Monster Hunter Stories is a friendlier spin-off of the Monster Hunter series. Literally, since that is a big part of the actual game. Rather than a Hunter, you are a Rider. This means you abduct eggs from monsters’ nests, take them back to a town or safe haven, hatch them so the baby likely imprints on and bonds with you, then head out into the field to defeat other monsters with their aid. So you’re spending much of your time finding new friends. Even though this does mean the game feels entirely different, it doesn’t completely detach from the original series. Plenty of staples return in some form.
The monsters themselves are a big one. The babies you end up befriending and working alongside are miniature versions of the baddies you remember from the main Monster Hunter games and ones you will fight in Monster Hunter Stories’ world. There are over 70 “monsters” to recruit. They all behave exactly the way you remember from the main series, which is actually rather thrilling. I was quite excited to have a Khezu, Lagombi, and Nerscylla on my side early on, and even characters like the Kirin and Lagiacrus look impressive in these smaller takes of their greater selves. The standard versions also look and behave similarly, making it fun to see all of them in the wild and in battles.
Monster Hunter Stories’ world looks very much like the ones we’ve seen in main games. Hakum Village and Gildegaran are colorful, vibrant, and bustling with activity. They have the same sorts of facilities we would expect, with the main town having an actual Hunter’s Guild. We can pray at a pot for experience boosts and other bonuses, buy items and equipment, fast travel to other locations, take quests from billboards, and of course manage our Monsties. Once we head out into the world, we can explore various biomes. Monsters are roaming the field, with some relaxing or getting into fights with their natural enemies. We can climb and jump to new heights, provided the right Monstie is with us. It does a good job of feeling alive, like we are actually stepping into a realistic ecosystem, just as normal Monster Hunter games do.
Heading out into this wild world means also coming across plenty of different materials. There are lots of gathering opportunities, with Monster Hunter Stories not requiring things like bug nets, fishing poles, and pickaxes to accumulate various items. You can run up, grab what you need, and go. There are plenty of recipes, just as there are in Monster Hunter, with players able to combine items to make things like paintballs and potions in the field. Food can be prepared in this Combine menu too, to provide experience boosts to monsters in the party. Once you reach Gildegaran, you can begin taking on quests to forge weapons and armor. Every time you defeat a major monster, you may have an opportunity to come back and use its parts to make Great Swords, Swords and Shields, Hammers, Hunting Horns, and armor suits inspired by them. In fact, equipping such sets while that Monstie is at your side in battle can offer bonuses since you are then in-synch. Though, you can also purchase full armor sets, with the Bnahabra being one of the first available. Once you have a weapon or armor you like, you can continue to invest in it, upgrading it, so you can stick with something you love.
Even some parts of the battle feel a little familiar. Obviously, Monster Hunter Stories is different. This is a turn-based battle system with an attack triangle where speed trumps power, power bests technical, and technical outdoes speed. Still, some things remain the same. In matches against major opponents, you may have the option of targeting specific body parts. Removing that will disable a specific enemy attack and give you more items. You can down a monster, again giving you a chance at getting more items. The various bombs still exist to inflict status effects. There are even paintballs to use on major enemies with low health, in the hopes of getting them to retreat to a den where you can steal their eggs and finish the job. The spirit is there, even if the exact methods differ.
Monster Hunter Stories is an entirely new thing. It can feel very different when you play. Yet, it never feels truly foreign. There is so much here that calls back to the series we know and love. It is very thoroughly Monster Hunter, even if we aren’t Hunters in it. All of the things you know and love from the original series appear in small ways. These callbacks make it all the more appealing.
Monster Hunter Stories is available for the Nintendo 3DS.