It’s high time to brush off your dusty old 3DSs everybody, and not just because this September sees the release of the first true Metroid game by Nintendo for 15 years. No, today we’re talking the quirky little off-shoot title Monster Hunter Stories which, unlike its predecessors, doesn’t seek to provide an experience that’s hard as nails for once. Instead, this colourful spin-off to Capcom’s lauded creature feature franchise takes a few cues from traditional JRPGs in order to appeal to a wider audience. Namely, Pokémon.
The first thing that hits you when initially loading up Monster Hunter Stories, is just how streamlined the UI, character creator, and HUD actually is. A far cry from the usual complexity and depth the series has become notorious for, Stories instead lulls you in with a warm sense of comfort rather than reams and reams of systems and text that would otherwise be in danger of putting you off. I get why the challenge of hunting and taking down screen-filling monsters should be a daunting task, but why in the tutorial?
After a brief prologue that helps set up this delightful world full whimsical characters, Stories raises the stakes in true JRPG cataclysmic fashion with an evil force reigning down disaster on the local village. It’s this event that spurs your main character to take the next step to becoming a fully-fledged monster rider, complete with a wealth of adorable creature companions to seek out and tame. How you go about doing this is by traversing the game’s take on dungeons, which always presents an egg reward to bring back and hatch.
Monster Hunter Stories wears its inspirations on its sleeve. Utilising a colourful palette, cute chibi characters, and a turn-based battle system that cares less about wailing on your enemies, and more about making you outsmart them. Pokémon made a point of popularising the “rock-paper-scissors” approach with regards to attacks originally in the late 90s, but here in Stories it’s simplified for the better. You see, there aren’t seemingly hundreds of monster types that are strong or weak to each other, but rather power, technical, and speedy moves. It’s a system that’s most reminiscent of Fire Emblem’s weapons triangle, with added cute monsters to explore and collect.
I’m saddened to say that those not playing Monster Hunter Stories on a New 3DS are really doing themselves a disservice unfortunately, with the C-stick making it feel so natural to move your created character. After playing for a few hours I found using this to become second nature, so much so that I can’t imagine what it must be like controlling the camera with just the left stick. Hunting is thankfully still the name of the game, requiring you to go out, explore, and forage on your quest to defend your village from the powers at be, so this could end up being a major source of annoyance for those still rocking slightly older Nintendo hardware.
If there’s anything Monster Hunter Stories has going against it so far in my playthrough, it’s just how formulaic it is. So far, the game has been nothing but comfort food, and I think that it’s largely due to this increasingly crowded game release climate we’re experiencing, that it’s nice to return to the feeling of an old favourite. Ground-breaking? No, Charming? Yes, but sometimes that’s all that’s needed.