Hot off the release of the amazing Monster Hunter Rise on the Nintendo Switch, Capcom has dropped the sequel to 2016’s decidedly different take on the giant monster killing franchise with Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, also on Nintendo’s hybrid handheld. Adding a deeper story, turn-based combat, and a new cell-shaded art design, the sequel almost fixes everything that was off in the first game on the 3DS release. Almost.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is driven very much by its story — I mean, it’s in the title!? Whereas the normal MH games put emphasis on hunting huge, screen-filling beasts for parts to craft new weapons and gear to go after even bigger beasts, MHS2 lets the player take breaths, and lets the narrative grow without the need to push us into wild, chaotic combat.
Wings of Ruin opens with a cinematic scene that rivals some of the best anime. Capcom borrowed the look of games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (and continued in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity) with smooth, simple cell-shading, and it works incredibly well. The characters and locales pop off the screen (TV or handheld) and even the monsters look amazing, with the fine detail of scales and carapaces replaced with more “cartoony” graphics. But it doesn’t take anything away from the experience. If anything, it heightens it even more.
The opening cinematic lays out the groundwork for the story to come. A group of hunters attacks a special Rathalos, who then retreats — taking all of the Rathalos with him. Without an alpha “guardian” monster to protect the land, fierce monsters begin to show up, causing havoc for a Monster Rider from the village of Mahana. This Rider (the player’s character) happens to be the grandson of the great Red, who established the village and led it.
The young Monster Rider befriends a mysterious white-haired girl named Ena, who happens to have the last egg from the Rathalos (personally, I thought Rathalos were male and Rathians were the female, but that’s not important here) before he ran off. That hatchling proves to be a fabled white Rathalos with black wings called the Razewing Ratha, the so-called “Wings of Ruin,” who will bring about the end of the world. From here, The Rider, Ena, and a slightly annoying Felyne named Navirou set out on an adventure of a lifetime, and the player gets to enjoy every step of the journey.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is the sum of many parts, as it’s part Monster Hunter, part Pokemon, and part JRPG. Players scour the land looking for special monster dens to steal eggs that they can then hatch and train into Monsties, ala Pokemon. A stable of Monsties is your ticket to explore, as you ride them and battle with them, and really develop strong bonds as the story progresses. MHS2 features new monsters from both Monster Hunter World and Rise, which is exciting for fans of the franchise.
At its heart, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is a role-playing game, and with that comes an expectation for deep combat. The turn-based battles are easily the bread and butter of the game. Distilled down to its core, combat uses the rock-paper-scissors scale for power, technical and speed attacks. Each one is strong against another, and figuring out the right combination is half the fun. But the good times don’t end there.
Battling alongside your Monsties (you can “carry” five or so, and they can be switched out on the fly) is a blast, as using the kinship stone allows the two of you to team up and unleash devastating power moves. As the combat onion is peeled back further, you find other nuances that add to the thrill of beating the snot out of monsters. Head-to-head matchups occur at random, with the type of attack determining the win, lose or draw, and the clash screen means you have to mash the A button to drive the monster offscreen for super damage. When your meter is filled, you can mount your Monstie and unleash a massive cinematic-driven move that causes huge damage.
In most JRPGs, combat can often get boring after a few hours, but in Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, it’s a blast to run into monsters in the overworld and beat them silly for parts to craft better weapons and armor. The boss battles, for lack of a better term, are epic confrontations that can go either way on a dime, and as you explore the massive maps, you can expect to fight and fight again as you run quests.
While there is much to celebrate in Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, there are some small issues that hold it back. The character controls, whether on foot or on the back of a Monstie, leaves a lot to be desired, as the characters move in a janky manner. Worse yet, it’s easy to fall off a cliff while exploring because of the awkward controls. Also, the cutesy-ness of the game, including the mildly annoying Navirou and other speaking Felynes, just drop groan-worthy cat puns that get old way too quick. Navirou’s chattiness is a reminder of how great it is that your Felyne (and Palamute) partners from previous MH games don’t talk.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is a fun side-story to the greater Monster Hunter games, like World and Rise. It offers fans new and old a different perspective of the in-game world, and tapping into the “collect ‘em all” gameplay of titles like Pokemon, opens up options for how you play. The game looks and sounds amazing, and other than some character controlling issues and a light, juvenile story, this is a Monster Hunter game through and through. If you take the time to learn the mechanics, you will find plenty to love.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin. A copy was provided to us by Capcom.
Combining the best aspects of other genres and series, Monster Hunter Stories 2 offers up a charming reimagining of the franchise's tried-and-tested gameplay.