Becoming Best Friends With Former Foes

User Rating: 9 | Monster Hunter Stories 3DS

Monster Hunter Stories for the Nintendo 3DS is an RPG spin off of Capcom's popular Monster Hunter action series by way of Pokémon. Not all games created in the same vein as Pokémon are able to stand out on their own, but Stories successfully builds on the foundation it takes from the core Monster Hunter series, while adding its own distinct spin.

Unlike its main series counterparts, the story of Stories has increased significance, as you may be able to infer from its name. You take on the role of a rider, a human who steals eggs from monster nests to hatch and bond with them, although as the game progresses it turns out you have a much larger role. , It's a typical story you might see in a anime targeted toward children like Pokémon or Digimon, with a main theme of monsters being our friends and how we're supposed to bond with them rather than bring harm to them. It might be cliché at this point, but it's a breath of fresh air to see this type of story in a world never before seen through an alternate perspective.

It's intriguing to see the world of Monster Hunter in a different graphical style than the more semi-realistic style players are accustomed to. Stories has a similar style to that which you might see in a Level-5 game such as Yo-Kai Watch or Professor Layton, which works well for the kid friendly tone of the game. The only drawback regarding graphics is the texture pop-in which happens every so often. The pop-in is never too much of a problem though, rather just a small hiccup .

The battles are turn based, having you and one of your monsties -- a monster who is your bestie, as the game says -- fighting up to three opposing monsters or another rider and their monstie, side by side. Your team consists of up to six different monsties to switch between, granting plenty of variety. Monsties with a higher rank than your kinship stone -- which is what allows you to bond with them -- cannot be used in your party until after you have progressed further. The restriction of using higher rank monsties only after overcoming set obstacles allows for more challenging boss battles, conveying a pleasant feeling of satisfaction after battling against a formidable foe.

The basic attack type system is based on rock, paper, scissors, with Power, Speed, and Tech attacks. Selecting the correct type of attack allows you to deal an increased amount of damage, increases your kinship energy, and may allow you to use a double attack if you chose the same type of attack as your active monstie. Monsties can use attacks on their own, or be commanded once you have gained a small amount of energy, so most of the time you have the option to plan out your monsties attacks if needed.

Choosing the correct type of basic attack is appropriately rewarding, especially when taking on a particularly tough enemy. Eventually you become strong enough that your attacks always result in more damage to weaker enemies even after choosing the wrong type of attack. Although having the strength to take on strong attacks is beneficial, getting damaged yourself from making the wrong move becomes an amateur mistake you will want to make up for on your next turn.

Kinship energy allows you and your monstie to use special attacks as it fills the kinship meter as well. Special attacks are typically stronger than basic attacks, but still consists of power, tech, and speed types. The fourth type of special attack monsties can use are elemental attacks, which are most useful when you know the weaknesses of the monsters you're up against.

Due to these mechanics, it's important to understand a monsters attack patterns, as most focus on using one type of basic attack when not using a special attack. As the game progresses, monsters switch between the different types of basic attacks while also having more special attacks at their disposal, adding some complexity to their patterns and increasing the need for careful observation.

The ultimate attack monsties can use are known as kinship attacks and can be used once the kinship meter is full, awarding you with the ability to climb atop your monstie. There are three kinship levels, and the higher your kinship level, the stronger your kinship attack will be, however, the opposing party can knock you off with a powerful attack while you're gaining energy, and will knock down your monstie for a turn. Correspondingly, opposing monsters can be knocked down if correctly countered three times in a row, allowing massive damage from your following attack and a possible item drop. It can be risky to wait while trying to correctly counter the opponent, being able to deal the greatest amount of damage is worth it.

If your health drops to zero in battle, you'll have two more chances due to your three hearts -- a modification of the three cart mechanic from Monster Hunter -- with some items being able to refill or prevent the loss of one. If you do manage to lose all three of your hearts, you will be sent back to the most recent save point with only one heart, in which no progress will be lost unless you were carrying an egg.

Sometimes there are specific battle events which require button mashing. When successful, you'll deal an exceptional amount of damage and get an increased kinship boost. These events can catch you off guard if you aren't fully paying attention, so it's best to keep an eye out for them, parituclarly during battles against bosses or high rank monsters.

The combat sometimes can be sluggish due to all the animations that are cycled through with each attack. While the animations themselves are great, they become tiresome after repeatedly viewing them. Luckily, battles can be sped up to three times their normal speed, making these animations much easier to get through.

Unlike the core series, there are only four types of weapons in Stories, the Great Sword, Sword and Shield, Hammer, and Hunting Horn. Your weapon can be changed at any time outside of battle, so you aren't stuck with one if you don't like it. Each weapon has its own benefits depending on which type, and using basic attacks in a certain order create a combo where the last attack in the chain deals greater damage. It's a shame the other weapons from the series are missing, but the four chosen provide just enough variety to keep most players satisfied.

