose to attack, use items, swap out monsties (this game’s term for the monsters you befriend, a mixture of “monster” and “bestie”), and so on. However, you don’t have any choice as to what type of attack your monstie will do, though you can choose to have it use a skill instead. Instead of choosing a particular attack, you have three choices for types of attacks: power, speed, and technical. Some of the time the choice of attack type doesn’t really matter unless a monster is specifically targeting you, shown by a red line between you and the opposing monster once you’ve selected it. When you attack in that situation you go into a head-to-head battle, and that’s where the attack type plays an important role. The three attack types work like Rock-Paper-Scissors: power beats technical, technical beats speed, and speed beats power.
If you win a head-to-head battle you’ll deal more damage to the opposing monster and it’ll deal less damage to you. The reverse is also true; losing a head-to-head battle will cause you to take more damage and you’ll deal out less. If you both chose the same attack, you’ll just deal normal damage to each other. I kind of like this way of doing battles, but on that same token it can also be a bit annoying. Early on monsters will do the same types of attacks unless they’re using special abilities, so once you know what kinds of attacks they’ll do you can always counter with that same attack, and if you and your monstie use that same attack type you might join up for a dual attack to deal out more damage. The downside is that later on monsters can deal attacks of different types and you really don’t know which one they’ll use so it’s more of a guessing game and hoping you’ll get it right. Aside from being temporarily downed if you lose in three head-to-head battles, you’ll also notice hearts on the bottom of the screen. When you or your monstie’s HP hits zero, you’ll get back up at the cost of a heart. Once all three hearts are gone you’ll get a Game Over and go back to the start of the current map.
You can ride your monstie around outside of battle to travel the world a little faster, but you can also ride him in battle. As you make successful attacks a kinship gauge will start filling up (the gauge will decrease as you use skills). Once it’s full you can ride your monstie to deal out additional damage and unleash a special attack to deal out even more damage depending on the level of the gauge (up to a max of 3). Other ways of dealing additional damage come in the form of combos. Unlike past games there are only four weapon types: great sword, sword and shield, Hunting Horn, and Hammer. However, each weapon type has three different combos you can use when choosing certain attack types for three straight turns (except the hunting horn which uses melodies instead of combos).
Aside from doing the various quests you’ll still travel around the world, fight monsters, and gather and combine resources. You’ll also be able to check out monster dens which are placed randomly on the map each time you enter an area. Going through these will allow you to fight monsters and eventually reach an egg nest where you can pick up a monster egg and, upon successfully walking out of the nest with it, take it back to town where you can hatch it to give you a new monster you can use in your party. While battles are always you and one monstie, you can take up to five with you to swap out between battles as various monsters can have special abilities such as jumping across gaps, foraging, and smashing certain rocks. When hatching an egg it’ll also gain a few attributes such as increased attack or HP, so you could have three or four of the same monster-type but they’ll have different stats when hatched, similar to Pokemon in a way. You’ll also soon begin to battle other riders as well as just monsters. While monsters can attack anything, a rider can only physically attack a monster and can’t specifically target another rider.
The Monster Hunter series has a very devoted fan base and I began wondering how they would respond to Stories as it’s a bit of a departure from the main entries in the series. Honestly as someone who is terrible at the main series, I enjoyed Stories, but it can also be a bit too easy at times. As mentioned above I did just about every side quest that became available to me to get some extra materials for combining into various items and upgrading my weapons and armor, as well as some extra experience for myself and my monsties. That made a lot of the early game somewhat trivial. There were times I went into a boss fight completely forgetting that my HP was somewhat low, but really had no issues taking down the boss. It wasn’t until several hours into the game where that came back to bite me in the rear and I finally had a Game Over. That being said, the entire game isn’t a cakewalk. You can’t control what your monstie does in battle outside of using skills and often times it’ll use the same type of attack multiple times, even when you know a couple of turns in what type of attack the opponent will use.
Overall, Monster Hunter Stories is a great addition to the series, though I still wonder how long-time fans of the series will take it. I liken it to the Mega Man Battle Network series; it’s a radical departure from the classic platformers, but still enjoyable. That’s how I see Monster Hunter Stories; more of a spinoff than a main entry. Younger players who have trouble with the main series will definitely find Stories quite simpler, though it has a few minor issues. At times the game feels too easy as for the better part of the early game I just tore through monsters without any regard to my HP, but the head-to-head battles can be more about luck at times than strategy once you hit the later parts of the game. Still, I think if fans of the series remember that this is more of a spin off than a traditional Monster Hunter game, they’ll still find it enjoyable, if not a little on the simple side.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.