Released on: September 8, 2017 (3DS), September 25, 2018 (Android, iOS)
Available Platforms: Nintendo 3DS, Android, iOS
Price: $49.99 CAD ($39.99 US) (3DS), $27.99 CAD ($19.99 US) (Android, iOS)
Developed by: Capcom, Marvelous Inc. Published by: Nintendo (3DS) Capcom (Android, iOS)
It may seem unlikely now, but it was only relatively recently that the Monster Hunter series saw success worldwide. Before that, it was huge in Japan, but other regions had middling success in comparison. While we did see at least one game of each mainline generation, we missed many spin-offs. Monster Hunter World is where that changed. With reports that Monster Hunter World is Capcom’s best-selling game of all time (a monumental feat, considering Capcom has a bevy of classics under their belt), Monster Hunter got the attention from across the world that it deserved.
One spin-off I heard about on the internet before its North American release was Monster Hunter Stories: a Pokemon-esque take on the Monster Hunter franchise. I’m used to hunting the monsters in Monster Hunter (which, given the name of the game, makes sense) but I always wanted to befriend some of the monsters as they are formidable and aesthetically pleasing. For whatever reason, though. I skipped over the 3DS version of the game and got the mobile version when it came out. Having played the 3DS version a little bit, I wanted an ultra portable version of the game with higher graphical quality. Is Monster Hunter Stories a story worth telling?
In Monster Hunter Stories, the player takes the role of a fledgling Rider, a group of people who, instead of hunting monsters, befriend them from the monster’s birth. For a Rider to fight side-by-side with their monster friends (known in Monster Hunter Stories as “monsties”), they need a kinship stone. At the beginning of the game, the player doesn’t have one of those yet. They and two other friends, Cheval and Lilia, find themselves in a forest looking for monster eggs. They acquire a monster egg and return to the village.
After the player recovers the egg, a Rathalos emerges from it. Suddenly, a Nargacuga decides to attack the village. The young Rathalos tries to fend it off but gets brushed aside. After the onslaught ends, the player’s village is in ruins, and we find out that Cheval’s mother is a casualty in the attack. This plants deep-seated hatred in Cheval, making him resentful of monsters and uses those who agree to follow him as servants. It is up to the player to find out why some monsters are going haywire.
As the name implies, Monster Hunter Stories holds the distinction of being a story-focused Monster Hunter game. Unlike World, where the player can glance over the story. Stories require the player to follow along for an optimal experience. I enjoy the story quite a bit. At first, I wondered why Cheval doesn’t just become a hunter, as they are a thing in Stories, but then come to find he struggles with the idea of working with monsters, making some of his monsters resentful towards him in return.
The graphics are effervescent and charming. Unlike the more realistic-looking mainline Monster Hunter games, Stories opts for an anime style. This makes everything bright and colorful, with essential objects standing out. The mobile version looks much smoother and has a much higher resolution than the 3DS version. The mobile version wins out in terms of graphical prowess.
Battles in Monster Hunter Stories are what would happen if we combined Pokemon’s turn-based combat with Monster Hunter’s weapons, monsters, and presentation. During combat, the player selects which kind of attack their Rider performs for that turn: Power, Speed, and Technical. Similarly to Rock-Paper-Scissors, Power beats Technical, Technical beats Speed and Speed tops Power. What I find brilliant with the user interface design is that the options are presented as a diagram to the player, letting them know which option is strong against which. At first, it might seem easy, but later on, monsters start throwing metaphorical curveballs with their attacks, potentially catching the player by surprise.
If the player and their monstie successfully pick the right option together, they will perform a double attack, negating any damage the opposing monster would have done to the player. When their Kinship Stone is glowing, the Rider can hop on the monster to unleash more powerful attacks. The player’s team has three hearts. They lose a heart when either the Rider or the monstie’s hit points (HP) reaches 0. If all three hearts are gone, it’s Game Over.
For the player to get more monsties, they will need to explore monster dens. These dens are short dungeon-like grottoes with some gathering spots and smaller monsters before they reach the nest. The nest can either be guarded by a monster or opened for the taking. When the player picks up eggs, Navirgy will tell the player how valuable the egg is by smell and weight. The stinkier the egg, the better the monstie’s genes will be.
Monster Hunter Stories’s gameplay is unique. The Power, Speed and Technical aspect of the combat is unlike anything else I’ve seen in other monster taming RPGs. To excel in Stories’ combat, it takes a lot of prediction and a little bit of luck. The monsters are just as formidable here as they are in the main games, as the hunter usually doesn’t have as much HP as their monsties, making them more fragile in comparison. I love turn-based RPGs that make me use my head, and Monster Hunter Stories fits that description.
It wouldn’t be Monster Hunter without the ability to make armor based on monster parts. After each battle, the player gets items from the monsters they defeat. The more parts the player breaks off of the monster, the more items they get. The player then uses those items to craft weapons and armor to better suit their playstyle or environment. While there aren’t as many weapon types as the mainline Monster Hunter games, there is still a variety that can make one weapon more worthwhile to a player than others. Finding out what works for the player is what Monster Hunter is all about, and Stories emulates that feeling beautifully.
Earlier I referenced a monstie’s genes. At the start of the game, the genes have a negligible impact on the monstie’s stats. Later on, however, the player can transfer the genes of one monstie to another. This is awesome, as the player can give their monstie abilities that it would typically never have. An example of this would be giving Lagombi (a giant snow bunny) the ability to spit fireballs. If I saw a Lagombi do that in the mainline games, I would be shocked. The player can make some genuinely ridiculous monstie builds this way.
The first nitpick I have with Monster Hunter Stories is with the egg collecting. When the player collects eggs from the den, what kind of egg they get and how good their genes are is random. Even if the player thinks they know the pattern of the monster, it can disappoint, as I’ve gotten eggs with patterns of monsties I wanted, but instead got a weaker monstie. If I wanted a particular monstie, I felt the need to have a third-party egg chart open to help me determine what monstie I get.
The second gripe I have with Monster Hunter Stories is with the mobile version exclusively. It has some of the most responsive touch controls available on the platform, so putting it as an issue shows how much I’m not too fond of touch controls. For those who have a working Bluetooth controller for their phone, I would highly recommend using that if possible.
Monster Hunter Stories is a wonderful spin off for those that are put off by the idea of hunting monster repeatedly for their parts. Those who like games similar to Pokemon that also like the world of Monster Hunter would get a kick out of Monster Hunter Stories.