Developer: Capcom & Marvelous
Platform: Nintendo 3DS Family of Systems
Category: Role-Playing, Action & Adventure
Release Date: 8th of October, 2016 (JP) & 8th of September, 2017 (PAL & NA)
Since the year of 2004, a certain Capcom series has had us doing two things, slaying monsters and trapping them, but now thanks to being localised almost a year after it launched in Japan, players can now ride Monsters as well!
Monster Hunter Stories has finally made it out of Japan and while it does have a number of similarities to the series it shares a name with in part, Monster Hunter Stories is whole different kettle of fish as instead it plays the part of a spin-off game and it plays that part very well! Instead of the usual hunt, kill and change armour routine, in Monster Hunter Stories, when a Rider ventures out into the world, they can battle monsters with the monsters, aka Monsties they have already forged a bond with, or they can explore a Monster Den, snatch up an egg and forge a bond with a new one, plus a load of other stuff, which we can get to later.
Now, as someone who could never get into the Monster Hunter games, despite several efforts to do so, Monster Hunter Stories spoke to me the second I started playing the demo and in a lot of ways, reminded me a lot of the Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon games, due to the fact that all three both have a lot of the series’ core fundamentals, but combines them with a lot of new ideas and approaches that doesn’t just make the games work, but makes them work exceedingly well! What’s more, the demo which is out now, will not only teach all players the basics, but for the time you put into it, your progress will not be lost for it can be imported to the main game, which is as easy as clicking yes, when you fire the game up for the first time and it tells you save data from the demo has been found and asks you if you want to import it.
When I was asked as such, I had to take a moment to think about it, as I was intending to start over, but I had also invested 5 hours into the demo, but what’s 5 hours right? So I started a new game and I haven’t looked back since and because I done such a thing, the plot is once again fresh in my mind and it is time to share it with all of you and it starts with monsters. While there are those who hunt them, there are others who ride them and because of the difference between the Hunters and the Riders, there is no place for the Riders in the world of Hunters, so they isolate themselves so that their paths may never cross.
One particular set of Riders accomplish this isolation by living in a village by the name of Hakrum. While not everyone who dwells there is a Rider (someone who has passed the Trial to become as such and earn their Bond Stone, which allows them to bond with monsters in the first place,) there are plenty who are and some who aspire to become a Rider. One such someone is Lute, the main protagonist in this particular outing and if you hate the name and his look, it can all be changed as Lute is no more than an avatar and his appearance can be changed to suit you, as can his name, voice and sex. (Now while name, voice, gender and face can’t be altered once you’ve picked them, you can change your hair styles and colours and “make-up” in-game thanks to the Treasure Chest found in the Lute’s house.)
Still, while peace may be present, it would not always remain for one day, after a dangerous outing for Lute and his friends Cheval and Lilia, which is actually played, at night their village is attacked by a monster affected by the Black Blight and chaos ensues. While not all the destruction is seen, its effects are still noticeable as the likes of Cheval is not as friendly as he once was after losing his mother, but there’s no time to focus on that, as enough time has passed for Lute to become of age to become a Rider and once such a title is his, despite the Rider’s Code clearly stating no Rider is to ever leave their village (and the surrounding plains and areas around it,) it doesn’t stop Lute from setting off on a quest to see the world, battle the Black Blight and befriend every monster, which hatches from the eggs Lute collects.
For such a bright and colourful game, Monster Hunter Stories has plenty of dark moments and they are definitely a driving point behind the story that also doubles as a reason to keep playing, even if you had just told yourself it is time to save and quit and do something else. Although quite a few things about this game will have you doing that as well. As an open world game, Monster Hunter Stories has a lot of exploration for the players who like exploring, various items to collect and many, many reasons to keep you playing for far longer than intended.
One minute you could be standing by a Catavan Stand, ready to save your game and then quit, or hitch a ride to somewhere else you have accessed a Catavan Stand, but then out of the corner of your eye, you spot either a Monster Den, a Rare Monster Den (both of which can spawn randomly anywhere on the map,) or even just a huge monster you have yet to fight. Before you know it, all thoughts of quitting or leaving is gone and all you want to do is charge towards that which you saw, but if you are going to charge, why not do it in style? Riders don’t just bond with their Monsties, they can ride them and some Monsties can be quite the speedy companion.
Whatever it is you do find yourself hurling towards, you can expect a lot of this as Monster Hunter Stories is a very time consuming game and that’s if you just focus on the main story and levelling up your Monsties as and when you need to. The second you throw egg grinding into the mix and everything else like Sub-quests, into the mix, Monster Hunter Stories swiftly becomes a huge content packed game that players can easily spend a hundreds hours playing and you won’t need a New Nintendo 3DS, New Nintendo 2DS XL and 3DS XL to enjoy!
