I’ve always been a distant admirer of the Monster Hunter series with its gorgeous worlds and dangerous beasties, but no matter how many times I’ve tried to play—be it the early PSP forays or the more recent Monster Hunter World—it’s never properly clicked for me. As much as I want to love the series, I’ve been unable to get past the five-hour mark. There are so many systems to learn and aspects to juggle that it can be overwhelming. Monster Hunter Stories 2 has changed that completely for me.
A spin-off of the main series, Stories focuses on, er, story, and uses a turn-based battle system and monster-catching mechanics in place of action. While it’s a sequel to Monster Hunter Stories, you won’t need to know anything about the first game to get stuck in here—which is handy as it was only ever available on 3DS and mobile. You play as a rookie ‘Rider’, the grandchild of a great hero named Red. Setting off to investigate a strange red light that’s making Monsters go berserk, you soon find yourself entrusted with a Rathalos egg and unravelling the mysteries of an ancient prophecy alongside your comedy cat sidekick Navirou. To do so you’ll fight huge monsters, raid their dens’ for eggs and then raise their stolen offspring to do your bidding.
It’s definitely got a touch of Pokemon to it—you can have a squad of up to six Monsties (that’s what a Monster is called when it’s your pet, and no, it’s never not silly when you say it) that you can switch out depending on how a battle is going. Only one can fight beside you at a time so you’ll have to consider your choices carefully. Fights at their most basic are based on a rock-paper-scissors mechanic where speed beats power, power beats technical, and technical beats speed, but eventually you’ll also be taking weapon type, items, and element types into consideration.
Thankfully the turn-based combat gives you plenty of time to consider your options and this is where the series finally clicked for me. Instead of having to dance around a flailing beast, considering which body parts to strike with which weapons and praying the hits will land, I was able to methodically go through what I wanted and have the space to understand just how all of the amazing layers of Monster Hunters’ battles work together before striking. Stories distils all of the elements that make Monster battles so satisfying into something far more approachable. In theory you could brute force your way through on basic attacks and grinding, but the moment you figure out how to deflate a fluffy Poalumu’s collar like an old party balloon is joyful. There’s a deep satisfaction in foiling a monster’s plans before they come to fruition.
It’s also great being able to have that poison-spitting, wyvern horror you just fought eventually fight alongside you with a much less scary nickname. Thank you Pubert the Pukei-Pukei. Teaming up with Monsties and seeing how they fight with you makes it easier to understand how to fight against their nastier Monster brethren. Admittedly I do feel a pang of guilt every time I raid a nest for eggs, but that’s quickly replaced by the nervous excitement of wondering what might be inside. There’s an element of randomness when picking up eggs as each nest can host several different kinds. The pattern will tell you what type is inside, but you’ll also get hints for the quality of its stats based on weight and how nice it smells. It’s worth looking out for golden ‘rare’ monster dens when out exploring for better eggs.
Don’t be shy about gathering as many as you can, as eventually you’ll be able to splice their genes into each other to handcraft even more powerful Monsties. No doubt there are perfect stats and bonuses to aim for with each Monstie, and a perfect team composition, but like a Pokemon trainer with a favourite starter, I poured all of the strongest skills into my best-buddy Pubert and managed to muddle through.
Most of the game’s areas are relatively small—it also has to support the limitations of the Nintendo Switch—but still feel varied with enough hidden spots and twists to feel worth exploring. Each Monstie also has a skill that will help you explore the wilderness. Some can jump across ravines, while others can swim across streams or climb vines to reach secret treasures. Pubert screams really loudly to startle wild monsters so they won’t attack and I can take the cowardly option of slipping past instead. It pays to keep a varied team not only for battling, but for getting around the game’s gorgeous landscapes and gathering materials. Like other Monster Hunter games you’ll need to gather Monster parts to forge new weapons and armour sets. The slightly easier battle pace has also given me the headspace to really appreciate the tactical benefits of each armour set and be able to apply that ahead of time.
I wasn’t able to play online before launch, but unlike other Monster Hunter games the online multiplayer isn’t an integral part of the experience—it’s more of an added extra. You can pair up with one other person in co-op to go on exploratory missions to find rare eggs and materials, or try your hand at a versus mode that pits you against other Riders. I do miss the camaraderie of preparing for a big hunt, but it just wouldn’t fit here. The cooking mechanics of the main game are also missed, instead pre-hunt buffs are applied with a prayer pot which is easier to use but not as fun.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 may look cute, but it still retains the huge amount of depth the series is known for. No, it’s not as expansive or as fast-paced as the likes of Monster Hunter World but that works in its favour. Stories 2 is the approachable series entry point I’ve been waiting for and has inspired me to return to other games in the series to test out my skills again.