Sunday, August 1, 2021

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin Review

Developer: Marvelous
Publisher: Capcom
Platforms: NS, PC
Price: $60
Version Played: PC

I loved the first Monster Hunter Stories, but maybe it was a bit too ambitious for the 3DS. I don’t think it reached its full potential on that platform. Monster Hunter Stories 2; however, feels like it accomplishes everything the first game set out to do and more. It has more monsters, an improved battle system, online co-op, and much more content than the first game. MHS2 is bigger and better than MHS1 in every way.

The main plot in MHS2 is still very generic. It's like a Monster Hunter story meets a shonen anime. It takes place 4 years after the first game, but your old character is nowhere to be seen. Instead of a dark mist turning monsters into superpowered Apex monsters, we have a pink light coming out of the ground making them more aggressive. Your character is the grandchild of the legendary monster rider who was briefly mentioned in the first game, Red. And of course, you get to raise a mythical monster who might have enough power to destroy the world, the super cute baby Rathalos, Ratha. It sure is a Monster Hunter story. There’s still a lot of good storytelling in the game, though. Like the first game, MHS2 is very Dragon Quest-like in how it ties the main plot to what's going on in the towns you visit through the quests you do there.
I think a big part of why I liked the story so much better than the first game’s is the voice acting. There’s full English voice acting this time. No Monster Hunter language and none of that one sound per text bubble stuff either. It really helps get the personalities of the characters across. It also makes it much easier to follow along than reading in English while people make sounds in the Monster Hunter language.
The way the game pairs you up with a new NPC in each town also helps you feel more connected to the story. It makes everything feel more personal when you’re helping your friends. Also, your character is still mute and Navirou needs someone to talk to. You can’t control these NPCs, but they are a huge help. They fight, heal, buff, and even team up with you for devastating Kinship attacks. You’ll meet both new friends and characters from the first game along the way. I love having these characters with me, but it sucks that you can't control them because they don't always do the smartest things in battle.
I think the biggest improvement is in the battle system, though. MHS2 still uses that rock-paper-scissors style system from the first game, but the monsters aren’t doing complicated attack patterns anymore. Well, most of them aren’t. They get crazy in the post-game. In MHS2, monsters stick to one attack type depending on their state or stance. For example, a monster might do strong attacks in their regular state, do speed attacks while enraged, and do technical attacks while flying. There really isn’t a way to know what kind of attack a monster will do in each state until it actually attacks, but I like this much better than the flowchart-like mess monsters did in the first game. This makes battles more about reacting rather than guesswork or memorization.
You can also switch weapons in the middle of a fight now. This adds a new layer of depth to battles. Every monster part has a different weapon weakness, so you're constantly switching between the 3 weapon types to maximize your damage. You can't do this in regular MH, but it makes you think about what weapon does the most damage to each part, which is totally a MH thing.
Another nice feature they’ve added is the Quick Finish option, which allows you to win battles you out-level in 1 turn. If you out-level a monster that you’ve already fought, and is not a boss or quest target, you can just hold down ZL and ZR and automatically win. You still get XP and loot too. I didn’t get too many chances to use this during the story, but I did use it to farm some monsters in the post-game.
Catching Monsties still works the same as it did in MHS1, you find eggs in monster dens and hatch the eggs at the stables in town. The dens are all made from the same pieces put together in different ways, so they do feel a bit repetitive, but they’re mostly small and easy to go in and out of, so I never got bored of them. I think they’re actually better than the first game’s because they’re a bit more complex and have more places where you can use your Monstie’s traversal abilities (AKA HMs) to get treasure chests. They’ve also added a new permanent type of den called Everdens. They really aren’t too different from regular dens except for the fact that they don’t despawn from the map after you leave them and they have Bottle Caps inside. Bottle Caps are the currency used to buy hairstyles, costumes, and a bunch of other items from a special Feyline in towns.
Everything about the stables has gotten some kind of upgrade. You can hatch all your eggs at the same time, you get more expedition slots, and the Rite of Channeling is a lot more flexible. In MHS1, you had to line up genes to transfer them. For example, if a monster had a gene in the top right corner of its gene grid, it could only be passed to another monster in that same slot. MHS2's Rite of Channeling lets you transfer genes to any slot, upgrade genes by channeling duplicates, and it has items that will unlock gene slots. It's a huge upgrade from MHS1.
I think the whole process of building the perfect Monstie takes too long, though. Some genes have to be unlocked through leveling, so you have to level up a Monstie just to channel one of its genes, and then it's gone forever. That's a lot of work compared to Pokemon S&S, where I can get a Pokemon to level 100, give it perfect IVs and EVs, and put all the moves I want on it within minutes using items you get from just playing the game. There are no XP items in MHS2. You just have to put the Monsties in your party and let them soak XP or send them on expeditions to level up. This is the main reason I fell off this game so hard after spending some time with the post-game. This is way too time consuming.
This game has a ton of post-game content too. Like in regular Monster Hunter games, you unlock High Rank after finishing the story and you’re encouraged to keep playing for gear and the challenge of fighting tougher monsters. There’s also High Rank quests on the quest board, HR online co-op quest dens, HR dens all over the world, and a new area full of nothing but High Rank monsters called the Elder Lair. Guess what you’ll find at the end of it. You’re also free to choose any of your buddies from the story to tag along with you. There’s a ton of stuff to do after you’re done with the story. Do you really want to do this stuff, though? It’s not like you’ll be able to put these Monsties in MonstéHun Home and carry them over to Monster Hunter Stories 3. I guess if you really love the grindy loop of Monster Hunter in turn-based RPG form, you’ll enjoy this, but I tapped out after about 10 hours of it. There’s also the whole online PVP aspect of the game, which I barely touched.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 is no technical marvel, but I think it has a really nice art style. The hand painted textures on the environments go great with the cel shaded characters. Both the hunting areas and towns are a lot bigger and much more detailed than in the first game too. I especially love the design of Rutoh Village, a Wyverian village surrounded by forests, which looks like something out of LotR. The draw distance of the grass is probably the biggest eyesore. You can literally see it pop in about 20ft in front of your character. The Switch version’s framerate is also not so great. It ranges from around 20 to 40fps depending on where you are. Framerate is not a huge issue in an RPG like this, but it would have been nice if it was locked at 30. The game runs really well on PC, though. I was able to get 60fps at 1080p at max settings with no issues.
I think MHS2’s soundtrack is pretty good too. There’s lots of great songs in it, it’s all orchestral, and of course, the audio quality is a huge improvement over the 3DS game. I don’t like it as much as the first game’s soundtrack, though. I kept listening for something as good as “Very Suspicious” (Manelger's Laboratory), but I never heard anything quite that awesome. Navirou’s annoyingness aside, I thought the voice acting was pretty good. I already had a voice in my head for every character from the first game and I never thought anyone’s voice was weird or off in any way except for Navirou. He really sounded like Chopper from One Piece in the first game, but sounds totally different in this game. He sounds pretty much the same in Japanese, but I wasn’t going to play in Japanese.
I think this game is great. I had a lot of fun with it. It fixes nearly every problem with the first game and it has a ton of content with even more DLC on the way. You really can’t go wrong with this game if you’re into Monster Hunter or monster raising RPGs in general. Even with the framerate all over the place on Switch, I think it’s worth playing on either platform.