[This post has been updated to include both Steve’s and Mike’s reviews, and thus was republished]
Monster Hunter Stories was a bizarre, mixed-bag of an announcement when it was initially revealed. Not quite Monster Hunter, not quite Pokemon, the game has been a relatively obscure entry in the series, in part because of the eclipsing power of Monster Hunter World. While I try not personalize reviews, and often avoid writing in the 1st-person, as a long time Monster Hunter player with thousands of hours in the series, I feel the need to discuss how personally fulfilling this game has been to me. In fact, playing Stories has completely healed the void left by the news that World wouldn’t be coming to Nintendo consoles. It’s filled a gap I didn’t even know existed, and has become one of my favourite games of this generation. And here’s why:
At its core, Stories is part of the rarely-seen monster catching sub genre of RPGs that is monopolized by the Pokemon series. You explore an over-world, visit various towns, and uncover a plot involving the corruption of these monsters and how to fix it. However, how you go about all of this is completely unique to this entry. Monsters are never caught; You’ll never own a monster after battling it. Instead, you’ll be discovering dens all around the world that will end at an egg nest. It’s there that you’ll have a few chances to loot the nest for an egg, based on pattern and color. Upon returning to town, you can hatch your eggs, and add the new monsters to your team. This mechanic forces an aspect of randomness upon the player. What monster will you get? How will it be statistically? What about special abilities? All of this is left a mystery until you hatch your new best friend.
You’ll quickly learn that not all monsters are created equal, even amoung their own genus. Two Yian Kut-ku might have very different attack stats, for example. The game also establishes a “gene” system, with a total of 9 slots, not all of which will necessarily be available to your monster. These slots can be filled with abilities and special moves from other monsters, in a process similar to fusing two monsters into one. In addition to the strategic elements of giving your monster certain skills, getting the skills to line up in a row will result in a bonus stat boost. And if you can get enough of a certain element type, you can actually change the typing of your monster. Want a fire-type Lagombi (usually an ice-element monster)? It’s entirely possible, and he’ll even end up being a slightly more red color.
This customization gives you a myriad of possibilities, and creates an addictive quality to the game. You’ll often find yourself seeking out unique combinations to create your dream teammate. Maybe you’ll want a heavily defensive Gravios with a water typing and the ability to heal. In that case, you’ll start by hatching your base monster, the Gravios. Then you’ll find a number of monsters with water skills you can pass on, in order to manipulate his type. Finally, find a monster that can heal, such as a Popo, and add that skill to your monster. And viola, you’ve got a defensive tank that can heal while he blasts his fiery brethren with water attacks.
Speaking of attacks, the combat system in Stories ends up being as unique and refreshing as everything else about this game. Initially, you may be put off by the simplistic “rock-paper-scissors” type battle system. You, as the Rider, have a choice of one of three attacks: Power, Technical or Speed. Each one beats an attack and is weak against another attack. Your stats will also come into play, and damage is always done by both attacking parties, which helps keep things from being too one-sided. In addition to this, monsters usually have a particular type of attack they gravitate towards. The game actively encourages you to learn how monsters think, so you’ll have a strategic advantage in battle. But wait: there’s more. Much more.
In addition to your attacks, your monster will also fight. They battle independently of you, which requires you to learn how your monster thinks and act accordingly. As you fight, you’ll earn Kinship, which will allow you to use special moves, and command your monsters to do the same. And if you get your Kinship up to 100%, you’ll be able to spend it to mount your monster. Once you’re riding, you’ll be one with your partner. The monster will heal, and you’ll be invincible. Attacks will deal more damage, and you can continue to increase your kinship by performing effective attacks. Before you’re toppled by the enemy, you’ll want to unleash your ultimate attack: The Kinship Skill. This is a special attack, reminiscent of Z-Powers in the Pokemon series. Each one is incredibly powerful, and comes with an animation that is guaranteed to be breathtaking and incredibly fun. Using your Kinship Skills is the highlight of every battle, and it really makes you feel like you’re the ultimate force to be reckoned with.
