Monster Hunter Stories Review: To Steal a Monster Egg
When Monster Hunter Stories was announced in Japan, my regular hunting partner excitedly messaged me on Discord to share the trailer and their hopes for its localization. Watching the trailer, though, I was skeptical. "A turn-based Monster Hunter spin-off?" I thought. "There's no way that will work."
Only now, after getting the chance to play the Western release over a year later, do I realize just how wrong I was. MH Stories is a fun, monster-collecting RPG with a charmingly witty plot and a battle system that you can really sink your teeth into.
Rob a Nest, Befriend a Monster
If you've ever played a Pokemon game, then you'll likely feel right at home in Monster Hunter Stories. As a Rider, it's your duty to befriend monsters with the power of Kinship and fight alongside them to defend the world against an ancient Blight that taints the hearts of wild beasts.
Unlike Pokemon, however, a Rider cannot befriend a monster that's already grown into adulthood. Instead, they must sneak into one of many Monster Dens that crop up randomly across the overworld and steal eggs to hatch, since only newborns can form the bond of Kinship.
Befriended monsters -- otherwise called Monsties -- provide the party with certain benefits from the outset, such as field skills that let you find gathering spots, locate and scare away enemies, jump chasms, climb vines, and even fly. To this end, I found it pertinent to collect as many monsters as I could.
True to traditional Monster Hunter fashion, each species is unique and certainly not created equal. As you progress through the game and level up your Kinship Stone, you gain access to higher rarity monsters that are often straight stat upgrades to lower tier ones. While there's an argument to be had against throw-away monsters, as a fan of the series, I forgive it.
Of course, there are more familiar Monster Hunter flares littered throughout Stories. You gather and combine your own supplies, you collect and complete quests from the Quest Board and various NPCs, and you still have to contend with hazards such as swelteringly hot and frigidly cold environments. Even regular items have been repurposed to be more useful for this game -- such as Paintballs that can now be used to find fixed Monster Dens. You're certain to find plenty of parallels here.
Quite unlike the main series, however, the normally whimsical and charming cast of characters is actually accompanied by a thoughtful and compelling plot, for once. I never found myself mashing A to get through particularly long cutscenes, and I even agonized over my own foolishness when I did accidentally skip a bit. It's not especially deep, (from what I can tell at my point in the story) but it's interesting, which is more than a lot of Monster Hunter games can claim.
Battling Alongside Monsters
After arriving at my first battle against an Aptonoth, I instantly realized that Monster Hunter Stories is ultimately nothing like Pokemon. Instead of sending your Monstie out to battle at your behest, you fight alongside it and attempt to synergize with it as it fights of its own accord.
Together you'll synergize through an Attack Triangle that acts sort of like Rock, Paper, Scissors. Power attacks beat technical, technical beats speed, and speed beats power. You can't command a Monstie to use any of these attacks, though you can influence the tendency by swapping out to a different monster.
After winning enough Attack Triangle head-to-heads, your Kinship gauge will fill up and let your ride your monster. While atop your steed, you can command its regular attacks and build up more Kinship for a satisfying finisher move that does a lot of damage at the cost of knocking you off your Monstie.
The Attack Triangle always kept me on my toes while the Kinship gauge did an excellent job at keeping the longer battles engaging. On top of the unique turn-based system, enemies start to get really challenging later on in the game, which is rather refreshing for those burnt out by the ease of modern Pokemon games.
All in all, Monster Hunter Stories is a brilliant spin-off that big fans of Monster Hunter will adore -- especially if they can befriend their favorite monster. At a glance, it's definitely rough around the edges, but underneath the cliches and corny first impressions, it is a wonderful and engaging RPG. I was always excited to see what was around the next corner and what the latest egg I snatched would hatch into.
If you like monster-collecting games like Pokemon, this title should definitely intrigue you. There's something about stealing eggs to raise the babies for fighting other monsters that's just strangely satisfying. It reminds me of the joy I feel skinning monsters and wearing their armor in the main series.
Monster Hunter Stories is available now on the Nintendo eShop for $39.99.