A blighted story.
Monster Hunter is as chronicled a franchise in Japan as just about any other you can think of. Here in the west, Monster Hunter World opened the door for a mainstream audience to what was once a cult favorite. Either way, the franchise has long since deserved this newfound recognition and has even received word of a film adaptation helmed by Paul W.S. Anderson (of the Resident Evil film franchise; yay). About a year before Monster Hunter World dropped in America, however, Monster Hunter Stories quietly raised eyebrows on the Nintendo 3DS.
Set in a piece of the world where riders prosper and hunters are towns and towns away, Monster Hunter Stories spins the tale of your created character and his friends as they seek to become riders. While out investigating a lush forest near their hometown of Hakum Village, your character and his/her two friends, Cheval and Lilia, find an unhatched Rathian egg. After being berated by Dan, Hakum’s veteran rider, the egg hatches and instantly bonds with your character. That same day, a blighted Nargacuga attacks Hakum Village, destroying many homes and killing Cheval’s mother. When the hohum dies down and the Nargacuga is driven away, your baby Rathian is seemingly slain and Cheval abandons the village. You, then, become a rider after finishing your trials (alongside Cheval before he takes off) and begin your efforts to keep your village safe. Unfortunately, the blight appears to threaten your world, and you must find a way to put an end to its advance.
This underlying premise runs the show for Monster Hunter Stories, and it guides your character and his/her decisions long in to the game. Various subplots are drawn out to interesting conclusions during your adventure – some far more interesting than the the main narrative – and make for welcome diversions along the way. Gameplay, then, features you and your chosen monstie (your monster bestie, no lie) as you explore and battle your way through the world. You can have a small team of monsties, much like Pokemon, and you can capture more by grabbing eggs from monster dens.
Combat in Monster Hunter Stories works as a turn based system where you can choose from a speed, technical, or power attack. You’ll also find yourself with a number of skills you can use that takes points from your monstie gauge (a bar that fills as you win head-to-head exchanges and take damage). In order to efficiently dispatch foes – particularly of the larger variety – you’ll need to learn attack patterns and enemy combat styles. By doing so, you can successfully win head-to-head battles where your attack choice overpowers the enemy’s. A speed attack will always defeat a power attack; a power attack will always defeat a technical attack; and a technical attack will always defeat a speed attack. Should you win your head-to-head, you’ll fill up your monstie gauge by approximately a third (once it’s full, you can ride your monstie; when you raise it to level 3 from there, you can unleash an ultra powerful combination attack) and deal much more damage to the enemy while limiting their damage output. It’s an overly simple system in theory that can cause some anxiety if you forget a pattern or guess wrong, especially when it gets down to the nitty-gritty against bosses. Thankfully, the game gives you three faints (much like your traditional Monster Hunter experience) that is shared between you and your monstie. I only ever needed to use them a few times, and I only found myself in game over once or twice.
For a 3DS RPG that focused more on monster catching than interacting with people, the world felt alive. There are numerous large towns filled with many people and quests, so you’ll never be left with little to do. The sound that accompanied most of these villages or towns is what really sold them for me, however. In Hakum Village, for example, the music was some of the best I’ve heard in an RPG in a very long time. Most of the remaining tracks hummed along in tranquility (aside from the appropriately tense ones), and the soundtrack worked on the whole.
Monster Hunter Stories presents players with a grand new adventure so wildly different from the Monster Hunter experience – both in its colorful and cute presentation and turn based RPG monster catching gameplay – that it has the potential to become an instant classic among both Monster Hunter and monster catching fans. While the battle system and story appear both light and filled with fluff, once you delve deeper into each, you’re opened to a world of strategy, heart, and, most importantly, fun. Capcom hit another home run with this one, and it is well deserving of your time and money, particularly if you’ve been jonesing for a solid RPG.