The game features random encounters and story battles, but also has a tournament mode where you can battle against CPUs in succession. These battles pit you against a Rider and their monsters, and force an extra layer of thought behind how you choose to battle. These fights can also be done against actual human players, either through local multiplayer or online. They’re a blast, and playing with your friends is just so much fun. The customization elements in the game make it very enjoyable to see how other players are approaching their quest.
Visually, Monster Hunter Stories is a delight. It’s bright and colorful, and the little worlds are full of life in a way that’s comparable to the DS Zelda titles (although being a 3DS title, Stories is very much superior graphically). The characters and monsters are full of life and spirit, the animations are fantastic, and the story is admittedly more interesting and mature than anything you’ve seen in prior Monster Hunter titles. As a Monster Hunter fan, this game does a lot to expand upon the rather limited world we’ve seen in past games. Encountering Hunters leads to unique experiences where they initially fear your ride-able monsters before learning to accept your very different way of treating monsters. You’ll speak with a number of NPCs in a variety of towns that give you a great idea of what it would be like to live in the Monster Hunter World, and you’ll experience it all with monsters of your own choosing.
Stories is a truly unique game, full of charm and excitement. It will provide a lengthy experience if you choose to see and do everything, much like main-series Monster Hunter titles. It gives you that sense of wonder you had the first time you played Pokemon, and yet it manages to be so different from Pokemon that it almost feels wrong even bringing up that series in this review. You definitely don’t have to be a Monster Hunter Veteran to enjoy this game; my Infendo Radio co-host Steve has been enjoying this game immensely with almost no knowledge of the prior games. As a longtime Hunter, I find collecting all of the different monsters an absolute joy. As a final point, it should be noted that Capcom is supporting the game with frequent free DLC updates, just like every other Monster Hunter title, so expect to see the game grow and develop for a while even after you finish it.
I have to recommend this game for anyone who enjoys RPGs, Monster Hunter, Pokemon or is just looking for a totally new gaming experience. Stories is the breakout hit I didn’t even know I wanted, and it’s completely captivated me. Do yourself a favour, and at the very least download the playable demo on the 3DS eshop. It will give you approximately 5 hours worth of content to see how you like the game. And if you enjoy the demo, there’s only more goodness to come in the full game. Ride on!
Lukas’ Final Score: 5/5
Steve’s Second Opinion
On Christmas day, I found myself with some extra money, and the desire to spend it. Over the days leading up to Christmas, I had heard Lukas raving about how good Monster Hunter Stories was, and Mike saying how much fun he was having during the demo. I found myself wondering “Are they enjoying it because they are avid Hunters, or just because it was a good game?”After discussing the game mechanics with Lukas for a short time, I did something I usually regret. I bought the game digitally.
You might be wondering why I would regret this. I am a die hard Pokemon fan ever since it came stateside. I’ve tried other monster catching games (Digimon on the DS, Monster Rancher on PS1) and never really found them to be that entertaining. What intrigued me was how much of what Lukas was saying about MH Stories reminded me of my brief time with Final Fantasy X-2, and my extensive time playing Final Fantasy XIII-2. I never finished X-2, but I spent close to 100 hours playing XIII-2 on my PS3. Why? Because that game let you have up to 3 characters in your party, but you only had a decent amount of control over 1 . And of the other 2, 1 of them was allowed to be a monster you could recruit randomly. It was this aspect that kept me playing XIII-2 as long as I did, and this was the aspect that drew me to Stories.
As many of you who know me understand, I only recently dabbled in the Monster Hunter universe. Mike and Lukas finally convinced me to dive into Generations on 3DS. I fell in love with the customization of the series and the freedom it gave you. They taught me the basics, and as I started to get to the point I could hold my own, other games hit on Switch that stole me away. Then XX was announced, and I put the game down, with the full intention of picking it back up after it gets localized. Unfortunately, that will most likely never happen.
When I started playing Stories, there was so much that was immediately familiar to me. I recognized monsters I had fought before (like Velociprey and Velocidrome, which made up my first armor set in Generations) and that immediately made me feel at home in this world. The quest system works almost identically to how it does in Generations. There is item crafting. You eventually can take on Forge Quests to get armor sets that match your monster. Hell, there’s even an affinity bonus you get for wearing your monsters’ armor (which is strange, somehow. Your monster likes you more because you look like it, even though your armor is made from the parts of its fallen brothers and sisters).
