As one of Capcom's flagship properties in Japan, Monster Hunter has struggled to resonate with western audiences. Perhaps this lingering desire to break through to a new demographic is what triggered the publisher's newfound approach to the property, signalling the birth of a quirky turn-based spin-off titled Monster Hunter Stories for the Nintendo 3DS.
Despite the stigma that traditionally accompanies such off-shoots, this particular title manages to stand on its own to deliver a charming narrative, surprisingly beautiful graphics, and some enthralling gameplay mechanics – all of which pay homage to what came before while helping to make the finished product stand on its own.
Indeed, gone are the days of teaming up with other players to mount an action-packed and methodical assault against gargantuan beasts, because Monster Hunter Stories opts to slow things down by placing the world in an entirely new genre. The turn-based antics of a traditional RPG are present in this rendition of the Capcom property, while rock-paper-scissors battle mechanics help to make it stand out on its own. With that said, the aforementioned layout of this particular combat is easily accessible, but the tradeoff for this is that it quickly wears thin as a result of its rote design.
The implementation of monsters (referred to as Monsties) as allies brings with it a great appreciation of the creatures that have often just been item-gathering fodder in past iterations. Still, players have no control over the action of each creature in battle, meaning that they are often helpless to prevent a weaker attack or a poor matchup unless planning ahead. Each creature does have a preference for on of the three attack-types, which makes battling a readable affair. That's not to say that it's not cool to work alongside known creatures from the universe that had often been hostile previously, but this wears thin after several hours of play – although collecting and bettering them is an entirely different affair in and of itself.
What picks up in the combat's stead, however, is a monster collection system comparable in appeal to that of Pokemon. The beasts that were previously murdered and had their remains used for armor and weapons can now join users in their quest to become an accomplished Rider, although the ability to defeat less-than-friendly monsters for new gear is still a very big part of the final product. Now fans are able to recruit monsters, hatch monsters, ride monsters, and make their own monsters by combining existing ones. Continuously bettering creatures and adding new ones into the fold makes for some seriously fun gameplay, as continuously better the homegrown team brings with it a level of emotional attachment to the in-game pets.
Combat isn't the only thing that plays out differently, as there's actually a cohesive storyline this time around. The narrative itself doesn't stray too far from other stories within the same genre, with players starting off in a tiny village that's thrown into chaos as darkness (read: a giant monster known as Nargacuga) descends upon the simpler semblance of civilization. In the fallout of these events, the user-created protagonist sets off to address this evil and fulfill his or her dream of becoming an expert Rider.
It's rather par for the course for a game of this nature, but the well-writtendialogue is what will rope gamers in. Everything from the always-rhyming village elder to the main character's Felyne companion, Navirou, strike a chord that helps add a level of charm and engagement to the experience that's sorely lacking in other Monster Hunter installments. That's not to say that core MH iterations aren't engaging, but the aim of each title from a design perspective differs rather dramatically – and Stories hits its intended mark handily.
Monster Hunter Stories is an enjoyable 40+ hour romp that adds depth and personality to world that often lacks narrative. Collecting monsters, becoming immersed in in-game events, and taking in the rather beautiful world that Capcom has created are all pivotal to enjoying this experience, while the tedium associated with battles can trigger a desire for multiple breaks during extended sessions. Still, Stories shines in a way that other Monster Hunter games don't, making a name for itself while honoring what came before it.
Monster Hunter Stories is now available exclusively for Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo 2DS systems. Game Rant was provided with a Nintendo 3DS copy of the game for review purposes.