I’ve tried a couple of Monster Hunter titles, including the mega-hit World which opened the game to a whole new audience. However, I’ve never really clicked with the titles in the past, finding them lacking direction and boasting an overwhelming number of combat mechanics.
Now, having played the Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin trial on the Switch over the past few days, I’ve potentially found my style of Monster Hunter game.
Upon starting the trial I was immediately impressed with the opening song, sung by the inhabitants of Mahana in the Hakolo Islands. Introducing a world where Guardian Ratha has disappeared, the song sets you up for a Monster Hunter adventure driven by a story where you control a Rider, not just a Hunter with the sole desire to take down ever larger beasts.
If you’re accustomed to hunting antics of the mainline games, you might well bounce off Stories which has a distinct pace, epitomised by turn-based battles. For me, Stories has already proven to be a thoroughly enjoyable JRPG, and one that I have connected with in a way which I was never able to with Xenoblade Chronicles.
After the opening song and other introductory story elements, you can take your rider beyond the villages walls in the company of an older Rider who will show you the ropes. The trial features a small open world area complete with roaming monsters and a number of dungeons from which you can steal eggs. Your cat friend Navirou (complete with a very annoying voice over) will advise on the quality or rarity of the egg, and once you’ve chosen one you bring it back to the village for hatching into your very own Monstie.
It’s all very Pokemon-esque as you choose a Monstie to ride with in the open world, along with a squad to support you in battle. While the extent to which you bond with a train your Monstie outside of combat is limited, you do have influence over their genes and therefore their associated skills and special moves.
Taking your Monsties into battle is where the fun lies. Combat at first seemed fairly shallow; my experience with early enemy monsters limited to choosing an attack type (Power, Speed or Technical in a rock, paper, scissors arrangement) and waiting until the foe fell. It was when I came across the T-Rex styled Anjanath at the end of the trial that I understood how the battle mechanics hang together.
For more experienced Hunters the turn-based combat might not at its heart be too different from that of the mainline games. It is those moments where you learn the enemy weaknesses to slash/bash/ranged attacks and start to gear-up accordingly that are most rewarding. For me, while I fell to a crushing defeat to the Anjanath, I learnt so much from that fight. Returning to the village to sell spare trinkets and use my various horded monster parts to forge and upgrade gear, I also paid better attention to the strengths and weaknesses of the Monsties I was taking into battle.
Understanding how combat works is so important to a game like this, and in Stories I felt that I was in a decent position to learn the ropes without feeling entirely out of my depth. Ally the combat to a cute, yet restrained art style and a prospect of a globe trotting story and you have the core components of a very good game.
Will everything hold up over the course of a full playthrough? I can’t be sure, but the signs are definitely positive.
Monster Hunter Stories is out 9th July on Switch and PC.