The Monster Hunter series has become known for its emphasis on lengthy, challenging battles against enormous monsters, often with a steep learning curve. It is this reputation that has deterred some players from getting involved with the series, despite offering hugely rewarding payoffs. Capcom seems to want to remedy this issue with the latest JRPG spin-off, Monster Hunter Stories. As the name suggests, this instalment is story-driven, featuring turn-based combat, Pokémon-esque monster collecting and a more colourful world to explore. Whether you are a Monster Hunter veteran or a newbie to RPGs, Stories has a lot to offer and is a pleasure to play.
First and foremost, it must be said how beautiful this game looks. The art style looks fantastic on the 3DS and really brings the world to life. Unlike previous instalments, Stories opts for a more cartoony aesthetic and this really works in the game’s favour. Every location is brimming with colour, the character/monster models are full of detail and everything is well-animated. Stories also features some of the nicest looking cutscenes I have seen from the system. It is a huge shame, therefore, that the game is plagued with performance issues (particularly on older hardware). Characters frequently pop-in whilst in towns and older 3DS users will notice significant frame drops. This is not so much as an issue for New 3DS owners, even running at 60fps in some enclosed areas, but is still worth noting.
Why A Silent Protagonist?
The story is, for the most part, well told and whilst it may not have the most original narrative, the vibrant characters keep things appealing. Navirou, your Felyne companion, is particularly good, often making quips or puns that offer a decent laugh. This light-hearted approach gels nicely with the art style and is the right direction for this spin-off. You take the role of a customisable avatar and aside from a few nods or facial expressions, you let Navirou do the talking. It is unclear as to why the avatar remains silent (as the language spoken in the game is a mixture of Japanese phrases and gibberish) and would have only required two extra voice actors. It is not a significant issue but some may be off put by the silent protagonist.
Ahoy, Turn-Based Combat
As stated, Stories uses a turn-based combat system that revolves around a rock-paper-scissors style triangle in which Power trumps Technique, Technique trumps Speed and Speed trumps Power. On face value, the combat may not seem to have much depth but once you start collecting new skills (some that align with Power, Technique of Speed) and monsters, it reveals a fun and hugely satisfying battle system. Your monsters (or Monsties as they are called) can be switched mid-battle to give you an advantage over the enemies, as each monster has their own tendencies on the attack triangle.
Alongside these tendencies, each monster has their own elemental strengths and weakness that must be taken into consideration. What may seem odd to Pokémon fans is that you do not control your Monsties directly, they choose their own moves. However, you can order them to do skills at the expense of your kinship gauge (a bar that fills up as you battle, more so if you cooperate with your Monsties well).
The attack triangle really comes into play when the player engages in Head-to-Head attacks, where you or your Monstie directly engage with your enemy. Knowing your opponent’s tendencies aids in winning these attacks, for example, attacking a Barroth (whose tendency is Speed) with a Technique attack will be more likely to succeed. That said, monsters can switch up their attacks and will not simply follow their tendency blindly. It is up to the player, therefore, to analyse the monsters and their patterns to ensure they succeed in Head-to-Head battles.
Winning in these battles will result in more damage and will help fill the kinship gauge. This gauge can also be filled by Double Attacks (where you and your Monstie combine your attack power by attacking the same monster against their respective triangle weakness). Once you have filled the meter, you are able to ride your monster and unleash devastating moves on your enemies, once again made more powerful by winning Head-to-Head attacks. It is safe to say that the combat system is full of variety and should keep most entertained throughout the journey.
Exploring The World
Stories features many familiar elements from previous Monster Hunter titles including monster varieties, the combination system and sound effects. It is a wonderful way of allowing the game to stand on its own two feet whilst staying true to its roots. This time around the areas you visit are more open to exploration with obstacles that can only be overcome with certain monster skills, for instance, the Velocidrome can jump over wide spaces, allowing you to find secrets in otherwise inaccessible places. Exploring these vast areas is a blast and there is an undeniable charm to discovering new locations and monster dens (where you can find eggs that hatch into your Monstie collection).
Monster Hunter Stories is a fantastic experience that successfully incorporates the world of Monster Hunter into a JRPG without relying upon it too heavily.
If you are still on the fence about purchasing Stories, I heartily recommend the very generous demo available on the 3DS eShop, which allows you to play a majority of the opening area (as well as allowing you to transfer your progress to the game if you should choose to buy it). Despite some performance issues, Stories is great fun and can be enjoyed by long-term fans and newcomers alike.