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Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin

Written by Eric Hauter on 7/7/2021 for SWI  
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The world-building in the Monster Hunter series has always been amusing and weird. Franchise veterans know what to expect from a Monster Hunter game, but the tone of the games is difficult to describe to newcomers, falling somewhere between high fantasy and goofy farce. You usually have some world-ending apocalypse you are battling against, but your food is cooked by a gang of dancing cats. There is a lot of very serious drama, and a lot of very seriously bad puns.

Translating a beloved franchise to a new genre is a tall order. The strange combo of action and weirdness in Monster Hunter works wells in an action-adventure game, but that’s because you spend most of your time buried in extensive monster fights. The cat jokes are the seasoning on a delicious meal of Anjanath fights. But when you take the story and put it front and center in a fairly lengthy JRPG, and go extra hard on the “Paw-some” cat puns, can that world really stand up under such extended scrutiny?

I never got around to playing the original Monster Hunter Stories, the RPG spinoff of the main series that made its way to the Nintendo 3DS. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin. I guess I figured that this would be an anime-style story set in the Monster Hunter world, with a lot more narrative than one would find in one of the mainline Monster Hunter games. And that’s precisely what Monster Hunter Stories 2 is, but the opening of the game moves so slowly that it took me a long time to decide whether I liked it or not.

In fact, I spent a lot of my time with Monster Hunter Stories 2 asking myself whether or not I was enjoying what I was doing. It wasn’t like I was having a bad time. I was content to zone out to the game for hours on end, fighting battles and going through the motions without a lot of thought or investment. Much of the early game seems to be filler content, with lengthy battles that aren’t particularly difficult, and giant swaths of time would go by between moments that made me perk up and pay attention.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 gets off to a slow start, and it stays slow for a very long time. The player character starts on a small island, taking on small quests and proving their worth as a “Rider”, a special sort of monster trainer that raises monsters from birth and trains them as a sort of Pokemon-style battle partner. These “Monsties” are ever present in the game, accompanying the player to and fro across the world as they go about trying to figure out why a strange red mist is causing monsters to behave with increased hostility towards humans.

This plot point is actually pretty funny, as characters are constantly exclaiming how odd it is that the red-mist-infected monsters are attacking, when literally every other monster you encounter out in the wild instantly rushes to attack you on sight. The lead character slaughters thousands of monsters as the game progresses (and freely steals their offspring) in what is clearly a hate/hate relationship, yet everyone is shocked when red mist-infected monsters savagely attack. It's one of the weirder aspects of Monster Hunter Stories 2, right up there with the lead characters' proclivity towards touching strangers' faces when meeting new people.

While the moment-to-moment story-telling isn’t unpleasant (and some of the animated sequences are downright stellar), the resulting quest loop doesn’t really engage the player. The player character bounces from town to town, constantly having to prove their competence as a rider by doing a series of fetch quests. The loop in Monster Hunter Stories 2 becomes apparent quickly, as each quest sends the player out into very similar environments to fetch this or that, which basically means “go to a place and wander until a boss monster attacks you, then beat it up.” It isn’t until maybe 25 hours in that the story really starts picking up steam and I found myself suddenly interested in what was going to happen.

There is a lot of repetition going on in Monster Hunter Stories 2, with endless dives into cookie-cutter monster dens to steal eggs, and lots of unwanted , kind-of-avoidable-but-not-always monster battles that take far too long to complete. When you are battling a monster in a mainline Monster Hunter game, you don’t mind that the battle is long and difficult; that’s the thrill of the game. But in Monster Hunter Stories, every battle seems to take an extended amount of time, and selecting commands from a menu system isn’t nearly as exciting as whirling and dodging around in the main series. The battles are rarely difficult; they are instead long and protracted. Before long, I was actively avoiding trash mobs and beelining to my quest objectives.

Beyond the battles, there are a lot of mechanics that never quite seem to coalesce into anything meaningful. You can spend a lot of time grinding and searching for materials to build cool weapons and armor, but the elemental aspects of these equipment pieces never seem to materialize in any interesting ways in battle. Damage numbers may increase a bit, but you can’t really see any impact when you hit an ice monster with a fire weapon. It’s not like you see a burst of flame from your weapon or anything, and crits just show up as a higher damage number with the word “Critical” next to them. And though you can break parts off of monsters you are doing battle with, it was never clear to me whether those actual pieces were reflected in the loot I was granted at the battle’s end.

