Monster Hunter games can be intimidating! There are a lot of huge creatures who want nothing more than to tear you to shreds. You have to fight them to keep progressing. Multiple times, if you want the stronger equipment needed to become a master hunter. And if you can’t find someone to join in, it might be a bit more difficult. Monster Hunter Stories 2 is not only a friendly way to ease into an otherwise imposing series. It’s also an example of a developer improving upon every flaw from the original game. The result is a game that is one of the best I’ve played so far in 2021.
Rather than Hunters, the characters who dedicate their lives to killing monsters and taking their parts, Monster Hunter Stories 2 focuses on Riders. These are people who invade monster nests, steal their unborn babies in their eggs, hatch them, and fight alongside them… as you kill monsters and take their parts. But you know, this time there’s more of a story to it and you’re generally trying to bond and live peacefully alongside them.
In the player’s case, you’re someone who might be caught up in a legend come to life. Your grandfather, Red, was a legendary Rider. His Monstie, a monster who he fights alongside and is bonded to, is the Guardian Ratha Rathalos. As you leave your homeland, you get the egg, and then later baby Ratha. However, a characteristic noticed after it hatched leads everyone to wonder if it is one that might bring “ruin” to the world. Which means it’s time for a journey to see what’s going on.
It’s a good excuse to send people to multiple biomes, much like the ones you’d see in mainline Monster Hunter stories. That also means seeing all sorts of monsters, many of whom’s eggs you can acquire to hatch new allies. Maps are quite spacious, with other monsters and dens around to find new eggs. Fast travel is available, via Felyne Catavan stands you’ve discovered. Everdens provide the helpful Bottlecap currency and occasionally encounters with more rare monsters. And, if you encounter a monster that can become a Monstie in a den, you can find an additional den with a guaranteed egg of that type.
The battle system is similar to the original, though Monster Hunter Stories 2 builds on it to speed things up and allow you more tactical options. (The first of many occasions in which Capcom saw what happened before and realized, “We can do better.) You have six different weapon types, each of which deal a different kind of damage. Three can be equipped at once, and you can swap between them a fight. You can have six Monsties with you, and can also shift your partner once before each round. An ally is often by your side as the story dictates with their own Monstie, offering support. Battles are turn-based, with a rock-paper-scissors system that involves speed-strong-technical attacks to determine who wins head-to-head matches and actually deals damage. And as a Kinship gauge fills, you can eventually “ride” your Monstie for stronger attacks and a special skill. If your ally’s riding as well, you trigger a double team.
What’s great is how it also ties in to the Monster Hunter spirit. Monsters tend to stick to certain styles of attack. Unless it is a large monster and gets enraged or picks up an additional trait. Then its moves shifts. It might even get a new area to target. Focusing on certain “parts” will let you “break,” getting parts, disabling certain skills, or even knocking the monster down temporarily. If your party is exceptionally strong, there’s an “instant win” combination to speed things up. (Though you can also speed up battles up to three degrees as well regardless.) And if you have paintballs on hand and there’s a specific monster you want to add to your party, you can chuck them to try and get them to “retreat” to a den where you’re guaranteed that egg.
The dens are great for multiple reasons. They’re fantastic for gathering resources, which you can combine to make helpful items for in and out of battle or equipment. (Some monster-related weapons and armor might need these additional items, especially for upgrades.) You can get eggs, which can provide fodder for better genes for your buddies. There’s even some Metroidvania-like elements, as each Monstie can have certain field skills to let you do things like jump over gaps, swim in water, or climb vines to new areas. Everdens have Bottlecaps that can be used to increase the number of Monsties you can have, increase the number of expedition teams you have, get new item recipes, or acquire new cosmetic options for your avatar and friends. The biggest and best change from the original game is once you find an egg, you only have to walk to the entrance to the nest to “get” it and trigger a prompt to fast travel out of the den.
Monster Hunter Stories 2’s gameplay loop is incredibly satisfying. You get to a new area in the world and settle in your new hub. The quest board updates with lots of side quests, which you can take all at once and complete as you’re doing story-related missions. You see all of these new monsters to acquire. Some of which might be better than the ones you had, by virtue of looking cooler, possessing certain elemental attributes, or having two skills you can use in the field instead of one. The Melynx will have more things in its shop you can buy with Bottlecaps. You can visit the Prayer Pot to use a charm to do things like deal more damage or find rarer items for a bit. If you have spare monsters, maybe you use the Rite of Channeling to give your older monsters new abilities. You could even fight with or against actual other players.
And it always looks so good doing it. I can’t understate how charming Monster Hunter Stories 2 is. The original is a bright game and looks fine, but the changes to characters are extraordinary. The monsters themselves also look good. (Or adorable, when they’ve just hatched. Newborn Khezus are shockingly cute.) Your avatar and Navirou are incredibly expressive in the best sort of way. Also, as this is a Monster Hunter game, all equipment you forge changes your actual appearance. Though, if you prefer other looks, there are layered armor options that make you look a specific way regardless of what armor you actually equipped.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 is an absolute delight and will steal weeks of your life. There’s so much to do here, even if you never touch the multiplayer component or get into “building” the perfect Monsties via messing with their genes. Every den tempts you to go inside to grab another egg, especially if one is a “rare” golden one. You might feel compelled to fight a few more of one type of monster, because you like that armor suit and want to upgrade it as much as possible. It’s one of the most engrossing games out this year, and it’s so reassuring to see how Capcom built and improved upon the original.