Despite a few negatives, Monster Hunter Stories is a welcome addition to the monster collection genre.
After Japan, the Monster Hunter series has also conquered the Western market in recent years. The formula is simple: intense battles with gigantic monsters that you then transform into a hat or other piece of armor, with the sole intention of slicing up even bigger monsters. 3DS in particular popularized the concept with versions of Monster Hunter 3, 4 and Generations. Monster Hunter Stories however, he takes a different approach. Active combat gives way to a turn-based system, and instead of killing monsters, this time use them as mounts and partners during combat. Do these Monster Hunter Stories adaptations create a weird shift or a memorable experience?
The comparison to Pokémon and Yo-Kai Watch is hard to avoid, and at first glance, Monster Hunter Stories makes very little innovation. Just like in these games, you play as a teenager who travels the world collecting as many ‘monsters’ as possible, with a rival who sees creatures not as friends but as utensils. The well-known principle of scissor paper is also present, and you can take it very literally in Monster Hunter Stories. You and your enemies attack each other with power, speed, and technique attacks that fight directly.
However, this simple concept offers a lot of depth, which is especially evident in boss fights. In it, you try to detect and predict the enemy’s attack pattern. The personal strengths and weaknesses of different monsters provide an additional element to consider when choosing your attack. Additionally, the game features a vast arsenal of items and abilities that make your attack pattern even more unpredictable, like fireballs and defensive spells. When your energy meter is full, you finally crawl over your monster to come together to destroy it. It all adds up to some intense battles that perfectly translates the boss fighting atmosphere of other Monster Hunter games into a turn-based system.
The gameplay is much less interesting in battles with normal monsters. These opponents’ attack pattern often only includes one or two attacks, so there is little to predict. Additionally, battles don’t last long enough to use many of your special abilities. Often times, you do little more than press the A button on your 3DS as quickly as possible. Developer Marvelous is implementing the ability to speed up combat animations up to three times, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that many battles have essentially little to do.
Also, there is little incentive to compete with these average monsters. After all, you don’t catch new monsters directly, but by stealing eggs from their nests and hatching them. If you always enthusiastically dive into each new lawn of a Pokémon game in search of new or rare creatures, the monsters will mostly feel like a boring obstacle on the way to the next egg nest or the next boss fight.
Graphically, the game also leaves you with mixed feelings. Visually, Monster Hunter Stories is on top of what 3DS has to offer: colors and effects splash across the screen, and each character is designed with great attention to detail. However, it’s the 3DS itself that throws a key in the works: on older versions of the 3DS the game has a lot of frame rate issues, especially in the world. Additionally, Overworld characters don’t get their textures until you get close enough to them, making the world feel like the world is populated, so to speak, by black shadows.
Raising and developing your monsters is a bullshit. For example, it is possible to implant skills from one monster to another animal via genetic engineering. This makes the possibilities to adjust your favorite monster to your own preferences almost limitless. Especially in multiplayer, the game thus becomes very deep. The unpredictability of the skills of enemy monsters therefore only adds to the tension of the scissor-rock-paper principle.
Monster Hunter Stories is a newcomer to the monster collection genre, but it’s not without its flaws. The game suffers from some technical issues, and during short battles the gameplay is not fully appreciated, despite the possibility of speeding up the combat. You will soon forget these negatives when you come face to face with one of the many bosses in the world. Add to that the online functionality and the almost endless possibilities to genetically manipulate your monsters, and you’ve got a game that fully deserves the name of Monster Hunter.
Monster Hunter Stories is now available for Nintendo 3DS.