Monster Hunter Stories 3DS Review
You never know what Capcom is planning when it comes to Monster Hunter and releasing them in the West. It has become better since arriving on Nintendo platforms, since Nintendo has stepped in and acted as a worldwide publisher, but even now, it’s still hard to understand what they are scheduling to come out here. With Monster Hunter World bringing an updated experience to current generation, it seems Monster Hunter XX – currently Japanese only 3DS and Switch release – is being shafted by Capcom with unhelpful comments. Maybe Nintendo can help with that one?
When it comes to spin-offs for Monster Hunter, they have been stuck in Japan, and so I expected this to happen to Monster Hunter Stories, something I did not know I wanted until it was announced in Japan back on April 2015. Come on, who seriously would have thought of a turn-based RPG set in the Monster Hunter universe when you have the action RPG elements of the mainline series? Well someone did at Capcom, and Nintendo stepped in again to get the game overseas to Europe. As a bonus, the game manages to be a great Japanese RPG that blends in lots of Monster Hunter elements that will please fans of the main games – this is literally Monster Hunter as a turn-based RPG, which makes out to be a great game that introduces a new twist to the franchise.
The move to traditional RPG gives Stories a focus on an actual story that moves away from monster hunters to another side of the universe, monster riders. people who can bond with the world’s monsters, using them to fight along side themselves (think Pokemon). After using a very basic character creator that offers some simple choices, like sex, colour of skin, eye, mouth and a few hairstyles, the player is introduced to their two friends at the village of Hakum. These are Lilia, a female who isn’t all that into wanting to become a rider, and Cheval, a person who is given a painful experience during the start of the game when a black blight infested Nargacuga comes and destroys some of the village and his parents.
A year later, when the game truly starts, Cheval has become to dislike monsters, to the point he leaves his friends and the village, something that is against the code for riders. The player is given the Chief’s permission to also leave the village and explore the world to find out what is causing the black blight and hopefully help put a stop to it. As far as stories go, it’s very simple and feels more aimed at a younger audience, again, a style similar to Pokemon. If you don’t mind how those games tell stories, then you shouldn’t have a problem with how simple the delivery is done in this game. Still, despite the light-hearted nature of the plot, there is more engagement and happenings in this story than in any previous Monster Hunter game, and it might give some feels as it comes to a conclusion for anyone who gets emotional at animated films that are so called aimed for kids (Inside Out 🙁 )
Moving away from real-time combat to traditional turn-based drops the skill requirement. Some issues people have with Monster Hunter is that it can be hard to get into for newcomers or people who aren’t told informative tips for the game – the tutorials in Monster Hunter aren’t the greatest at explaining everything about the game. Those people will not have a problem learning battle mechanics for Monster Hunter Stories, as combat uses the easily understandable rock-paper-scissors concept (speed-power-technical) and putting that to use after seeing the enemy patterns unfold during a battle allows one to counter them with the right state.
It doesn’t take long to become a master at the game’s combat, even more so as you mainly control your character, while the monster will perform its own actions unless you want to force it to use a special ability that will drain some of the kinship metre. This is a mechanic that when charged fully allows the player to jump onto the monster and ride it in battle, combining the two together as a tougher unit that deals more damage and can take more.
On top of the rock-paper-scissors battle system are additional mechanics to add more variety. As mentioned previously, the kinship metre allows the combination of monster and rider, but is also the only way to perform the big damaging attacks in the game, as successful attacks will keep filling the metre up until a max of level 3, which offers a special move unique for that monster. Imagine these as ultimate moves, showcasing some fancy short animation before dealing huge damage and splitting back to the default separated stance of rider and monster. There are also mini events in battle when a clash happens that will either have the player mashing a button for headbutts, spinning the analogue stick for beam collisions (think Dragon Ball Z beams) and alternative tapping L and R buttons for air collisions. They make good additions to the combat to spice it up, and everything just about works together to keep the battles interesting, even if they are easy, because you are still at least engaged with what is happening on screen. You can also use two or three multiplier speed at the push of a button, which will skip a lot of the animations for speedy encounters.