To round out your party, you and your Monstie are often accompanied by AI companions (who often have Monsties of their own). These characters assist in battle, doling out buffs and heals for the party, but are just unreliable enough to force you to keep an eye on them. These extra characters will often save your bacon when you are hovering near death, only to turn around and let themselves be destroyed when a simple potion would have saved them.

Battles follow a rock/paper/scissors pattern, with three types of attacks. Figuring out what type of attack an opposing monster uses and countering correctly allows the player an edge in battle. But even when you are traveling with a party of four, you only select battle actions for the player character; your Monstie and other party members are on auto-pilot, and the AI behind them is somewhat sketchy. Even after a monster has clearly been focused on one type of attack for several turns, your dummy AI buddies will counter with the wrong attack, and there is nothing you can do about it.

The Monsties themselves often save the battle system from being a complete bust. You have a stable of five or six Monsties with you at all times, and you can switch out battle partners at will. Certain Monsties work better than others in some situations; bringing your ice-shark to the desert to do battle against fire monsters is a very good idea. As you fight, you slowly build up a “Kinship” meter. When full, you can unleash spectacular Kinship attacks, which are reveal some of the best, most exciting animation in the game. I made a habit of taking each Monstie I found into the field at least one time, just so I could check out each amazing Kinship sequence.

I enjoyed building up my Monsties into powerhouses; a fun little system allows you to sacrifice weaker Monsties to pass their best traits onto your favorites. And I appreciated that XP was shared among all of the Monsties you were dragging along with you, and some rubberbanding XP distribution allows your newborns to quickly catch up with the rest of the gang. Though I grew to despise going into a monster den to retrieve eggs to hatch because it was always the same, the actual act of hatching those eggs to see what I got never failed to make me excited.

Graphically, Monster Hunter Stories 2 is a mixed bag. The battle sequences are very nice looking, as the game is basically playing a lot of pre-rendered sequences – similar to summons in Final Fantasy games. Towns look good, and are fun to explore for a few minutes, though they all contain pretty much the same stuff. But wandering the world feels pretty rough, as the framerate bogs down even though there is not a lot to see. Unlike the mainline Monster Hunter titles, Stories 2’s zones feel devoid of life, with monsters gathered together in little clusters and lots of material pickups dotting the land. There isn’t much motivation to explore, because after an hour or two, you will have seen it all.

Monster Hunter fans will likely enjoy the similarities to the mainline titles, but newcomers may find themselves bewildered by some to the franchise’s conventions. Just like the mainline titles, Monster Hunter Stories 2 never fails to bloat the player’s inventory with mountains of stuff, with very little explanation of what any of it is for. Tutorials for the various mechanics are sparse; there are full-fledged features in the game that players will never notice unless they go spelunking into Stories 2’s various menus.

And anyone attempting to complete Monster Hunter Stories 2’s plentiful side quests is on a fool’s errand; they are given from a quest board, and are best left in the “check to see if I happened to do any of them when I roll into town” category. It’s no big deal, the rewards are just a little boost of XP, a bit of cash, and more items to heap into your inventory. Like the treasure chests that dot the landscape - providing little of interest or value worth diverting your attention toward - the side quests can be pretty much sidelined, or at least delayed for some late-game mop-up.

There are some extensive multiplayer features hiding in Monster Hunter Stories 2, as well. Dig into the quest board, and you will quickly find that you can team up with friends for some specific monster hunts. Due to the timing of our review period, I was unable to find anyone to play with, but Stories 2 provided me with some AI companions, which was welcome.

So where did I land on Monster Hunter Stories 2? I’m griping a lot, but I guess I liked it, in a detached sort of way. Once I lowered my expectations, I spent a lot of hours on autopilot, just bouncing through the story and enjoying the battle animations. And the meandering narrative does eventually coalesce into something I was interested in seeing through. But for much of the game, the many systems never quite seem to coalesce into a fully realized game. I could see the outline of the Monstie Capcom was building here, but the DNA pieces never quite lined up to create a lasting impression.

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is a mixed bag. Hatching and maxing out your Monsties is a lot of fun, but the battle system in which you spend most of your time eventually wears out its welcome. While the story becomes interesting in the late game, it takes a long time to get there, with extended periods spent wandering from quest point to quest point on autopilot. There are a lot of systems at play here, but they don't always gel into a compelling game.

Rating: 7 Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Stadia, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, and a super sweet gaming PC built by Joh Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

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