Next year, the Monster Hunter series emigrates from the Nintendo 3DS, the platform on which it found so much success, over to the PS4, Xbox One, and PC. But before that happens, the series has its one final hurrah with Monster Hunter Stories, the just released, gorgeous, charming, and addictive spin off of the franchise that offers an alternate take on the series’ lore and mythos. Eschewing the franchise’s usual loot grinding and action RPG tendencies for a turn based JRPG style of play, Monster Hunter Stories nonetheless retains the core essence of Capcom’s monster franchise, and delivers a charming, compelling game that will be great for newcomers and series veterans alike.
Monster Hunter Stories is largely different from the previous games in the series, its bright, cel shaded graphics a far cry from the murky, realistic look the series has generally striven towards (and the first difference most will notice between this game and the mainline franchise). That apart, the turn based battle system is what truly stands out, with its simplified take on battling presenting players with a simple triangle mechanic (Power, Tech, and Speed), but layering nuance on top of that with combos, special skills, items, multiple different types of weapons with each, true to the mainline Monster Hunter games, playing differently, a Pokemon style weakness and resistance mechanic, and the Kinship Gauge.
The Kinship Gauge is essentially responsible for unleashing an ‘ultimate’ attack when it is full, letting out a devastating move while you ride your monster (er, ‘monstie’ in this game), known as Kinship Abilities. It’s pretty exciting to see it build up and you time your Kinship attacks just at the right time- and it never gets old over the course of the 40 hour campaign.
"Monster Hunter Stories nonetheless retains the core essence of Capcom’s monster franchise, and delivers a charming, compelling game that will be great for newcomers and series veterans alike."
True to Monster Hunter, you will end up getting materials to craft better armor and weapons- however, unlike the main series, you also get XP in Monster Hunter Stories, which ends up adding another grind for you to keep track of. And yet, much like the mainline games, Monster Hunter Stories remains fun enough that its grind never actually feels much like one- instead, the endorphin rush from steadily chipping away at progressively stronger monsters to craft progressively more powerful gear to be able to take down progressively stronger monsters to craft progressively more powerful gear… and so on… remains as addictive and thrilling as ever, even when the combat is now turn based.
However, where the game retains so much of the original series’ DNA, it differs from those games in some rather significant ways (beyond the obvious differences already noted in this review, that is). The most important difference that most will notice right away is the game’s emphasis on narrative and storytelling. While the story in the game ends up being typical and predictable, it never feels trite, thanks mostly to the game’s charming cast of characters who are all bursting with heart. And while Monster Hunter Stories will never win any awards for its storytelling, its writing definitely stands out as a strong localization effort, with heartwarming dialog that will endear the characters in the game to most.
The other chief difference Monster Hunter Stories has with the other games in the franchise is its difficulty level- or rather, the almost total lack of it. Traditional wisdom holds that Monster Hunter Stories was meant to be an introduction to the franchise for children, and more casual players in Japan- as a result, it makes sense that it lacks the soul crushing difficulty that the main games are known for. However, even so, at times the game gets so easy that it risks trivializing its own stakes.
"Monster Hunter Stories remains fun enough that its grind never actually feels much like one."
Ironically enough, its main reason for being as easy as it is may be because of its almost starry eyed slavish devotion to its source material- much like in the mainline games, to truly ‘lose’, you need to lose all your health three times. However, where that makes sense for the mainline games – which are incredibly difficult, and which almost need to give the player all the perks they can get – in Monster Hunter Stories, an already easy game to begin with, this mechanic means there is almost never any risk or threat posed to the player, ever.
On the other hand, I can imagine that being perfect for series newcomers- it gives them more of a reason to stick with the game, and to explore the game’s world, and to subtly get used to the core mechanics of upgrading gear via loot drops, or the importance of weapons, or the stark differences between different weapon classes, primed for the true, mainline games all the while. While veterans may find the lack of difficulty almost off-putting, even they will have plenty of motivation to stick with the game through to its end, if only for the oodles of charm it exudes.
If Monster Hunter Stories is to be the capstone to the Nintendo era of Monster Hunter, then the series exits the 3DS stage on a high, and almost fitting, note. As the mainline games set their sights on an expanded mainstream presence in the west, Monster Hunter Stories leaves behind a final reminder of why the series is so beloved in the first place for all 3DS players, all the while subtly showcasing its wonders to, hopefully, a whole host of new players who would otherwise have been far too intimidated by the games.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.
A gorgeous artstyle, addictive gameplay, great translation of Monster Hunter mechanics to the JRPG style of gameplay, oodles of charm
Extremely easy, a bit too grindy, a rather predictable and typical story
Fans will appreciate the new take on time honored series mechanics in Monster Hunter Stories, while newcomers will find a more accessible and inviting game than the franchise has ever had before.
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