When you think of Monster Hunter, you think of slaying magnificent beasts, harvesting parts, foraging for parts, and journeying across a vast world. Now, instead of slaying a Mizutsune, think about taming one and having it as a companion on your travels. The Monster Hunter Stories spin-off series takes a dive into that hypothetical, and has you take up the form of a Rider instead of a Hunter. At first glance I admit I scoffed and dismissed the series as another Pokémon clone, but boy was I proven wrong.
Buckle Up and Ride On
In Monster Hunter Stories 2, you’re the descendant of Red, a renown Rider whose Rathalos is the guardian of your village. After a mysterious force causes all the Rathalos to go berserk, an egg from the guardian Rathalos appears, and is foretold to be the monster of prophecy, the Wings of Ruin, which will bring, well, ruin.
The story follows a similar premise to the first installment in the spin-off series, and vaguely even seems to be connected to it. Much like the first game, the Rathalos egg in concern is yours to take care of, and will bond as your Monstie - basically a pet monster. Also accompanying you in your expedition is the chattery Felyne, Navirou. The Rathalos egg in concern has pitted Riders and Hunters against each other, leading to a prolonged chase for your Monstie.
On your travels you’ll meet all sorts of interesting characters in the various regions spread out, each of them revealing more about the main goal you’re carrying out, as well making for some interesting sub-plots. While some of the characters play to tropes quite a bit, I still found them charming in their own their way For instance, the Hunter in constant pursuit of the Rathalos egg, Kyle, seemed a bit too edgy for my liking in the beginning, but I warmed up to him after seeing his soft side, and that he was more than just a Hunter hating on Riders.
The ‘Stories’ part of Monster Hunter Stories 2 is definitely on the more cliched side of things and is fairly predictable, but it still has its heart-warming moments and made me shed a tear or two. It can be cheesy and corny at times, which is to be expected as it’s targeted towards a younger audience. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but nod my head in approval at Navirou’s cat related puns and whisper ‘big mood’ at his proclaimed cravings for donuts.
Hunting, Gathering, and Riding
Gameplay-wise, Monster Hunter Stories 2 combines the best of the traditional Monster Hunter experience and adds a bit of JRPG flair to it. You can forage for all sorts of herbs, ores, and bugs and use them in crafting recipes, weapons and armor. There’s also plenty of subquests to take care of to obtain from the Quest Board and from NPCs.
Your party members consist of the Monsties you raise from the eggs you find from dens, and the stinkier the eggs, the better. The stinky eggs usually come from rare monster dens and will hatch Monsties with better genes. Similarly, there are super rare dens, giving you the chance of finding a rainbow egg. The Monsties from these give you the best possible genes and stats when they hatch. Additionally, Everdens are dens where Bottle Caps can be found. These can then be traded at Melynx Inc., the Felyne run store that sells all sorts of armor, recipes, upgrades, and cosmetic gear. There’s clearly a lot of variety in terms of the types of dens you can run across, but after a while, the layout of these dens gets repetitive and you’re left with a feeling of deja vu.
That being said, Monster Hunter Stories 2’s strength lies in its combat. It takes not-so-subtle inspiration from Pokémon in terms of its rock-paper-scissors style attacks, with power, technical, and speed in place. But the combat’s got a lot more spice to it than that and outshines Pokémon in almost every aspect. Similar to the mainline Monster Hunter games, there’s a total of 6 weapons to choose from, and each of them can be forged and upgraded using the monster parts and materials you find and forage. Each of them have their own special weapon gauges and can have varying effectiveness against the monster types and the anatomy you’re aiming at.
Then there’s the Kinship Gauge, which, once filled, aids you in riding your Monstie and can be used to pull off flashy Kinship Skills. These can be taken a step further with your Battle Buddy, essentially another party member and their Monstie. Unlike usual JRPGs, however, their actions cannot be controlled and you need to keep a close eye on what your partner's doing to ensure efficiency. While that makes it feel like you really do have a friend with you in battle, the AI for the battle buddy is unfortunately not the smartest. There would be times where I’d heal my Monstie to full health only for my battle buddy to ineffectively use a potion as well and waste a turn.
Enjoy the Views and Tunes
There’s no doubt that Monster Hunter Stories 2 is one of the best looking games on the Switch, and for what it is, the game runs fairly well. It has its occasional frame rate drops, and you'll frequently see things loading in and out of the screen, but it never gets unplayably bad (probably a pretty low bar, but hey, it's the Switch). One thing that can get irksome though, is the numerous loading screens. While the loading time isn’t terribly long, there’s a good number of loading screens to go through, and some of the transitions can seem janky. The transition between the overworld to the battle screen in particular is especially peculiar, as it seems to load for a couple more seconds than it should, and since you’ll be seeing quite a lot of it, it gets tiring really fast.
You’ll stumble across many vistas on your travels across the various terrain, and find many monsters roaming around the land. I remember being in awe the first time I saw a Larinoth towering over the trees. The game has both day and night cycles to choose from when you depart, so you can pick the time of day you like best. Personally, I ended up choosing dusk whenever I could just so I could catch the sunset. The cutscenes exhibit the best of the game’s animation, and the anime artstyle really works wonders for it. I have to give major props to the character creator as well for all the options it includes. I must have easily spent a good 15 minutes trying out all the different hairstyles and colors.
Monster Hunter Stories 2’s music is a definite delight, and lies amongst the game’s stronger suits. The battle theme also changes up so it never gets dull (I’m looking at nearly every other JRPG). There’s also a surprising amount of voice acting, and except for the occasional background character or two, it’s very solid.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 | Final Thoughts
While it’s clearly going head-to-head with Pokémon, Monster Hunter Stories 2 offers serious competition, and I’d even go as far as saying it has the current state of Pokémon beat at its own game. At the same time, it’s doing more than enough to stay ahead of the curve and spread its roots even more as a spin-off series. While narratively, it may not stand out much, but its gameplay mechanics, visuals, and soundtrack are stellar and it’s done more than enough to make its mark as more than just another Pokémon clone.
TechRaptor reviewed Monster Hunter Stories 2 with a copy provided by the published on Nintendo Switch. It is also available on PC.
- Combat is fun and intricate
- Can get clichéd and tropey