My main issue with the game is that the difficulty takes too long to get going, with my first death happening around the 23 hour mark, quite a substantial amount of time passed for a 45+ hour adventure. Once the main story beat is completed, the post game content can offer the challenge I wanted with the Tower of Illusion. The biggest culprit that removes risk from battles is the three heart system – I think it’s trying to replicate the three cart revivals from the mainline games – that will instantly revive either the rider or monster on death with full health in exchange for a heart. If the last heart is used, then the game will teleport back to the last save point without any handicap – in other words, it is a quick way to get past reloading a save.
Monster Hunter Stories would offer more challenge if the safety of the revive hearts were absent, as sometimes I didn’t bother to heal my monster as I knew they would be back up, fighting fit, in exchange for a heart, which are refilled back in the city at the player’s house. The hearts are implemented, I feel, for rider battles (fights where you need to take down the monster first before being able to tackle the rider). The hearts offer a chance of redemption to turn around a fight after a death. They are rider battles in the game, mainly in the arena battles, but also the offline and online multiplayer is based on this. A simple fix would be to only include the hearts for rider vs rider matches and having the normal battles absolved of them to add difficulty. It reminds me of playing through Pokemon, as those games never offer much of a challenge through their main adventure, with death rarely happening and when it does, it is mostly down to chance or not paying attention. Although, with Monster Hunter Stories, death is different, since unlike Pokemon, it isn’t dependent on if your six monsters are alive.
Gaining monsters is done through finding randomly placed dens that lead to egg nests. The egg itself is random, but nests will let you pick up a few until you’re happy with what the sidekick felyne, Navirou, is saying with his clues on how rare, smelly or heavy the egg is, which is his special way of saying that this monster has good abilities or can learn more abilities than usual. These eggs need to be caught and returned to a safe heaven where you can hatch them to begin life as a level 1 party member. Experience can be gained when in the party of six, even when not actually used in the fight, so low level monsters soon catch up to the main team, learning new skills to use in battle after hitting the level requirement for said skill. Each monster also has a 3×3 grid to inherit passive skills that often only have a couple of filled in slots. Filling these up requires the sacrifice of hatched monster by channelling one of its abilities into the inheriting critter. This can do wonders for your favourite fighter, as it can buff their current specialities or protect against their weaknesses, making it great for multiplayer battles. The channelling feature makes a good case for going out and finding monsters, with duplicate monsters still being worthwhile to the party by using them to buff others. You can hold up to 200 monsters, which means plenty of dupes to go around as there just over 60 unique monsters that can be hatched.
One thing that truly surprised me about Monster Hunter Stories is just how much Monster Hunter is in its soul. The visuals are different, but the anime-esque, colourful presentation makes for some of the best graphics on the handheld, working with the strengths of the system to produce a detailed world that pops on screen with its flashy palette (frame rate can take a hit at times, but it is nothing too dramatic). The monsters retain their distinct looks in this new style, making them easy to spot with their trademark moves. Everything else is familiar to fans of the series. The sound effects are ripped straight from the other games, all the items are here, rebuilt with the turn-based combat in mind. An item like a whetstone now adds 50% chance for critical hits on the next turn, while a shock trap will stun a monster for a few turns if it attacks while the trap is placed in the fight. Some corners had to be cut, so weapons are limited to four types – great swords, swords and shield, hammers and horns – while armour is done as a complete set rather than individual body parts. There are even some replicated quests from the main series in here as side quests, such as fishing for three types of fish or hunting a specific amount of monsters, but these are much easier to accomplish due to the simpler mechanics and the ease of turn-based combat. Like I said in the beginning, this is literally Monster Hunter turned JRPG with a sprinkle of Pokemon, and that blend goes so well together.
Being able to adapt the heart of Monster Hunter into a turn-based RPG is Monster Hunter Stories’ biggest success. It’s aesthetics are visually pleasing, some of the best on the 3DS, bringing a sweet, sugar-coated take on the world of Monster Hunter that is only spoiled by taking too long to get challenging. Despite that issue, the game is a pleasant experience which brings with it an enjoyable, lengthy adventure that gives people fascinated with the world of Monster Hunter, but maybe could not get into the main games, a chance to enjoy the spirit of those titles in a game that cries out to not only the Monster Hunter fans, but fans of Pokemon and light-hearted RPGs. This game could easily find a new audience to build itself up, lifting it up from simply being a spin-off game to becoming a fully fledged series to sit along side the main titles.