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July 2024

Monster Hunter Stories

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: June 14, 2024


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PC Review - 'Monster Hunter Stories'

by Cody Medellin on June 13, 2024 @ 8:00 a.m. PDT

Embark on a journey into a colorful world where mighty monsters roam and people make a living by hunting them.

In 2017, Capcom released Monster Hunter Stories, marking the first time that a non-mobile spin-off outside of the usual action RPG genre made its way to the West. It was a game well-liked by critics, but it didn't find a very large audience due to its release on the Nintendo 3DS. The portable platform was popular, but this was several months after the release of the Nintendo Switch, a platform that was already gaining enough momentum to make the dual-screen system an afterthought. After the success of the sequel on multiple platforms, Capcom decided that the time was right to remaster Monster Hunter Stories on more than one platform.

You play the role of the protagonist in a village that's been cut off from most of the world due to location and distance. Unlike everyone else who hunts down monsters, your village believes in living in harmony with them and even taming a few. You only kill those that threaten your village. As you come of age to become a Rider, you leave the village to venture forth and find a way to stop a black mist that's threatening both the humans and Monsties, the name given to your monster companions.

The story plays out like any typical anime or game focusing on young people, complete with the expected character tropes. There's the young protagonist who possesses the power to save the world but only with his friends by his side. There's the cute animal comic relief. There's the friend who has lost his way and becomes consumed by revenge, while your other friend wishes that everyone was together just like the old days. There's the group of allies you meet early on along with a quirky village elder and a semi-serious guard who trying to keep order in the village. It still works despite being predictable, and the more light-hearted nature of the game works as a very good contrast to the more serious tone of the mainline game.

As alluded to earlier, Monster Hunter Stories moves away from the multiplayer-focused action of the main game and moves toward a monster collector RPG. You've got towns and villages where you can shop for supplies, do some crafting, or take on various side-quests. The overworld is presented from your normal behind-the-back, third-person perspective where you have the chance to walk or ride your Monstie for added mobility. You can gather materials for crafting, and you can also engage in fights with other Monsties. The good news is that fights aren't random, as you can see all of the Monsties in the area. This also means that you can either get the advantage if you touch them first while they're caught unawares — or vice versa if they get the drop on you. As for traversal, the environments are of a good size, but the game does a great job of  placing markers on the map and the overworld for all of the quests you're tracking, so you'll rarely get lost along the way.

The fights slightly resemble what you'd see in any monster-collecting RPG. The base attack system mimics a rock/paper/scissor mechanic, where picking one type that overpowers another means getting in a stronger hit as well as fully negating the opposing attack. The game always lets you know who the enemy is targeting, and the attacks tend to vary enough that you can't predict the perfect counter-attack.

The basic attack mechanics are simple to understand compared to most other RPGs, but what really makes the fights enjoyable is the kinship system. If you choose the same attack type as your Monstie, you'll be able to use a tandem attack for more power. Successful hits of any kind eventually open up the ability for you to ride your Monstie in the fight, and powering up the meter even further allows you to unleash the more cinematic and powerful Monstie attacks. These are always fun to watch, and they make even the simple fights feel more epic. Even though that might get tiresome after seeing the cinematic multiple times, the game has a fast-forward button to speed through these scenes. This makes some fights feel less like a chore if you're in a mood for some old-fashioned level grinding.

When it comes to Monstie acquisition, you'll have to enter special nests in the field to get the egg. You can avoid traps, but you can also carry the egg and run with it or fight your way out before you can officially get the egg. The methods of getting these eggs are ethically questionable, but you'll do this quite often, as the game features over 60 different Monsties to obtain and upgrade. The good news is that you'll level up those monsters through battles at a pretty good pace even if they don't participate in the battles. You can have up to 200 Monsties in your care at any one time, so keeping several variations is more than feasible. However, you can also turn those extra Monsties into power-ups to augment your current ones with stat upgrades and new abilities, so there's very little reason to catch and release any Monstie eggs you nab in your journey.

Like most JRPGs, the main quest can clock in over 40 hours of gametime. The numerous side-quests add more game time to the title, and the Tower of Illusion that appears after the main quest ensures that you still wish to level up your Monsties. When it comes to online play, it doesn't deviate from the battle system of the main game, but you have to do a bit in the main campaign before you can attempt to engage in online skirmishes. While the player pool during the review period wasn't that large, the network performance was great, and lag was nonexistent, so there should be no issues once the game goes live to a broader audience. One major lament is that the game features no crossplay support, so don't expect the opponent pool to be large.

While the game isn't touted as a remaster or remake, it offers up some upgrades in other areas. The transition from dual-screen gameplay to a single-screen experience isn't that jarring since the original 3DS entry only used the bottom screen for maps and a battle menu interface, and that translates quite well because it means that menus are visible on the battle screen. The map is always present in the top right corner of the screen unless you hide it. The controls also feel better, since the camera controls feel better mapped to the right analog stick or mouse rather than the shoulder buttons. The DLC includes a good chunk of the stuff that was previously released, so don't expect any of the crossover items from The Legend of Zelda to make an appearance.

There are only a few things that could have been improved, but they were also issues present in the original game. The game is definitely made for a younger audience, and that's evident in the lives system, which grants you up to three revives in the middle of a battle with full health gained. Losing all of them means having to respawn back at a save point, but the chances of losing that many times in a battle are very low unless you aren't paying attention to the fight. The game also sports quite a large number of loading screens, something that was necessary due to the limitations of the 3DS when compared to the scope of the game. Modern hardware means that the load screens only appear for a short amount of time, but they're numerous enough that you'll loathe their existence.

Graphically, the upgrades are big, but don't expect a large change, as the game retains the more cartoon-like look of the original 3DS version. Resolution has been increased, and the game's graphics have been cleaned up significantly to match, but don't expect ultrawide resolutions if you sport that type of monitor. The cel-shaded style of the original gets modified in places to look like textures were stylistically painted on, but there are a few instances where the textures still retain a low-resolution look. The frame rate has been boosted to go to 60fps and beyond, but there are still some elements, like flames and flying flags, that sport very low frame rates. Draw distances have also been increased greatly, and there aren't any instances of texture or model pop-up when compared to the 3DS version. Overall, it looks nice, despite some of the aforementioned quirks.

The sound has gotten a few upgrades, but they aren't that significant when compared to the graphics. The music remains the same, as do the sound effects, but they're enhanced thanks to the inclusion of surround sound. New voices are also present for those that who an English or Japanese language track, but those who want the game's original language will be pleased to hear that the option still exists. There's not much to criticize, which speaks volumes to how good the original 3DS incarnation was.

The Steam Deck is a very good device if you wanted to experience the game in portable form. The resolution only goes to 1280x720, but it never feels like you're losing out on a good deal of screen space. The frame rate is locked to 60fps at almost all times, whether you're in a cut scene or open world or fight. On the LCD version of the device, you're looking at around 2 hours of game time from a full charge, which isn't that bad. The most important part is that cloud saves are supported, which makes this perfect for those who want to play on another device at home and on the Deck when on the go — without creating two different saves.

For something a little more lighthearted than what you'd get from the mainline series, Monster Hunter Stories is quite good. The change to a more Pokémon-style RPG system works, and the improvements over Nintendo's series makes it stand out in a positive way. The improvements in the presentation are very welcome, and while the story is fine, the pacing of the gameplay makes the game easy to pick up and understand without much fuss. It's a solid game that should be experienced by both light RPG and Monster Hunter fans alike.

Score: 8.0/10

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