Getting into the Monster Hunter series has never been particularly easy. Aside from the unconventional and often punishing action gameplay, there’s a wealth of information for players to digest. From gear schematics and item recipes to drop rates, upgrade trees and myriad other hidden intricacies, understanding these games requires a tremendous amount of studying.
Once you’re over that hurdle, you can dip in whenever it suits you, but that barrier is simply too much for many and this is something Capcom has been trying to address as they look to grow the series’ popularity outside of Japan. With Monster Hunter Stories, the publisher is trying something different, creating a new way for gamers to experience this world without needing to sink countless hours. It’s an alternate gateway, if you will – an inventive way of smuggling prospective fans in through some kind of back door. And it works.
Instead of shooting, slashing, and bashing a menagerie of monsters, Stories lets you tame and train them. As a Rider, it’s your job to master, not murder, these fantastic “Beasties”. In fact, there’s bit of a culture clash between Hunters and Riders that plays out during the story, adding a new dimension to this well-established world. As fans will know, these games have only ever had a faint narrative core, gluing together various quests with very little exposition. Even though it’s a little more cartoon-like and laden with puns, seeing Capcom flesh out the world here with a recurring cast of characters is intriguing.
The distinction between Rider and Hunter can seem a bit trivial at times, however. During the many time-based battles, you’ll still hack away at enemy creatures, and although you don’t see your hunter carve up the monsters your defeat, items such as hides, scales, and bones still manage to find their way into your inventory.
It’s a silly point to make, though one that speaks to the true intentions of Monster Hunter Stories. It may have slid into a completely different genre from the main series, but just about everything from the core games has transitioned in some fashion. Many weapons and pieces of armour have made a direct leap as have the many monster and item types. Needless to say, there’s plenty of overlap.
Battles, on the other hand, are completely different from what Monster Hunter veterans have come to expect. Instead of being in real-time, hinging on equal parts skill and preparation, everything here is strictly turn-based. Bringing one of your monsters into battle, they’ll fight for themselves though can be influenced using a growing series of commands. Riders, meanwhile, are free to act as they please, attacking, using items, and swapping out Beasties when they need to.
If Capcom and Marvelous had left it at that, Stories would be a little too simple. Dull, even. It’s a problem most turn-based RPGs run into though, thankfully, there’s some added depth here to keep players engaged. For example, standard attacks will be classed as Power, Speed, or Technical and this essentially creates a rock, paper, scissors dynamic, moderating your damage depending on the result. It’s a small adjustment though one that adds an air of unpredictability, especially during player versus player match-ups.
Successfully reading and complementing the actions of your Beastie in battle will increase your Kinship, and when that guage fills up you’ll be able to mount your monster and attack as one. Continued feats of synergy unlock an array of devastating finishers for you to use late in the battle. There are other little tidbits here and there that, while far from groundbreaking, at least try to play around with the turn-based formula. Having the option to increase the battle speed up to three times is also an extremely welcome feature.
This all takes place in a familiar world of vast plains, snow covered mountains, and other exotic biomes, each hosting its own hierarchy of monsters. In terms of style, it’s by no means a grand departure from vanilla Monster Hunter. Some of the creature designs have been shrunk down, the characters a bit more anime-looking but it suits the feel of the game perfectly.
While it’s certainly more approachable than your typical Monster Hunter game, Stories fails to capture what has made the series such a hit over the years. Sure, the setting is evocative but, as many die-hard fans will tell you, it’s the high octane rush of hunting with friends that forms the true backbone of the franchise. That said, Monster Hunter Stories goes beyond your average spin-off and feels like a genuine attempt to expand this universe instead of simply trying to milk it. From the simple yet expanding battle system to its many ties with the core games, there’s plenty here for newcomers and grizzled veterans alike.