When I was young, I was a massive fan of monsters, dinosaurs, and other cool-looking spiky creatures; basically, anything that looked tough and cool. Though my enthusiasm for wicked dragons and weird creatures has waned a bit over the years, I felt a resurgence of childhood glee when I discovered the premise of Monster Hunter Stories.
Your personalised character is a fledgling Rider, hailing from a small village where monsters aren’t hunted but instead befriended, trained and used to defend in combat. It’s a significant departure from other Monster Hunter titles, although you’ll recognise monsters (referred to as ‘Monsties’ here), names and other references.
If you were expecting a classic Monster Hunter game, the change might be a shock Stories opts for a turn-based RPG combat system, and instead of tracking and hunting monsters for loot, your goal is to collect their eggs to raise as your own. It also carries a more lighthearted tone, reflected in its colourful, comical character designs and (slightly cheesy) dialogue.
The story itself is fairly straightforward: After a mysterious force referred to as the Black Blight attacks your village, you set out on an adventure to find new Monsties and discover what is causing the Blight to possess creatures and parts of the land. On your way you’ll discover plenty of cute and comedic characters too, such as the clever Felynes and poor, lost Poogies.
Monster Hunter Stories features an open world through which you can ride on your chosen Monstie. The overworld is littered with plants, rocks, bones and other materials which you can collect (if you’re like me, your compulsive need to loot all of them will definitely slow you down). Different Monsties have skills such as jumping and swimming to allow you to traverse different obstacles, adding an aspect of replayability to many areas. I personally love it, but if you’re not a fan of backtracking, it might prove a bit tedious. You’ll also discover randomly-spawned Monster Dens, which is where you’ll be stealing your brand new eggs from; but you’ll have to do so without waking up their owner unless you want to be clawed and bitten to a pulp.
The egg and Monstie collecting system is where Monster Hunter Stories shines. You can hatch eggs at your stable to reveal a brand new Monstie for your party, and similar to Pokémon they have varying starting stats, so the more serious RPG players will enjoy grinding out for the perfect baby. You can have a party of six in battle, and they all gain experience equally, which is a fantastic catch-up mechanic for when you want to use new Monsties later in the game. You can also use discovered Egg Fragments to create new eggs, allowing you to further customise the skills and genes of your baby Monsties — if you’re willing to put the effort into obtaining them. Many of the most powerful Eggs and fragments are rare and can only be found in locations that will challenge even the most dedicated player.
Combat in Monster Hunter Stories isn’t overly challenging, with the exception of some boss battles. You don’t choose what your Monstie does; instead, you choose your own moves based on what your Monstie is doing. For example, if it’s going to charge in, you might choose to buff it, or do a double-up attack together. In combination with some Monsties’ skills and enemies with unpredictable patterns, combat can become surprisingly complex and involving, though you won’t need to seriously strategise too often. In combat you possess three Hearts, and each time you or your Monstie reaches zero health, you lose one. Once they’re gone, you get sent back to the last save point. As they don’t reset until you rest or leave an area, the Heart system is a mechanic that ensures you don’t recklessly enter fights you can’t win. If you want even more of a challenge, you can go online to fight other players one-on-one.
Generally, Monster Hunter Stories is a very enjoyable game to play, though it isn’t without flaws. The gameplay itself takes a while to get going, which turned me off a bit; don’t expect to have finished the entire tutorial segment until at least an hour in (it definitely improves afterwards). I found the game’s dialogue fairly cringe-worthily at some points, though I can’t say whether that’s the fault of the translation or the original writing. As long as you’re not expecting in-depth character development and innovative writing, it’s not a big issue.
Monster Hunter Stories has something for every type of RPG fan: Customisation, collection, turn based combat, real time action, exploration, and heaps more. In a lot of ways, it’s the monster raising game I’ve always wanted, and a great entry-point into the world of the Monster Hunter series.
If you’re still on the fence about it, there’s a demo on the Nintendo eShop that lets you try the entire first section of the game for free, then transfer up your progress if you buy the full game. It’s worth a go; you might even become attached to that baby Velocidrome, and find yourself hunting for just one more egg… and maybe another… and suddenly find yourself, like me, engrossed in your adventures as a Monster Rider.