Available On: Nintendo 3DS
The Monster Hunter series has been around for over a decade, though far more popular in Japan than in the US. The world of gigantic monsters, challenging combat, and hours of grinding and crafting weapons and armor often remains impenetrable for many would-be fans.
Monster Hunter Stories refreshingly succeeds at being a more intuitive, kid-friendly spin-off game. It incorporates basic elements of Pokémon’s monster-collecting while still using the core tenets of Monster Hunter’s questing and hunting tasks to create a welcoming, yet deeply rich experience.
My Monstie and Me
In Monster Hunter Stories you play as a customizable Rider – not a Hunter. Riders are an odd curiosity in a world of Hunters. They specialize in befriending the dozens of roaming monstrous beasts of the world, allying with them in combat and even riding them around to access new places.
The story reminded me of How to Train Your Dragon, as you prove that your Rider ways are equally valid. Though in the end you’re still fighting monsters anyway.
Like the main games the world of Monster Hunter Stories is presented as a series of large, interconnected zones. Patrolling monsters and foraging nodes like crystals and herbs are semi-randomized.
Monster Hunter Stories is one of the most impressive-looking 3DS games I’ve ever seen, and the only one to date that I play with the 3D on the entire time. On the flip-side the game often brings the handheld to its knees, dropping frames and sometimes drawing distant characters and monsters in polygon wireframes before they pop in.
I love that you can see every monster on the map, yet battles are still turn-based and tactical. You enter a fight alongside one of your pet monsters, called ‘monsties.’ You can choose up to five monsties to tag along in your adventuring party, and easily switch them out mid-combat.
Much of the combat relies on a simple yet effective Rock-Paper-Scissors system with Power-Tech-Speed attacks. Just like the main Monster Hunter games your success will come in learning about your varied foes, their abilities and attack tendencies.
Acting alongside your monstie brings a wealth of tactical options, and I love that your monstie is automated, but also can be directed to perform special moves. Do you set up a dual-strike? Continue your own weapon combo? Command your Rathian to unleash a Poison Spike? Work up your Kinship gauge to mount your monstie and unleash a devastating super attack? Every fight is a unique dance, and boss battles are deliciously challenging without requiring supreme dexterity.
Gotta Hunt ‘Em All
Instead of hurling a pokéball equivalent at wild monsters, you have to collect their eggs. Monster Dens are randomly generated each time you enter a zone. These are mini-dungeons full of loot and monsters, with the final room always containing an egg nest. There’s a fun risk and reward element to collecting eggs. Linger too long in your selection and you risk the wrath of a nasty monster dropping in on you.
While you can guess the type of monster you’re getting based on the egg pattern, it’s still mostly a surprise what pops out. Each monstie has its own stats, type, elemental attacks and resistances, attack tendencies, abilities, and genes.
Genes are an interesting concept that makes collecting multiple monsters rewarding. Each monstie has a 3×3 grid, with each slot a potential ability or stat boost. Each of these discs is color and symbol coded, and lining up three of the same results in big boosts.
The catch is that a monstie’s gene pool is randomized, and often only has a few slots open. You can transfer genes from one monstie to another, but they have to be in the right slots. Thus it’s fun to collect a bunch of monsties in order to find the best genes to build the perfect monstie. I never passed up a Monster Den and loved maximizing my favorite monsties’ potential.
Monster Hunter Stories has been rated E for Everyone. Despite a world of rampaging dragons the story and characters are very kiddie-fied. Your constant companion is a jokey cat and cutscenes take advantage of silly anime facial animations. I was pleasantly surprised that spoken dialogue remained in Japanese with English subtitles.
I was fully expecting a derivative Pokémon-clone with Monster Hunter window dressing and couldn’t have been more wrong. Monster Hunter Stories is an incredibly fun, deep game. Collecting monsters is enjoyable with just the right amount of complexity. Using turn-based combat within the Monster Hunter world of hunting, battling, foraging, and crafting works incredibly well.
Even if you don’t know your Rathalos from your Rathians, Monster Hunter Stories is absolutely worth checking out.