Monster Hunter Stories 2 Puts Characters First in More Ways Than One

Wings of Ruin adds new perspectives (just like this interview with the game's developers).

Capcom is having a bit of a renaissance. It has been for a while, in fact, spurred on by the international success of Monster Hunter World in 2018. We saw that victory carry over to the Nintendo Switch earlier this year. Now the publisher is trying to expand that foothold with Monster Hunter Stories 2: a Pokemon-like take on the flagship games.

I spoke together with Capcom Japan Producer Ryozo Tsujimoto, Director Kenji Oguro, and Art Director Takahiro Kawano specifically about the sequel. It’s gotten top billing at Capcom showcases — alongside fellow Switch game Monster Hunter Rise — even most viewers had probably never heard of the series. The first Stories was trapped in that late-era 3DS limbo, alongside other gems lost under the shadow of the Switch.

Stories 2 doesn’t feel extraneous, though. Instead it complements the main “find a big lizard and kill it” games, showing more of the world at which Capcom only barely hints. The team said they “really wanted to emphasize this change in perspective,” referring to the fact that you don’t play a hunter at all. You’re a rider. Just like in the first game. Instead of killing or capturing creatures, you befriend and mount them, driving them across somewhat open plains like horses in The Witcher or Assassin’s Creed. Just to drive that home hunters are now the antagonists.

The story of Stories 2 actually puts you at odds with hunters — the player faction from mainline games. There’s a particularly disconcerting scene right at the beginning that shows a young girl being hunted by humans with “Scoutflies,” which Monster Hunter World used to track prey. That tiny scene hints at a much bigger danger. It shows how truly strange and even horrifying the tools used by players seem with just a slight change of context. As a rider, you’re partly fighting against hunters in this game, and Capcom wastes no time making them feel like a threat.

Even so, the developers “don’t believe the monsters or characters have bad intentions.” That’s a philosophy Tsujimoto and the rest have driven home to me in previous interviews. Monsters can be corrupted, or just dangerous, but “not evil beings or creatures.” The same holds true for hunters, apparently. Even when they’re not on your side.

The corruptive influence in this game (there are a lot of those across Monster Hunter plotlines) is a bit of a mystery at the start. But the hunters believe it’s caused by a baby Rathalos: sort of the mascot breed of the franchise. You take the infant on the run to prove exactly what the developers say: nothing is simply born evil. The hunters give chase while you train and collect more “monsties.”

It’s much plot-heavier than Pokemon, but you can see the similarities. It’s no wonder this series has only existed on handhelds. Even so, Capcom tries to shove “as many monsters as possible” onto the diminutive hardware. The team used Monster Hunter World, its Iceborne expansion, and Monster Hunter Generations as a baseline when selecting which creatures would be available to tame. The biggest limitation was actually… where to put the saddle. Some of the critters were just too damn thick with spikes and thorns — no matter how many layouts the team tried. Based on how much they laughed when I asked about this, I think they tried hard.

It also took some effort to nail the combat system. The game was always turn-based according to the devs. Originally, however, players could “choose between avoiding an attack, attacking, or putting some distance between [themselves] and the monster.” It was a rock, paper, scissors system that almost sounds like a tactics game.

That was eventually dropped in favor of another three-pronged system. Riders and monsters instead choose between a technical, power, or speed attack. The advantage was twofold: it showed off more of the monsters’ personality and incorporated a wider variety of recognizable Monster Hunter moves. A speedy little Velocidrome feels unique from a sneaky Kulu-Ya-Ku that way. Meanwhile, players pull from much of the same equipment found in the main titles. So when you use a Hunting Horn (like me), the different attacks look and feel like the Hunting Horn should.

Speaking of gear, Stories 2 continues the series’ tradition of multiple styles for each armor set. One is almost always more traditionally masculine, while the other is more feminine (not to mention skimpier).

Stories 2 doesn’t completely change that. It does, however, do away with gendered pronouns for the player character. Other characters simply refer to you as “they” and the character creator simply calls your fashion choice “style.” Even my rider looks and sounds fairly androgynous — not necessarily locking me into any over presentation.

Stories characters are younger than their hunter counterparts; it’s possible Capcom simply didn’t want to sexualize them the same way as hunters. Though the trio still noted the choice of pronouns was intentional. They elaborated, saying they “were happy for that progression” and that the team “would not like to restrict players from expressing themselves.” And that’s largely been true since at least 2018. Monster Hunter World doesn’t restrict facial features or accessories, like beards and makeup, based on body type.

And while there are no plans to let different character styles mix and match clothing options in this game, they didn’t completely deny the possibility in future releases. Instead they promised to be “working to be more inclusive.”

In the meantime, Monster Hunter Stories 2 is out on July 9 of this year — on both Nintendo Switch and PC. It may not be a “normal” Monster Hunter game, but it does offer a broader look at the same world, while maintaining the personality of the sister series. Not to mention its changes might mean interesting things for the games going forward.

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Steven Strom

An obsessive writer broadcasting to you live from the middle of nowhere. Thinks cute things are good, actually.

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