Monster Hunter Stories review
The sixth Monster Hunter title on Nintendo 3DS and the first turn-based RPG in the series’ twelve year lifespan, Monster Hunter Stories wowed gamers upon its announcement in 2015 with graphics that seemingly pushed the ageing handheld to its very limits. At risk of sounding like the kid who breaks kayfabe regarding Santa’s existence; It’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the game’s sometimes shocking frame-rate, blurry low-res text and slow loading times.
Choosing a male or female protagonist, name, hair style etc you begin your adventure with Nabiru (think Jibanyan) and an Otomon (think Epona), the game sees you (similarly to the main series) complete a number of quests with each of these quests tieing into the main storyline. An orange compass point placed on the map points to where you need to be next(*) which makes Monster Hunter Stories fairly import friendly although the Japanese text is somewhat heavy.
Monster Hunter Stories’ turn-based battles see you and one interchangeable Otomon team up (Nabiru sits on the sidelines, occasionally giving advice). You predominantly control just your rider with the Otomon acting mainly as an NPC although you can swap Otomon in-and-out similarly to swapping Pokémon with up to five sitting on the sidelines. There’s a rock-paper-scissors element to combat (fire-grass-water) with three lives between you and your Otomon.
Where the combat really impresses is with a power meter bond (some kind of Yokai Watch/Pokémon Z-Ring type device) connecting both you and your Otomon which when charged sees you able to ride your Otomon to double-team the enemy. At any turn you can press ‘Y’ to unleash a special move in a brilliant cutscene (that can be fast forwarded with the ‘X’ button). Winning a fire-grass-water battle charges up this special move to unleash even more damage.
To shake things up occasionally your Otomon charge the enemy on the ground (mash your ‘A’ button), in the air (mash ‘L’ and ‘R’) or unleash dual fireballs (circle the cirlce pad frantically) which help break up players going through the motions by ‘A’ buttoning away battles. The game constantly aims to engage and although it doesn’t always achieve this goal; players of the Monster Hunter, Final Fantasy and Zelda series all should find enjoyment in Monster Hunter Stories.
The gane’s design not only resembles but often feels like Ocarina of Time (other than the lack of puzzle-solving): from riding your Otomon (Epona) around the Hyrule Field-like game world, completing sub-quests, collecting Poogies (Skulltullas), locating treasure chests, earning Zenny (Rupees) etc etc. The developers have also achieved the perfect game length with just under 50 hours for the main story plus countless more to achieve 100% or with the multi-player.
Monster Hunter Stories features both local and online multiplayer with rider and three interchangeable Otomon against a fellow player and his/her Otomon in an arena setting with the same three lives and rule set as in the combat in the story mode. There’s both good and bad news to report: the good is that it runs (at least for me) extremely smoothly with the only waiting being for the opponent to enter his/her input. The bad is that it can take time to find competition.
For all the initial faults, the game is incredibly fun to play. Sure it’s easy early on but the difficulty picks up just as the story really kicks in half way through. Monster Hunter Stories manages to successfully retain the narrative structure of the Monster Hunter world with the game’s many sub-quests which are neither used to pad the game out nor to overshadow the main objective unlike many of its competitors thus resulting in one of the greatest JRPG’s on the Nintendo 3DS.
* The only three times of note you don’t see a compass point – the first time you should put Lagombi into your party and speak to the big guy in the Taruju Snowy Mountains house, the second go on a Monster Exploration (speak with the Felyne who deals with the Eggs and select the bottom right of the menu) and the third go back to Hakumu Village (where you start your adventure).