We’re still a ways off from Monster Hunter World, and it’s still uncertain as to whether we’ll ever get a localisation of Double-Cross, so I need to get my fix somewhere. Monster Hunter isn’t usually a game known for its story; whenever there is one, it almost invariably revolves around some kind of fog/disease that’s riling up Monsters. Monster Hunter Stories (MHS) tries to buck this trend by being somewhat story-centric but the key word there is “tries.” Despite this and its nature as a spin-off, the game manages to maintain the great vibe and atmosphere of the MH series, and still works as an enjoyable RPG. It’s just, you know… A little ‘simple.’
And it is a kids’ game, so it’s not all the surprising, really. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a bone to pick though.
MHS’ narrative had to weave a treacherous path when finding a reason for monsters wanting to team up with the beings that murder them en masse. The game is set in a secluded village that has distanced itself from the other villages, towns and cities in the MH world by embracing a mutually beneficial relationship with monsters. Over time they have learned to tame and ride monsters, so that they can… Well, really, you’re going out and killing other monsters. This is ostensibly a kids’ game, the narrative was never going to be particularly deep, but in light of how this game fits in with existing canon, the game’s village is full of terrible people. I mean, the NPCs around you paint themselves as being so much more virtuous than the rest of the world but they’re doing the same things they denounce, and worse, on turbo mode.
Exposition aside, much like other Monster Hunter games, the story isn’t the draw here. It’s light on details, the main plot is a patchwork quilt of recycled bits and pieces of stories from the rest of the series, which really just serves as a means of getting you into missions. There’s some back and forth between the player character and their friends about how important being a rider is but it’s not important. I can’t even remember the names of the NPCs off the top of my head, they’re so inconsequential. Not to mention that you collect monsters by literally stealing them as eggs from monster nests. The idea that you “befriend” monsters to kill other monsters is already bordering on Pokemon levels of horrific, and it’s not even scraping the surface of how weird this game gets in context. Even out of context. There’s nothing but nightmares for anyone older than children the more you pay attention to what’s happening in this game.
“Don’t think about it.”
Departing from the series’ roots, this spin-off has eschewed the real-time combat for JRPG turn-based combat. There’s a bit more detail and nuance to it than this, but the combat system essentially boils down to being a series of rock-paper-scissors matches. You can choose different abilities, equip better armour and weapons, and use items, all to varying levels of potency; in the end, however, it’s still rock-paper-scissors. Collecting materials and harvesting monster parts are both still very much a part of the game; these activities lose a lot of their associated excitement though when coupled with the combat system.
Despite the switch from action RPG to turn-based RPG, a lot of traditional Monster Hunter design tropes are still present in the game. You harvest materials from resource points, continually upgrade gear, take up subquests, or hang out with talking cats and dressed up pigs. It’s pleasantly surprising how they’ve managed to maintain so many of the design elements of the mainline Monster Hunter games while completely changing the combat mechanics. In this sense, the game is functionally different while still having the distinct feeling of a Monster Hunter game, and that in itself is an achievement.
I mean, really – how many games can you swap out the combat system for and still have it feel relatively the same?
My biggest problem with MHS is also my biggest point of praise, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. The only reason I can see for the removal of the real-time combat is to make the game easier for its target audience: Kids. I’m not gonna sit here, kicking and screaming over how a children’s game should be harder – I’m sure Reddit already has that well covered. Instead, I want to propose an idea that, to my mind, should have been the logical go-to when designing the game: Real-time combat while riding the monsters. I’m here whenever you decide you can’t live without me, Capcom.
Real-time combat with the monsters wouldn’t have just achieved the goal of making the game more accessible, it would have made the entire game a huge power romp for veteran players. I don’t know about anyone else reading this, but the concept of working my way up to a Glavenus war-mount sounds pretty god damned awesome. As it stands, players aren’t even on a monster most of the time; you’ll be walking around and fighting beside them, and you can ride one as a special technique in battle. “Monster Riders,” indeed. This isn’t to say that what’s present isn’t good, or that it doesn’t work, because the game is both of these things and is still a good game in its own right. It’s Just that the very base concept of the game presented a brilliant idea that was totally ignored.
“Team, I know we had our hearts set on the idea of riding a screeching Gravios into battle but, upon reflection and after much soul searching, I’ve decided to reduce the amount of ‘fun’.”
– The Game Director, probably.
Monster Hunter Stories definitely isn’t as engaging or as action-oriented as its predecessors, but that doesn’t really seem to be its goal. There are definitely some obvious ideas not implemented into the game, for whatever reason, that might have made it more fun for players familiar with the series. At its core, however, MHS is a stepping stone for younger players into a more extensive series. The fact that it managed to hold onto the personality of the world Monster Hunter takes place in while making it more accessible is a major success for the game, which isn’t something every developer can say of their work. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back to having the Monster Hunter World trailer on an endless loop.