Monday, July 12, 2021

Monster Hunter Stories Review

Developer: Marvelous
Publisher: Capcom
Platforms: 3DS, iOS, Android
Price: $40 on 3DS, $20 on mobile
Version Played: 3DS

Have you ever wanted to ride a Khezu? No? Okay, how about a Rathalos? Of course you have! In Monster Hunter Stories, you can befriend and ride on over 100 Monster Hunter Monsters, or as they call them in the game, Monsties. I think MonstéHuns would have been a better name, but whatever. MHS is a traditional, turn-based RPG, and even though it shares many things in common with the main Monster Hunter games, it's a very different type of game.

In Monster Hunter Stories, you play as a Rider, not a Hunter. You still do plenty of hunting, though. Riders have special stones on their bracelets which allow them to befriend monsters. These Riders are not supposed to leave their village, so they're rare and very strange and scary to the people in this world who are used to killing monsters, not keeping them as pets. The story follows your character as they travel the world fighting monsters. Some of which are possessed by a dark mist called the "Black Blight", which makes them even more dangerous. It basically makes them Apex monsters from MH Rise. Sounds like a Monster Hunter story alright. This game is called Monster Hunter Stories, but it's definitely not worth playing for the story.
Monster Hunter Stories is very much a Monster Hunter game in RPG form. This is a game about doing quests, killing monsters, crafting gear, and the challenge of fighting all the different monsters. Unlike the main MH games; though, MHS takes place in a huge connected world, like most other RPGs. You actually travel from town to town on foot (or riding on your Monstie) and don’t just pick a town to go to from a map menu. Each town has something going on that ties it into the overarching story about the Black Blight and a bunch of quests you can do in the surrounding areas. The structure of the game feels like a mix of Dragon Quest and Monster Hunter. Two things that go together like peanut butter and chocolate.
Unlike in other monster raising RPGs, you can’t catch the monsters you fight in MHS. The monster catching mechanic in MHS is inspired by those terrible egg carrying quests in the main MH games. In MHS, eggs come from Monster Dens, which are basically tiny dungeons. You go inside these dens through cave entrances that spawn by rocks, walls, and mountains all over the world. Each area in the world has its own set of dens and you get a random map every time you go into a den. The dens themselves are not randomly generated. At the end of a den, you’ll find a nest full of monster eggs and maybe a monster to fight. After you get your egg, you carry it out. Thankfully, you don't have to carry it all the way back through the den, just out of the nest room. The kind of monster in the egg is a mystery until you hatch it back in town. It's kind of like a capsule toy (AKA gashapon). Most of these dens are not very interesting, and you see the same ones over and over, but they're really small, so I never got tired of them. It's actually kind of addicting to go in them in search of rare monsters.
You don’t gotta catch ‘em all, but Monsties are the most important element in the game. They do the most damage in battles and are the key to getting around the world. Each Monstie has its own unique set of skills, elemental properties, and attack preferences. For example, Lagiacrus is an electric type who prefers power attacks and can swim in bodies of water around the world. These traversal abilities are a lot like HMs in Pokemon, but they aren't taught to monsters, they come with them. They're usually optional, but there are places where they're required to progress. Since you can’t just teach these moves to any Monstie, it's a good idea to have a well-balanced team with you so you can get to everything in an area. Otherwise, you risk having to go back to town to get the monster with the ability you need. In practice, this system just made me carry around a bunch of monsters I didn't like and never used in battle. There’s a reason why they got rid of HMs in Pokemon. I loved flying around on a Rathalos and surfing on a Lagiacrus, though!
I have to give Monster Hunter Stories credit for how it implements MH things like breaking parts, weapons-specific moves, and knockdowns into a turn-based RPG, but the rock-paper-scissors-like attack type triangle kind of ruins the battle system. All your normal attacks, along with some spells, are either Power, Technical, or Speed type, and sometimes, you and the enemy monster will attack at the same time in a “head to head” sequence. If a monster beats your type, you take more damage, but if you beat theirs, you take less damage. Every monster has unique attack patterns with different ways they can switch into other patterns in the middle of a fight. For example, a monster might do 2 speed moves and then a power move, but it might switch to technical moves only for 3 turns after doing a fire breath attack that doesn’t have a type at all. There’s just no way I can remember the attack patterns for over 100 monsters! I felt like I should've been taking notes. This makes battles feel like a guessing game. Especially when fighting bosses for the first time. I get that they're trying to make it like MH, but this battle system is more frustrating than fun.
It takes guts to make a 3D RPG with huge wide open areas and free roaming monsters on 3DS. I admire Marvelous’ courage. They did a better job than Square-Enix did with Dragon Quest VIII. The 3DS just isn’t the system to make this kind of game on, though. This game suffers from all the problems common in 3D games on 3DS. There’s lots of pop-in, very low resolution textures, and the framerate is terrible. The art style is pretty cute, at least. The animations are also really well done. They really nail the look of Monster Hunter’s animations. Everything from attacks to gathering looks spot on.
I love the music in this game. It's mostly original stuff, but there's also some nice remixes of classic MH themes. I especially liked "Very Suspicious", the music that plays in Manelger's laboratory. The game cuts off the music when you're out in the wild, though. I guess it's trying to be like MH, but it's a weird thing to do in an RPG. I also enjoyed all the familiar Monster Hunter sound effects. There is quite a bit of voice acting in the game, but it’s all done in the Monster Hunter language, and there’s no option for English or Japanese, so nobody can understand it.

Aside from the battle system and limitations of the 3DS, I really enjoyed this game. I had fun seeing how Monster Hunter translates into an RPG. I also loved seeing this world from a new perspective. We don’t get to see things like the Hunter’s Guild in the main games. It’s a shame this never came out on Switch because with Monster Hunter Stories 2 already out, it’s hard to recommend this to anyone but the hardcore Monster Hunter fans who just want to see what this game is like.