Nintendo / Marvelous
Although the Monster Hunter series has enjoyed a hardcore following over the years, it’s fair to say its particular brand of lengthy boss-type monster battling only appeals to a certain type of gamer.
Monster Hunter Stories appears to be an attempt to branch out a bit and expand the Monster Hunter universe in a way that might be a better fit for fans of other games.
Well, I say “other games”, but I really just mean Pokémon. Because this is basically Pokémonster Hunter.
You play as a young lad or lass (the character customisation is surprisingly flexible) who, along with your two pals are trying to become a legendary Monster Rider.
This doesn’t mean what it does in Glasgow – there’s no bestiality involved here – instead a Rider is someone who forms bonds with monsters by hatching their eggs and befriending them from birth.
This then lets them ride the monsters around like a cowboy, roaming the land looking for other monsters to punch in the dick.
As is the Pokénorm, the game opens at the beginning of your youngster’s journey, right before they’re taught the ins and outs of being a
Naturally though, there’s a purpose to all this: an evil force known as the Black Blight is sweeping the land and causing all sorts of chaos, even affecting you and your friends directly (not saying how, because spoilers innit). It’s up to you to – you guessed it – put an end to the Black Blight.
Don’t expect the story that follows to be the sort of thing that will go down in history alongside Homer’s Iliad or Tolstoy’s War & Peace: although the plot ticks along at a decent rate, there’s really nothing here that will tug at the heartstrings or get your heart racing.
Your heart will be more or less left alone, is what I’m saying.
That’s not to say there isn’t still some well-written dialogue in there, mind. The cast of supporting characters (your hero doesn’t speak) is well-rounded enough and offers plenty of colourful conversation, though your companion on your travels may split gamers down the middle.
Said partner is a Felyne called Navirou, who speaks almost entirely in cat puns. At first it’s endearing but after a while it’ll leave you feline pretty claws to punching him. It must be some sort of gaming law that every character whose name starts with Navi is a pain in the arse.
This is all well and good, then, but the real meat of Monster Hunter Stories is the battling. Unlike Pokémon, your hero gets involved in the scrap too as part of a two-man team: you can ‘carry’ a squad of up to five ‘Monsties’ with you (‘monster’ + ‘bestie’: don’t ask), but only one can fight alongside you at a time.
Frustratingly, your Monstie’s standard attacks can’t be directly commanded by you. While later in the game you can learn Skills which you can use to make your Monstie perform moves Pokémon-style, this does mean your first few hours spent with the game will be annoying.
It can lead to particularly irritating situations where, say, you’re facing one powerful enemy and a couple of weak ones, and while you’re trying your best to batter the big one your Monstie is doing pointless intimidation moves to lower the shit ones’ already weak attack.
Like I say, stick with it and as the game progresses you’ll get some more control over your Monstie’s attacks, but just bear in mind you’re in for a slightly annoying ride before you reach that stage.
More interesting is the head-to-head attacks which can occur at random during battles. There are three types of standard attack – power, speed and technical – and sometimes after choosing a move you and an enemy will charge at each other.
This is where a rock-paper-scissors situation kicks in (power beats technical which beats speed), and if your move ‘beats’ theirs you’ll do more damage and take less.
If you’re worried this feels a bit too random, don’t be: each species of monster has its own attack pattern, so once you figure out how they behave in combat you’ll be able to second-guess which sort of move they’re about to pull off. It’s a clever way of making you analyse your enemies’ fighting styles.
The battles take a while to get going, then, but the rest of the world exploration is fun enough. There are around 200 side-quests (with more planned via DLC) which have you wandering around killing specific monsters and collecting certain items. Nothing too mind-blowing or genre-defying, but a pleasant enough way to pass the time.
The other main pastime, though, is building your collection of Monsties. Dotted throughout the game’s large map are Monster Dens, which are sort of mini dungeons. At the end of each of these is a nest where you can find a bunch of monster eggs.
If you can manage to nick an egg (without being attacked and killed by its parent) and make it back to your village, you can hatch it and add another Monstie to your roster.
While they obviously each have their own battle moves, they also have certain abilities that help while exploring the world (much like the HM moves in Pokémon). Some can jump over gaps, others can locate items, that sort of thing.
The only other notable thing about Monster Hunter Stories is it looks fantastic. This is easily one of the better-looking 3DS games out there (though obviously not as good as these fake screenshots suggest), and its lengthy prerendered cutscenes and quality Japanese voice acting add to the high production levels.
(Incidentally, for those wondering about the digital download size, it’s just under 15,000 blocks: that’s around 1.8GB, on par with the likes of Pokémon X and Y.)
In all, if you’re still sticking with your trusty 3DS and you’re looking for another decent-sized Pokémon style RPG to keep you busy while you wait for Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, you could do a lot worse than this.
The story’s a bit arbitrary and the battle system takes a while to get going, but the entertaining character dialogue and the detailed landscapes should keep your interest for a while.
Monster Hunter Stories is out now, priced £34.99 / $39.99 on the 3DS eShop, or you can buy the physical version from Amazon UK. There’s a free demo on the eShop if you want to try it for yourself.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from a PR. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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