I’m going to cut to the chase with this one, folks. I’ve got quite the backlog of games I haven’t finished or own but haven’t played yet. What tends to happen, especially for RPGs, even though I love them, is I invest quite a bit of time in them, get distracted by another new game, and forget about the one I was playing. And it’s not because that game wasn’t good, either. You could just say I’m easily distracted.
But Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, released by Capcom on July 9th, 2021 on Steam and Nintendo Switch (played for this review), changed that, and you’re about to find out why.
A Conflict Brewing
As the story begins, a mysterious Wyverian girl is seen approaching a rather enigmatic-looking Rathalos (a staple monster of the series). The Rathalos bestows upon the girl one of its eggs, as a group of hunters are suddenly heard approaching the area. It flies off and the girl flees to avoid being seen by the hunters who draw their weapons apparently in search of the Rathalos.
The story subsequently places you in a human village known as Mahana Village, in control of a young Rider of the player’s creation. Unlike most locations in the Monster Hunter world, the people of this village don’t hunt monsters, at least not in the traditional way. With the power of artifacts known as Kinship stones, Riders form bonds with monsters at the time of their hatching, and fight alongside them as companions.
Guild Hunters are normally not allowed in the village but were apparently invited for an event of sorts to mend relations. After a dispute erupts over the hunter’s behavior, the player receives their first “Monstie” in a ceremony, and is asked to investigate strange happenings on Hakalo Island under the guidance of a girl named Kanya, where the game begins proper.
One of the strange things about this game and the story is if you’re a veteran of the Monster Hunter franchise, you know that you always play as a Hunter (hence the name, Monster Hunter…), fighting giant beasts to safeguard your home, among other things. But in Wings of Ruin, the hunters are actually portrayed as antagonists. Players have been to so many locations in the world and the way of life is the same, that it’s strange yet refreshing to see a place where things are so different.
The story is well put together and both fun and surprising, especially compared to the typical scenario of the mainline games of the franchise. The characters have development and are enjoyable. Opinions might vary a little bit on the seemingly obligatory obnoxious sidekick felyne Navirou, but he’s cute and entertaining enough to justify his existence. The story took some turns that I didn’t quite expect, and while some diehard RPG fans could potentially dispute this, frankly I think the story is exactly right in any respect. It doesn’t overstay its welcome. It doesn’t get boring. It drives the game forward and makes you want to keep playing. It has some emotion but not too much. It’s just…really good in every area I can describe.
Gotta Catch Them…?
I know other people are going to make this comparison, so I’ll be blunt and honest. The gameplay in Stories 2 greatly resembles Pokémon. Unlike the action-RPG mainline Monster Hunter games, this one uses a classical turn-based combat system. The player character is a human who leads a party of monsters of which one can be sent out at a time.
One of the biggest differences from Pokémon though is, unlike the trainers in those games, the Riders in this game fight alongside their Monsties (and you don’t catch them in battle but rather steal their eggs). You can switch out monsters at any time in battle, much like Pokémon, as well as switching between three equipped weapons of your own. Monsters loosely fall into “types.” Monsters typically belong to one of the Monster Hunter elements (Fire, Ice, Water, Thunder, Dragon, non-elemental), as well as one of three rock/paper/scissors attack types (Riders can use all three), but there are cases where the latter can change. Learning which monsters favor which types and countering with the right weapons and Monsties is pivotal.
The combat system is straightforward enough to get into, but has plenty of depth that will gradually challenge the player. Even in easier battles though, the player is encouraged to use the mechanics correctly, as battles award a rank and a higher rank means more drops. The player and the Monsties themselves also have a fair amount of depth. The player has access to a selection of the classic weapon types from the series, with different attributes and skill sets, and the “genes” system allows you to customize Monsties by hatching more eggs and finding the desired genes for your Monsties to inherit in order to improve their stats and grant new moves. Again, much like Pokémon, monster eggs can vary in quality and if you want to build the best team, you’ll need to hunt for lots of eggs, which you’ll find in monster’s dens.
One of the best parts of the game is how it incorporates almost every major Monster Hunter mechanic into a turn-based RPG. Part breaking is a central mechanic to taking large monsters down, it rewards extra drops just like Monster Hunter, and attacking the right parts, using the right attacks at the right time, and exploiting elemental weaknesses and using statuses are all valuable to the system. Just like the rest of the series, if you or your Monstie faint three times in battle, it’s game over (Though oddly, the only time you actually get Carted by felynes is when you use the fast-travel system). But whenever you do faint, you get right back up again as long as you haven’t used them all up.
Weapon and armor forging is also all here as well, although simplified from the rest of the franchise. Combining items, gathering, really everything you can think of, it’s all here, just with a different combat system and a greater focus on story. There are well over a hundred monsters to encounter and collect, technically more than any single main-line game, so chances are your favorite monster is in this game. And the monster collection aspect, just like that other series I keep mentioning (What was it again?), will keep you playing long after the story is done, checking off that replay value box. Many other smaller mechanics also make an appearance, such as the Scoutflies from Monster Hunter World. The entire game just does an amazing job at giving you a new gameplay experience while being totally faithful to the franchise.
Is there anything I don’t like? Honestly…it’s hard to find anything. About the worst thing I can say about the game is the default camera movement speed is incredibly slow. But, two seconds in the options menu fixes that problem instantly, so it’s a non-issue.
A Whole New World
In a bit of divergence from the franchise, the game uses a cell-shaded, anime-ish art style instead of the more realistic style usually employed in the series. It looks wonderful, even on the Switch. The world is vast and features a multitude of environments as with the rest of the series, and they all feel very natural rather than purely designed from a gameplay perspective. The characters are very expressive, especially in the cutscenes, with exaggerated facial expressions and a general penchant for cuteness. I’m not usually fond of that, but it works oddly well in this game.
The monsters all look amazing as well. They are slightly “toon-ified,” but are all recognizable to fans of the series, and there are certain to be ones you’ll fall in love with based on looks alone. If you’re a Pokémon fan, it’s actually a rather refreshing departure from some of the ridiculous Pokémon designs of the last few generations of that series (I’m looking at you, Klefki).
The music is wonderful as well. It’s all original but, in boss battles in particular, it carries a strong vibe of the music of the rest of the series. It’s also present throughout the game instead of just in the village and in combat, which I very much like. There’s enough tracks for it to not get old as well, as various monsters use different battle music tracks. There’s really not much to say here – it’s just excellent. Capcom, can you ship me a soundtrack CD please?
Finally, as is traditional for the series, you’ll encounter all the classic audio cues of the series, from using potions, to weapons bouncing, and everything in between.. Just one more example of the game holding on to tradition while bringing you something fresh.
Wings of Ruin is awesome, and you should play it.
No, really. The first Stories game kind of flew under the radar for me. I had heard of it but never got around to playing it. This game practically called out to me and begged me to play it, and it delivered. This game is not just Monster Hunter fan service, as it might look on the surface. It is a legitimately good RPG with really fun gameplay, tons of polish, and it simply offers an all around good experience.
I know how this may look, coming off the heels of Monster Hunter Rise, which we also reviewed, but I just can’t find anything bad to say about this game. This game should be in every Switch owner’s (and Steam user’s) collection. Even if you aren’t usually a Monster Hunter fan, this game has a really good shot at grabbing your attention and not letting go.
Review copy provided by Capcom for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.