Monster Hunter Stories is the latest title in Capcom’s wildly successful role playing series for Nintendo 3DS. As a spin-off, Stories trades in the series’ action RPG roots for turn-based combat with a heavier focus on character and story than any past entry. Despite this it’s still a Monster Hunter game, with the same addictive gameplay loop, challenging monsters to fight, and quirky humour.
As its title implies, Monster Hunter Stories is a story-based game. The tale follows the player created Rider on their quest to become a Monster Rider, a warrior who fights alongside beasts to protect their village. After a corrupting force called the Black Blight turns monsters evil, the Rider sets off with the reliable felyne Navirou to meet charming allies and face fierce challenges to protect the world from harm. The story focuses on the bonds between people and monsters, and some wonderful characters made for a simple and charming ride that I thoroughly enjoyed.
The overworld is a series of wide open spaces with a great deal to explore in each. Diverse environments lead you from wintry tundra to desolate deserts, idyllic tropical beaches to the inside of a volcano. All are teeming with life and resources to gather, as well as hidden treasures and collectible poogies. It isn’t quite an open world, but the massive spaces on show here are a sight to behold.
While the overworld is often breathtaking with its picturesque vistas and bright colours, it comes at the expense of performance. While patches of poor performance occurred only in isolated areas, slowdown and screen tearing did dent my experience slightly when they cropped up. This is more a niggle than a deal breaker, but given how rare performance issues appear to be in 3DS games, it bears mentioning.
The main draw of Stories are the Monsties, that can be collected to form an adventuring party. Monsties are slightly smaller and cuter version of the beasts that the player fights while roaming the world. A party of up six Monsties can be built with the aid of the protagonist’s Kinship Stone, a magical gemstone worn on their wrist. Monsties can be ridden about the overworld, with many possessing traversal abilities like climbing, leaping great distances, swimming, and even flying, to make exploring the world and uncovering its secrets all the more enjoyable.
But of course, Monsties don’t appear out of thin air. Monster Dens found randomly throughout the overworld end in a nest which can be searched to find an egg. Most of the time the eggs in a nest are random, but forcing a monster to flee to their nest after a battle gives a chance at netting a Monstie of that species when raided.
Outside of regular stats, elemental weakness, and resistance, Monsties also have genes that give special abilities, attacks, and buffs that bolster innate stats or plug gaps. In a genius move, Monsties that are surplus to requirements can pass on a gene to another Monstie to grant abilities otherwise inaccessible. This can mean a Monstie such as a the icy Zamtrios can have access to fire attacks and heat resistance, or a menial Gendrome can be superpowered with the abilities of a Tigrex.
In place of Monster Hunter’s action RPG combat is a turn based combat system, which offers great depth beneath a simple veneer. There are three varieties of basic attacks to choose, organised in a rock-paper-scissors structure of strengths and weaknesses. The core of the turn based system is learning which attacks each monster is most likely to pick, and winning a head-to-head. Select right to dish out massive body blow and minimise damage taken, with the opposite being true for picking poorly. It’s important to get it right, as damage very quickly takes its toll even against small monsters.
Only one Monstie from your party can fight beside you at a time, though they can be switched at will. While you are free to choose attacks for your Rider, Monsties for the most part act independently. It can become frustrating to see your Monstie repeatedly select the wrong attacks and suffer massive damage, but they are normally quite adept at picking appropriately.
The Kinship Stone used to bond with Monsties grants additional abilities in battle. Successfully winning a head-to-head, or performing a double attack by selecting the same attack as your Monstie help build your Kinship gauge. Kinship allows you to order your Monsties to target one of their special attacks at your enemy. Fill the gauge and you can jump on your Monstie’s back to unleash a devastating attack that will inflict massive damage. Riding your Monstie in battle also has the added effect of a slight heal, and recovery from status ailments, making it an incredibly valuable tool in your arsenal.
Story missions involve exploring each area of the overworld, with the ultimate goal of uncovering and defeating Black Blight infected monsters. Side quests task you with helping NPCs by gathering certain items, or defeating a powerful monster that’s causing trouble. There’s a great deal of content to play through, which makes getting lost in Stories particularly easy, especially when you settle into the addictive gameplay loop the series is known for.
While stories introduces a level system for both your Rider and Monsties, beating bosses is only part of the appeal. Materials collected from beating monsters and in the overworld are used to craft better weapons and armour, which is then used to tackle tougher monsters, which yields higher quality materials that can be used to make yet better equipment, and so on. While there is less variety to weapons (Stories only features sword and shield, greatsword, hammer, and hunting horn) and a simpler crafting system, this is the exact same level of gratification and achievement that has seen Monster Hunter become a blockbuster series.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Monster Hunter game without the promise of a large amount of post-game content. The Tower of Illusion and Maze of Ordeals offer up two different ways to fight against high level monsters, while a PvP mode allows Riders from around the world to pit their teams up against each other. For the dedicated, there are hundreds of hours of content here to sink your teeth into, especially with the promise of monthly free DLC.
Monster Hunter Stories is a brilliant spin-off that captures the essence of Capcom’s successful series. The combination of a charming story with a deceptively deep combat system, creature collecting, and the trademark gameplay loop of gathering, crafting, and fighting makes for one of the best RPGs on the 3DS. It’s evident that a lot of love and attention has gone into Stories. The result is a delightful title that continues the success of the franchise.
Mark received a digital copy of Monster Hunter Stories from Nintendo for review.