Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is like if Pokemon and Shin Megami Tensei were heading to an RPG convention and Monster Hunter was their taxi driver. This spin-off to Capcom’s Monster Hunter series is a great entry into the monster-battling turn-based RPG genre and something that fans of collectible monsters and stat-crunching will enjoy for quite some time.
In Stories 2, you play as the grandchild of a legendary monster rider (like a monster hunter, but they also raise monsters from birth to fight alongside them) and adventure across the world in a journey to understand a series of strange tectonic disruptions that have driven the wildlife mad. There’s a prophecy, there’s a mascot, there’s a coming of age. The story has a lot of heart, and Monster Hunter has always had some pretty fun characters, but the scope of previous games always made it secondary to the action. Here, the world and everyone in it is placed center stage, and it is fun in that Saturday morning cartoon type of way.
The early quests take on this episodic feeling as well. You’re tasked with investigating an area for certain reasons, fighting the monster of the week, and going home having learned something about the world, the characters, or the game’s mechanics.
Combat in Stories takes a big step up from its prequel and does a lot to convert the feeling of fighting a big beast in one of the mainline games to an RPG format. The monsters have favored parts of the game’s rock-paper-scissors attack triangle, translated into the categories of Power, Speed, and Technical. The raptor-like Great Jagras attacks with its pack of underlings, the small ones all use speedy attacks, while the smarter, larger one strikes with technical ones.
Winning these head-to-head confrontations is what fills your “kinship gauge,” your primary resource. You use it to do anything that isn’t attacking or using an item; it’s how you use special skills or issue direct commands to your pet monster.
Without your kinship gauge, your monster will act on its own. It has its own patterns and typing—that same Great Jagras you raised is still going to prefer technical moves, but it might learn a power or speedy one too. If you pull it out against a monster who beats it in the triangle, it won’t only take more damage—you also won’t build nearly as much meter for your other utilities. Luckily, you can switch monsters once per turn, and that new monster will be able to act immediately. It’s entirely free—overall you’re more in control than you aren’t.
Your monsters are generally stronger and tankier than you, but your player character can easily adapt to changes—your monster’s always going to trend towards certain choices.
On top this, you have weapon, element, and attack type matchups and targetable body parts; your lance might not be able to pierce a monster’s tail, but it might work better on its stomach. The fire element on it could also overcome the monster’s resistance, should it have one. You could even switch to a slashing weapon or stick to the one you’ve got.
Just about every fight in Monster Hunter Stories 2 is a test of your preparedness and strategy; the difference between your random encounters and the scripted ones is slim. They all tend to be these high-energy, thought-filled bouts that trend in the more difficult direction. Everything does a lot of damage—you just have less health. High damage is balanced out by the game’s life system—your whole party has three lives. Once a health bar hits zero, you lose one and rejoin the fight. If this happens three times, it’s game over.
On that preparedness side, riders have armor and weapons to upgrade and manage, as is traditional of a Monster Hunter game, but your creature friends’ stats and abilities are handled through a little bingo-board. All monsters have their abilities placed on a 3×3 board, and you can sacrifice other monsters to upgrade and transfer abilities. If you already have a monster type, you can take its abilities and put them onto your existing one. You won’t have to continually raise alternate versions of the same monster because of this—these abilities can be transferred right at level one.
If anything, it’s frustrating that almost every fight has the same cadence of a boss. It’s very rare that you’ll get a one or two-turn random encounter, and new monsters always start off at level one. It can be a bit of a chore. While this was alleviated by experience being shared across your whole party regardless of who actually fought, it still meant a lot of my preferred monsters fell behind.
On the technical side, the frame rate also tended to hover around the 20-25 range in a lot of areas. There were frequent dips outside of combat. It was never so severe as to hurt my eyes, but it was rather uneven.
Then there’s the multiplayer, which is remarkably well thought out. You can go on quests together with friends or face off against them in the franchise’s new rider battles. You and your opponent face off like a game of competitive Pokemon, but your rider can only target the opponent’s monster directly while the monsters themselves can fight anyone. The life system also stays here, so no matter where you are in the match, you have access to your whole party. There’s not a point where one member falls and the rest of the team gets swept. Still, this is a new game mode and whether people continue to play it or not remains to be seen.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 has been an incredibly pleasant surprise in all aspects. It’s a great and well thought-out monster battling game with a fun narrative. If you’re a fan of either the Monster Hunter franchise or this subgenre, you can’t go wrong with this.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]