I’ve spent hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of hours playing the Monster Hunter series across five different game systems. The thrill of seeking out, studying, and ultimately battling and killing huge, dinosaur-like creatures is an amazing draw to me, and carving the felled beasts for their parts to craft bigger and better weapons and armor almost becomes like a second job when a new Monster Hunter game releases. Now, developer Marvelous and Capcom have taken that core mechanic of hunting monsters and wrapped a cutesy story around it for Monster Hunter Stories.
Monster Hunter Stories feels like Monster Hunter and sounds like Monster Hunter, but the further you drill down into it, the game slowly begins to resemble another iconic game franchise, one with a bigger emphasis on “catching ’em all.” The story focuses on a player-named character and their friends, who seek to grow up to become “Riders,” a fabled class of warriors who bond with the monsters out in the wild using something called a Kinship Stone. The rider and their monster companion, called a “Monstie” (an amalgam of monster and bestie) complete quests and battle other monsters, all while collecting eggs to hatch and raise into stronger partners. There are over 100 monsters to collect and raise, across many different locations around the world.
Combat is perhaps the biggest difference between Monster Hunter Stories and the core Monster Hunter games. Gone are the real-time battles with these epic, realistic-looking beasts, instead replaced with a simplistic, turn-based game of rock, paper, scissors, where the rider and the monsters attack each other with Power, Speed, and Technical attacks. The more you battle, the more you learn about what type of attack is best to take down each beast. Both the player and the Monstie attack, though items can also be used, like smoke and sonic bombs, along with various traps, that affect the monster as they would in the core games. Battling also fills the Kinship stone on the lower screen of the 3DS, and once full, the rider can mount their Monstie for devastating attacks. A full Kinship stone can be the difference between winning and losing when taking on some of the bigger, more fierce beasts later in the story. Winning battles earns you the monster’s parts (no carving needed) and XP.
If a rider falls in battle, they stand right back up with full HP to continue attacking. If this happens three times, they are transported back to a nearby respawn point. This makes Monster Hunter Stories accessible to younger players, or even less experienced Monster Hunters, as the story and the quests take precedence over the incessant hunting and trial and error of the core games.
Monster Hunter Stories has an element of grinding to it, as collecting the monster parts needed to craft new weapons and armor is still the key to succeeding as the story progresses. But there is a new wrinkle here that changes the game in almost every way. Certain monsters have dens scattered around the world, and in these dens lie nests full of monster eggs. Stealing an egg and making it out of the den intact will award the player with a new bestie to hatch and raise. You can even participate in a form of gene manipulation to ensure that the monster that hatches is unique and powerful. Building an army of powerful monsties to use situationally gives the player something else to manage over the course of the game, and makes Monster Hunter Stories unique in the franchise.
The wonderfully colorful graphics seem overly cute at first, but don’t let that fool you. A vibrant, cartoonish Rathalos is still a dragon that rules the skies, and the Wind Waker-like cel-shading doesn’t change what it can do to an unprepared rider and their team. The character designs are the biggest difference. They look like cartoons, or a type of Mii, and Navirou, your Felyne companion, comes off as particularly cartoony — in both aesthetic and manner. But after 40 or so hours, none of that matters, as Monster Hunter Stories settles into a true and worthy chapter of the greater and always expanding Monster Hunter universe, and that is, perhaps, the best compliment that I can give the game. The game also ships with amiibo support, a PvP battle tournament, and plenty of end game content and challenges. And of course, there are the periodic DLC drops that Monster Hunter fans have become accustomed to.
Monster Hunter Stories is a fully-featured game that hides behind its cartoonish veneer, and ultimately, it delivers a solid experience for players new and old. The game works well as an entry point for new players to get a taste of what the fabled series is all about. It serves as a perfect appetizer for Monster Hunter World, and still retains its own identity as a fun and challenging Monster Hunter entry in and of itself.
This review is based off the Nintendo 3DS version of the game, which was provided to us by Nintendo.
Monster Hunter Stories may look and sound like a traditional Monster Hunter title, but underneath that veneer is a deep monster collecting game that surprises in its breadth, with cartoonish graphics and a kid-friendly story to boot.