The battle system is very deep as well. It seems like a simple rock-paper-scissors set up, but there is so much more. If you use rock, and they use scissors, you can cancel out their entire attack in certain situations, sparing you health. You can execute combos that deal more damage if you use certain moves in certain orders. There is a balance to riding and fighting side by side.
Like in Pokemon, the monster that is walking alongside you can execute certain abilities on the field. Everything from jumping, digging, or climbing at certain marked points in the world. There is even one ability you get later game (no spoilers) that is very reminiscent of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
I can not get enough of this game. In roughly 8 days, I have logged 35 hours in the game. That in itself is not as impressive as the fact that my average play session is 5 hours! I am literally losing sleep over this game. Something that, previously, only Zelda and Pokemon have achieved. There are multiple nights in that week period where I have gone to bed after 4am, and had to get up at 6:30 for work the next day.
I think you get the idea. This game is amazing. If you’re a Monster Hunter fan, you need to get this game. If you’re a Pokemon fan, you need to get this game. If you’re an RPG fan, you need to get this game.
Steve’s Final Score 5/5
Rare Monster Den found – obtained “Mike’s Review”
I remember exactly where I was when Monster Hunter Stories was announced in Japan; climbing a mountain with my friends, sitting on a rock watching a really low-quality trailer that my phone was begging the local signals to download. I knew right then that this was going to be a nice niche title, with a cute visual aspect. I just didn’t expect it to be my kind of niche game. Well…sort of. I knew I’d play it because Monster Hunter is my heroin. God, I can’t quit this particular game though.
My feels about the game align largely the same with Lukas’ and Steve’s, with one of my only key gripes is that if you choose to walk in the overworld and not ride your Monstie, dear Jaggi is it sloooow. Some Monsties also move slower than others, so you really need to make sure you’re able to travel comfortably. What’s more is that some of the areas, while huge and nicely detailed, are very empty and aside from randomly spawning item areas, aren’t much to do unless you’re in a village or town. This issue is alleviated each time you get a new kind of Monstie with a new travel ability, but the first impression for me of each area has been “well this looks boring.”
That’s also kind of a focal point for Monster Hunter in general though – the larger areas in a map are open and vast and empty. So in that regard, this game feels right at home!
I’m not even 40 hours into this game and I’m still learning new mechanics each time I play – monster channeling has become a key feature for me that has me getting multiple eggs of the same kind just so I can have fodder monsters to sacrifice stats or moves of a certain type to another monster. There is joy in finding out what other element you can transform your Monsties into; I recently found out that turning a Diablos into a water-type turns its horns and claws blue! (Gendrome doesn’t change when you turn it into a pure electric-type, but that’s obviously because it’s always been one) This, to me, is the easier-to-access EV and IV training in Pokemon. Each Monstie has different gene pools, and in those pools you get varying genes (some monsters are born with extra passive traits) and differing alignments on the bingo chart, making channeling a fine-tuned selection. If you’re someone that had to learn about alleles and Punnet squares and genes in science class and actually enjoyed it (you weirdo), this is RIGHT up your alley!
I love this game in ways that I didn’t think I would – I was very afraid that playing this game would make me hunger for Monster Hunter Worlds more and make me sad that I can no longer play it since I sold my PS4. I figured it would make me just want to play Monster Hunter XX on my Switch and throw me into a fit that it isn’t anything other than Monster Hunter Pokemon Edition. But no…this game fuels my love for the entire series and conveniently, is the game I’m able to play much more often due to me being back in school and having a full plate of responsibilities. This game is great for those that have been told of the large time-sink that the mainline Monster Hunter games are and were too afraid to try them – in the time it would take you to do some quality hunts in the main games and get a decent item or two and progress the story, you can get 12 eggs in Stories and find new monsters to hunt, get a new Monstie, cross-breed some genes, maybe rescue a Poogie or two. You feel like you accomplish more in the same time, which I find to be a great way to get new players and younger players into the franchise.
If you picked up a copy of Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon and felt slightly disappointed in how similar it felt to the previous games, then this is the Pokemon game for you.