Once you have defeated a monster for the first time, its armor and weapon set will be unlocked at the Blacksmith, and unlike the main series, should give you just enough materials to make at least one of the two. Armor comes in an entire set, rather than several different pieces, simplifying the process further. The difficulty of gaining materials increases as you progress, allowing you to try a variety of different armors, weapons, and skills to see which best fits your play style

Other than weapons and armor, accessories such as talismans are another useful piece of equipment. Talismans give you extra bonuses and are found in chests scattered throughout the world and help give you the extra boost you need to defeat more powerful monsters, with the best only available after completing the story . Additionally, there are charms you can find which can be offered at prayer pots to give you a supplementary boost, such as attack, defense, or experience, for a limited time.

Due to the different gameplay from the main series, some items have a slightly different use than their counterparts, while others are relatively similar. For example, a whetstone still sharpens your weapon but converts this into increasing your critical hit ratio, while traps temporarily immobilize a monster, but will only work when that monster uses a corresponding attack. Like the main series, some environments with extreme weather hinder you or your monsties temporarily useless without the proper status preventing items or resistant armor. Although these status conditions are only temporary, they are still annoying to deal with.

Instead of having a cluttered inventory as in the main series, you are only allowed to use the 10 different items stored in your battle pouch while in battle. Each separate item has a set limit, so it's best to put some thought into what items are put into your pouch and important to restock when running low. Items which refill your health and hearts are useful to always have on you, while the rest of the items you use vary depending on the situation.

As with any monster taming RPG, the real stars of the game are the monsties you hatch and raise. Random monster dens are found by exploring the world, but when searching for a specific monstie your best chance of finding a den with it would be fighting that monster and taking the correct action to make it flee back to its den, which ranges from using traps to causing status afflictions. Earlier in the game, it's more fun to wander into random dens and pick up any egg you can find which you haven't seen before, but as you progress through the game you'll likely find it more beneficial to look for the specific monsties you want to add to your party.

There are 10 different monster types and each with a corresponding egg pattern. The different species and subspecies within each type have the same pattern on their eggs but are different colors, and eggs of each species also come in up to four different color patterns. When searching for a monstie, this can become confusing when you're exploring unspecified dens and aren't sure of the exact color, resulting in obtaining eggs of a monstie you either already have or weren't looking for. This can be annoying at first, but does come into play earlier than expected. Your feisty felyne sidekick, Navirou, gives you clues on the potential of the monstie in the eggs you pick up, telling you the potential of said monstie.

Additionally, egg fragments can be found around the world and put together to make a full egg and hatch a monstie. I found the egg fragments to be an unnecessary addition, as there are better odds finding a decent monstie in a den rather than hatching one from the tedious task of searching for fragments.

Each monstie also has its own ride ability which can be activated while riding it in the overworld. Abilities range from detection, attracting or repelling monsters, and others can get past obstacles throughout the world, a few monsters can even fly in the overworld . These abilities prove useful for exploration when gathering items or trying to find specific monsters, and are a joy to use when reaching a new, previously unexplored area. Let's be honest, flying throughout the world atop a Rathalos, whether it be regular, azure, or silver, is just an awesome experience in general.

Each monstie has their own strengths and weaknesses, the same as their core series counterparts, giving veteran Monster Hunter players an advantage. The Rite of Channeling helps add more depth to this mechanic, allowing you to transfer a gene from one monstie to another in one of nine gene slots, having the target monstie gain new elements, attacks, resistances, and passive skills. The monstie whose gene is passed disappears after the transfer, which is why having more than one of the same species is important. When seeking a particular gene, you will likely need to hatch multiple eggs before obtaining it, and even then the open gene slot of the desired gene has to match the target monsties gene slot or else it can't be transferred without use of a stim -- rare stimulant items which open one closed gene slot.

Monster Hunter Stories could stop after the main story and still be an efficient game, but goes above and beyond. Even after completing the single player campaign, there is still plenty to do. This includes battling and obtaining high rank monsters, challenging several single player tournaments based off of the online PVP mode, and two special challenges with exclusive rewards. With new free DLC every week, and even more content to come, Monster Hunter Stories will continue to prove itself as a prime example of what games in the subgenre outside of Pokémon can do.

Monster Hunter Stories is one of the most competent new monster taming RPGs to have been released in some time. Building on the foundation given to it from the core series, its unique gene transferring mechanic, and containing few flaws help make it stand out among the competition. Although it may not be for everyone and will be easily overlooked by some, fans of both Pokémon and the core Monster Hunter series will get the most enjoyment out of this game, while it also can provide a decent introduction to the world of Monster Hunter for newer fans of the franchise.

The Good:The Bad:
+ Solid battle system- Texture Pop-In
+ Rite of Channeling provides more depth- Egg Fragments are tedious and unnecessary
+ Appreciable fan service for Monster Hunter veterans
+ Plenty of post-game content