Towards the end of the 3DS’ lifespan, we got this interesting little game called Monster Hunter Stories. It completely changed the gameplay you would usually expect from the series to that of a turn-based Pokémon-style game. Now I don’t know if it was due to the late release and the Switch having just come out, but you never really hear about this game nowadays and although I am familiar with it myself due to having watched the terrible anime adaptation – Stories 2 would be my starting point, as I imagine it is going to be for most.
Alright so let’s start with arguably the biggest draw for this game – its turn-based combat. Gone is the fast-paced action of your regular Monster Hunter games and now we got something more akin to Pokémon – and yes, that’s a comparison you are going to see a lot with regards to this game, but it really fits (although Digimon might actually be closer).
It plays in rock-paper-scissors fashion, where you get your speed, power, and technical attacks and each has a good and bad matchup. That’s just the base though – then you got an entire skill system, duo attacks, ride on attacks, status effects, items, battle partners, weapon types and matchups, and that’s before you even get into monster traits and genetics. It is a ridiculously in-depth game for what appears to be just a cartoony take on Monster Hunter and honestly, it’s really refreshing given the more simplistic approach that the recent Pokémon games have been going.
And it is because of this depth that the combat never really gets old. You’re always uncovering new monsters, new matchups, new partners, new weapons, and even new mechanics. The progression is solid and leaves a lot of room for experimentation – a definite plus for those that like to min-max. This is perhaps most evident in the monster breeding and Rite of Channeling mechanics.
To get a new monster, you simply waltz into a den and find the nest containing eggs. To get a good one though, you’ll want to find rare dens with heavier and smellier eggs, hatching monsters with slightly better stats. These monsters can then have their genetics shuffled around through the Rite of Channeling, which basically plays like a bingo minigame where certain stats and types grant higher damage output if put in a row.
It’s a little puzzle within itself, but again, a solid mechanic that just goes to show the lengths the devs went to to give the game a real sense of depth. Even if you’re into the more casual side of things though, it’s still a great time. The gameplay is paced well enough that you don’t really need to grind, but it does this without being stupid easy either. Monsters that hatch at level 1 catch up quickly to the rest of your party, for example, but boss fights still pose a decent challenge and you’ll occasionally run into that random monster that just gets the luckiest hits and wipes you out.
If you do completely die, the game is not too punishing there – just setting you back to the start of the area you were in or the last headquarters you were at. I believe it strikes a nice balance there with its difficulty, but some might find it too easy if they do a lot of min-maxing – it’s a trade-off of sorts.
And on the topic of trade-offs, I think the gameplay loop can be described as such. By that, I mean that, while the combat is good, the gameplay in-between is more just mediocre. It’s mostly a series of “go here, kill this, talk to this person” and so on quests and they get even worse once you start doing all the side quests.
On one hand, it does a good job stringing together the story and steadily introducing you to all of the core mechanics, but on the other, it is a bit disappointing that there wasn’t as much variety with the different missions and all – especially when you consider the depth of the actual combat, it’s a bit of a stark contrast.
Similar things can be said about the level design. The overall game world and different towns, cities, and such? Solid. The monster dens and other areas where you actually spend most of your time? Not so much. It wasn’t even three hours into the game before I started noticing repeat monster den patterns, which might not be a problem for many, but I found to be a bit of a shame – I like some variety with my level layouts.
Then you have the graphics and music, which basically have no faults. Like, this isn’t a game that’s gonna be setting any records for graphics or anything, but it’s a nice art style and everything within it just kinda works. There’s smooth animation, tons of color, cool monster designs – it really gives the game world this sense of adventure and even gave me some Wind Waker vibes. The music too. You know you’re in for a good soundtrack when the first village theme slaps as hard as this one does.
And given that this game is called Monster Hunter STORIES, I ought to mention the story. Despite the title, I found the story to actually be kinda weak. I mean yeah, there is a story here that isn’t just some slapped on thing like in other Monster Hunter games, but even with all the cutscenes, dialogue, and characters – it’s just some basic tale of friendship and adventure. I’m not saying it’s bad, just average – and maybe that’s all this game needs (Monster Hunter games have always been carried by their gameplay anyways).
Still it was better than having no story at all. There was some decent comedy, a couple touching moments, and the English voice acting wasn’t that bad either (well, aside from one really annoying companion character). Pacing-wise, it is incredibly slow to get going and the beginning feels stretched out to accommodate for the tutorial stuff. It gets faster later on, but don’t expect the story to really go anywhere during the first two areas or so – this is a roughly 30-40 hour game after all.
And despite being the second game in the series, it does not seem to require knowledge from the first. I haven’t played the first and had no problem keeping up here. Sure, I probably missed some references, but the writers definitely did their part in making it accessible to newcomers and I am grateful for it.
Alright, now the port. This was one of the main reasons I was excited for the game – given that it hardly runs at 30 fps on the Switch and the graphics aren’t really done justice there. On PC it is the complete opposite. I’m still on that 1070 TI and had absolutely no issues running the game at 1440p with maxed out settings and fps hovering between 100 and 144. It hardly ever dipped below that and the game looks amazing as a result.
It’s a polished experience too and I don’t recall running into any serious bugs or any other such technical issues outside of the occasional model clipping. Controls feel fine on a controller and are fully rebindable. Keyboard and mouse is actually not bad either. It is also fully rebindable, but default layout felt fine during my time testing it. A solid port all around and hopefully a sample of what we can expect from the upcoming Monster Hunter Rise PC release.
For being such a drastic shift from the Monster Hunter norm, Stories 2 is a surprisingly fleshed-out experience. Fun combat, tons of customization, great graphics and music – it’s just an all-around good game and the perfect JRPG to kick back and play in smaller chunks. It may not have the best story (ironic given its name), but I definitely enjoyed my time with it and would recommend it to other JRPG fans – whether you’re into Monster Hunter or not.
Quote: For being such a drastic shift from the series norm, Stories 2 is a surprisingly fleshed-out experience. Fun combat, tons of customization, great graphics/music – it’s just an all-around good JRPG
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin retails for $60 USD on Steam, but you can get an official Steam key for 10% off using my Gamesplanet partner link. This also applies to the deluxe edition. Monster Hunter Stories 2 is also available on Switch.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.