Of all the reviews I’ve done over the years, this one has been the hardest to write. By this point, I’ve drafted and redrafted it so many times that it’d blow your mind. In all honesty, it’s not even necessarily that much the fault of the game itself; I love it, it’s a great game and as you’ll see from the rest of this review I thoroughly enjoyed it. In truth, it’s because of the coincidental combination of the excellently written plot and circumstances in my own life beyond my control. For a while, I struggled to even think about writing this review, because of the pain it brought me to discuss the journey of the main character. However, it’s finally time to let it all hang out and share my thoughts on Monster Hunter Stories 2.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 is, as you can imagine, a spin off from the main series of Monster Hunter games. Usually concerned with butchering monsters and turning their flesh into the latest hip fabric, the series moved in a different direction with 2016’s Monster Hunter Stories; a 3DS (and later mobile) exclusive which gained a large cult following. Unlike the main series, it focused more heavily on plot and paired you up – Pokémon like – with your own expanding roster of critters. I mean, yes, you still murdered their families and wore them as trophies, but at least you could make friends with/enslave the babies you found along the way. Nobody expected this to get a sequel until 2020, when it was a surprise announcement in a Nintendo Direct Mini, coming to PC and Switch the following year.
The sequel follows the formula of the original; you play as a monster Rider from a small village and collect a variety of “Monsties” as you traverse the world. Whilst at first it seems that you’re simply learning to be a rider and protector of the island, the game quickly reveals that the Rathalos (giant dragon beasts) have all disappeared, including the island’s protector – Guardian Ratha. As the grandson of Red; the guardian’s former rider and historic hero, you have a fateful egg-related encounter with Ena – a friend of your grandfather – and end up travelling the world searching for answers to the Rathalos’ disappearance.
It would be impossible at this point for me not to mention why I struggled to write this review; part-way through playing MHS2, I unfortunately lost my own grandfather to COVID. Like the character of Red, he was a hero of war and a well-respected man in the local community. All my life I idealised him and worked to make him proud. Things were never easy for him, but he fought to make this world a better place little by little, and I always dreamt of becoming as wise and as successful as he was. Because of this, returning to the story of MHS2 after losing him really resonated with me, as I recognised the long, painful journey of the main character following in his own grandfather’s footsteps. Throughout he is compared to and mistaken for Red numerous times – starting in his shadow but eventually making his way in the world as his own man. The comparisons seem to flatter him at first, but soon it becomes obvious that he is frustrated with the constant connection. Eventually, he steps out and – with his own Rathalos – takes to the sky and becomes a hero in his own right. It’s elegantly played despite the silent protagonist trope and the constant annoyance which is Navirou – a very talkative and obnoxious cat companion. Each beat of the story works well to further this narrative of overcoming your own limitations and living up to your family’s legacy, and the varied and interesting cast of characters – Ena especially – truly make the world feel alive. Despite the unfortunate connection I share with the main character, I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative despite the occasional slip into common chapter patterns and found the final arc to be a satisfying conclusion.
If you were expecting the usual Monster-Hunter fare from the gameplay, you would however be disappointed. Taking place in instanced, turn-based battles, you face monsters with between one and four companions at your side. You always have one of your six monsties to hand, fighting alongside you, but occasionally you’ll also have a second, human companion – and they’ll occasionally have their own pets. Usually, you’ll be facing a single large monster, though occasionally you’ll also battle riders and smaller beasts. Each turn, you choose your target and attack style – speed, technical or power. These match up rock-paper-scissors fashion with your enemies, as each monster/ie has their own preferred style and pattern of attack. Only controlling your rider, you need to defeat your opponent through a combination of the correct weapon, attack style, element and monstie – breaking parts and countering attacks until their health hits zero. Your companions and monstie act independently – though you are afforded limited control over your own monstie’s use of special attacks. I really enjoyed this system, as it reminded me of what Pokémon should have grown into over the years. You have a number of attacks to choose from, and there are clear type advantages at play, but at the end of the day it feels so much more satisfying and strategic than recent entries of the aforementioned series. Whilst at times the battles can drag, they never fail to be engaging and compelling, and the inclusion of battle speed options really does help during longer grinds.
The variety of Monsties (I really hate that term) you can collect is also rather impressive. You collect monsties through going into monster dens and stealing eggs – often having dispatched the creature guarding it. Once hatched, these creatures can be levelled up and developed through battle and through DNA-sequencing – yes, you can literally melt down monsties and put required traits into others. Whilst I’m surprised PETA hasn’t been called on this one, the systems lend a lot more customisation to the collectathon than found in other similar titles, and truly allow you to build creatures the way you want. It encourages you to keep the same monsties throughout the journey and develop them instead of dropping them for one with perfect stats.
Whilst I liked the system at its core, I do have a couple of quibbles. Firstly, once you reach a certain point most new monsters are simply recolours and variations on previous creatures. I’m sorry game, but once I’ve levelled up my cool black Nargacuga named Derek I’m not going to simply drop it for a green one, even if it does have a higher potential. It would have been great to see more variety in the creatures during the late game instead of lazier variations, but at least the end-game Elder Dragons have a decent amount of variety. My other issue is the lack of a feature from the first game – monstie element customisation. In the former, you could modify a creature’s genes to a point where the monster’s base element would change, leaving you with a unique and potentially incredibly powerful beast. In addition to mechanical benefits, this would also change the beast’s colour and make you feel like it was truly your creation. Whilst this was technically still partially in the game at launch, it was patched out as a “bug,” as the creator had decided to remove it from the title. I’m all for creative integrity, but I feel it was a valuable system and once which the fanbase loved. It’s a shame it was removed instead of fixed, as I feel it would have added a lot of extra longevity to the game.
Talking about longevity, this isn’t a short title. There is plenty to do, especially if you like amusing side-quests, and the onslaught of free updates and DLC for the title has been constant since launch. My favourite free update was the introduction of Palamutes – a Monster Hunter Rise crossover. Everyone loves dogs.
Finally, I’d like to touch briefly on performance and aesthetic. I played on Switch, and whilst the framerate was a little choppy at times, it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the game at all. I’ve played much worse games on the system and the art style really does hold up on the Switch’s lower resolution. I would recommend playing in hand-held, as it ironically performs worse on a screen, but aside from that I can easily recommend the port. If slightly iffy performance bothers you, the PC version is an option, runs like butter and obviously looks fantastic – but I’d say the disparity in actual visuals is less than you would expect due to the stylised art style. As expected, the music is fantastic and drives the adventure onwards with style. I never grew tired of the audio direction – with the one exception being the annoying, shrill voice of the aforementioned “paw-some” cat companion.
Overall though, I loved Monster Hunter Stories 2. It was a gratifying experience with a touching, powerful story – just one which came at an unfortunate moment for me. They’ve taken the best of Monster Hunter – strategic, action-packed battles with fearsome beasts – and used it to improve the turn-based monster-collecting formula made famous by Pokemon. Don’t go into this expecting a grim, slow-paced, methodical hunting experience – instead, play it for the delightful aesthetics, the accessible-but-deep combat and the incredible journey.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch which can be purchased here for £49.99.
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