Up until now though, I have yet to touch on the battle system at play, so that’s actually what I’m going to write about now. Unlike previous Monster Hunter entries, Stories is a true JRPG title that utilises turn-based combat. Only instead of being a lone Hunter, or a Hunter with some Hunter friends to join him to battle the beastie before you, one of your Monsties will actually fight alongside you, but if you don’t want your beloved Riley to get hurt (yes, I named one of my Monsties Riley, deal with it,) you can always switch him out for one of the other monsters you have in your party. You won’t ever have to worry about focusing on levelling up your weakest monster to make it match the rest, as when a battle is all said and done, all monsters and you, earn shared experience.
Depending on the level you reach, you and your companions can learn useful and devastating skills to be used in battle, only don’t go expecting some straight up combat! While some attacks have elemental effects, with environments also having certain effects like being the Wintertide Tunnel being so cold, you and certain monsters can get frostbite, all battles adhere to a Weapons Triangle. (Yes, Rock-Paper-Scissors has come to play.) Only instead of being called Rock, Paper and Scissors, they’re Speed, Power and Technical with Power beating Technical, Technical beats Speed and Speed of course beats Power. If at any time in battle, one of the monsters looks gazes upon you, represented by a red line, it is crucial to make sure you choose the right attack as the right one will let you deal big damage against the beastie, whereas they win, they can hurt you, with you doing minimal damage to them.
Another reason to get it right as well as avoiding pain, is doing so helps fill the Kinship gauge sooner, which once filled, in battle can be used to let you ride your companion and fight as one. You can also go on to use a devastating Kinship skill, but be careful because if you put off using it, in favour of levelling up the Kinship gauge even further to maximise damage, you do run the risk of your opponent knocking you off and against a powerful monster that is never a good thing.
Still there’s more to just monsters and attacking that goes on in battles, there can also be Power Clashes, which is when two beasts go against the other in a contest of true power and you have to button mash to let yours be the winner, and there is even Beast Blast, which is pretty much the same thing, except you need to rotate the direction pad. But as well as fighting, you can utilise items to help seal your victory, only 10 kinds of items can be stored in your Battle Pouch, so if you require the use of a certain item like a Potion, or Liferoot, than it’s down to you to make sure you’ve got it packed. As for what happens if you fail to restore your monsters life before it dies, well you’ll lose a heart, which is the same thing that will happen if you die as well.
Now it’s all well and good losing a battle against a random monster, or just fleeing for your life, but one of the features Monster Hunter Stories has as well as amiibo support and StreetPass, is the fact you can battle other Riders (other players,) and battle the teams their able to put together and with no one wanting to lose those battles, as certain bragging rights come with them, battles can easily become all-out brawls, if you don’t enforce certain restrictions and if despite all your best efforts, find yourself losing, then there is three things you can do. The first is go to the local armoury, see the Smith and buy yourself some new armour or weapons (there are four weapon types available,) or just upgrade the ones you have using materials you earn via foraging or get by completing certain Sub-Quests.
Secondly you go after Rare Monster Dens to get some really powerful and rare Monsters and use them, like I do with my Pink Rathalan and Zamtrios named Megalodon, or you can stick to the monsters you have and use the Rite of Channelling to give them genes from another monster, in the efforts of enhancing them. The truth is, there are no bad Riders, only Riders who have yet to mix and match and learned all that there is to what is just an unbelievable addictive and compelling monster mastering gaming experience. We had to wait nearly a year for its Western release, but given everything I know about the game now, the wait was well worth it, as Monster Hunter Stories truly does not disappoint, even if the frame-rate does drop every now and then and especially when swapping monsters and although it’s time for me to wrap this review up, there is still so much about the game, I have yet to touch upon. But since this is also one of the longest reviews for the game, I feel I have made my mark upon the series, like it has made its mark on me!
Despite all of the Monster Hunter series’ success in Japan, Monster Hunter games have never really sold that particularly well in the West, which might very well be down to trying to learn and master Monster Hunter’s difficult controls. With Monster Hunter Stories though, the case is anything but. The controls are easy enough to pick up and the rest of the game is pretty similar to the series it is a part of, only now it’s presented in a much better format. The battles are fun, the colour palette really helps bring the world to life and some of the Monsters you can forge a bond with, are just too good to miss out on. By no means should Monster Hunter Stories become the norm for the series, but it is a great Monster focused game that both the fans non-Monster Hunter fans can enjoy and for anyone who ever wondered what a Pokémon game would be like if it was made by Capcom, Monster Hunter Stories is that game!
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*Review Key Provided by Nintendo