I love being a writer, but in my heart of hearts, I know I missed my true calling. I was that one kid who consumed nature documentaries, instantly popped rats on her shoulder, and watched birds, animals, and insects just do their thing for hours at a time. I belong outdoors, where all the beasts of the land and fowl of the air can poop on me, scratch me up, and potentially infect me with hantavirus. Alas, it was not to be. I don’t know where everything went wrong; maybe it has something to do with how I detest waking up before noon.
Don’t waste your pity on me, though. I make do with Monster Hunter, Capcom’s monstrously (ha) popular action RPG series. Monster Hunter is part ecological study and part slaughterfest. To be honest, the latter half makes me feel a teensy bit uneasy when I play games in the series, up to and including the excellent Monster Hunter Rise for Nintendo Switch. I love reading all about the feeding, nesting, and mating habits of the ferocious Rathalos wyvern, but I’m less enthused about wailing on one until it staggers to hide in its den — whereupon the pursuing Hunter is expected to finish the job. While I admit there’s a primal thrill in chasing down exhausted prey (after all, our ancestors employed a similar hunting style, simply pursuing their quarry with relentless Terminator-style stamina), I feel bad about turning the majestic wyvern into a pair of pants. I’ll do it, because said pants are really cool, but I still feel bad.
When Capcom announced Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, I was surprised. Then I was chuffed. I enjoyed the first Monster Hunter Stories, which is a turn-based RPG for the Nintendo 3DS set in Capcom’s bustling world. The sub-series’ angle — riding monsters instead of slaughtering them indiscriminately (well, kinda) — appeals to me more. Monster Hunter Stories is clearly inspired by Pokemon. Though its unique battle system and wonderful monster designs lend the spinoff its own identity. I love catching Pikachu, sure, but I also like nicking a grade-A egg from a Nargacuga den and hatching it into a new friend. Said new friend just so happens to be an assassin panther-dragon that lets me ride on its back.
Predictably, I latched onto Monster Hunter Stories 2 as firmly as a Kulu-Ya-Ku clutching somebody else’s egg. The game doesn’t differ from its predecessor in any radical way, but that’s fine: Taming monsters to fight and explore alongside you isn’t a premise that needs much fine-tuning. Monster Hunter Stories 2 is a perfect fit for turn-based JRPG fans who love whimsical worlds. It’s also a great fit for people interested in Monster Hunter‘s sprawling ecology who don’t thrive on the mainline games’ fast-paced (and often brutal) action. The turn-based battles let you take as long as you need to observe your opponents and plan your strategy accordingly.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 is driven by a surprisingly complex battle system. Thankfully, it eases you into those waters. The game begins on a sprawling plain populated by peaceful herbivores and weak carnivores. Monster Hunter Stories 2 encourages you to beat up monsters like mouthy Jaggis while teaching you what its battle system is all about.
Each character, monsters included, has access to Power, Technical, and Speed attacks. There’s a “Paper, Rock, Scissors” game behind each. E.g., if a monster breaks out a Speed skill, but you chose a Technical attack at the start of your turn, your attack will be cancelled as the monster sends you flying. Predicting monsters’ attacks is admittedly a bit of a guessing game, but a monsters’ body can be a dead giveaway. A lumbering herbivore will favor Power moves while slick bird raptors come at you with Speed. Powerful monsters are capable of flying into a rage and changing their attack patterns, just like in mainline Monster Hunter, which keeps you on your toes to say the least. I personally enjoy assessing monsters and defending myself accordingly. Other people’s mileage will certainly vary.
The fights in Monster Hunter Stories 2 don’t stop at Paper, Rock, Scissors. Capcom stuffed the game with Monster Hunter aesthetics and mechanics wherever possible, including the ability for Riders to break off monsters’ body parts with focused attacks. Parts go back into making armor, weapons, and items, as per Monster Hunter tradition. Breaking parts off a monster can also cause the beast to fall over and thrash around. This is the perfect time to jump up on your own, friendly monster (or “Monstie”) and pull off a radical-looking (and often hilarious) kinship attack.
You can break off monster parts expediently by using the right weapons for the job. Monster Hunter Stories 2 lets you carry blunt, piercing, and cutting weapons — again calling back to the action games. There are sub-categories within each class, too. You can forge a hunting horn for the mallet category, for example, while cutting types include a sword & shield combo or greatswords. Thankfully, if something’s not working out for you, you can switch weapons and monsters on the fly.
I love battling in Monster Hunter Stories 2. It’s just complex enough to keep me awake during enemy encounters while really jazzing up fights with noticeably more dangerous monsters like Rathian and Anjanath. Better still, the difficulty of these fights ramps up at a reasonable pace. You can power through the early parts of the story with one favorite monster, but in time you come to rely on your entire stable (six monsters can travel with you) for their elemental strengths, weaknesses, and favored attacks.
There aren’t any random encounters; monsters see you, and more often than not, they charge you. There are ways to keep on-map monsters at bay, though. Each of your friends has an innate ability that might come in handy when you travel. A tamed Pukei-Pukei can roar to stun foes that run towards you while Nargacuga can make itself (and you) completely invisible to enemies. These overworld skills provide another good reason to nurture a varied party. You never know when you need to break down a rock wall (Yian Garuga), jump across gaps (Velocidrome), or go for a swim (Ludroth). Granted, changing out monsters can be a drag since you have to travel to a monster stable to do the deed, but Monster Hunters 2 Stories has a robust fast-travel system thanks to the wonderful felynes that run the appropriately named Catavan network.
Note that Monster Hunter Stories 2 hands you a difficult choice. Its graphics are generally wonderful, and a stunning amount of detail went into how the monsters move and fight. But towns and overworlds have a serious case of chug on the Nintendo Switch. The framerate never drops to anything near “unplayable,” but it’s quite noticeable while browsing shops and stalls. It might not be a bad idea to pick up the PC version of the game instead. I can’t personally tell you how well it runs there since I reviewed the Switch copy, but Monster Hunter World was a treat on Steam. And, despite the chug, Monster Hunters Stories 2 still thrives as a handheld experience. PC or Switch? The choice is yours, but do note there’s a good chance Capcom will optimize the Switch version sooner or later.
Whichever version you grab, you’ll find lots of ways to modify your monster team. Another important mechanic in Monster Hunter Stories 2 is the Rite of Channeling, which lets you swap your monsters’ genes. (Don’t ask. Just chalk it up to magic.) Genes determine a monster’s passive and active abilities. Matching three of the same symbol or color in a line will net your monster a status bonus, too. You can spend hours tinkering with monster genes. Maybe you’ll mold an army to your exact whims. It’s not really necessary, though. Monster Hunter Stories 2 isn’t out to skin you alive like the hardest hunts of the main games. Once you learn the art of breaking body parts and deflecting attacks, a stock of Potions and Lifesoot will keep you running through most battles. That said, it sure is fun to go back to early areas of the game and raid monster nests for eggs that hatch into gene factories.
My Pet Monster, a Monster of a Friend
Dearest reader, do not bother to point out my hypocrisy. At the start of this review, I made noise about how Monster Hunter forces us to kill monsters, and I made noise about how much that squicks me out. Yet Monster Hunter Stories 2 is built on the same brand of ecological destruction. Even if our heroes ride and tame monsters in addition to killing them for pants. You can chase some monsters who flee the battlefield, and while you don’t kill them (unless they wake up from their restorative sleep and get up in your grill first), you still steal their eggs. That’s just not nice.
I have no excuse. Monster Hunter Stories 2 successfully stirs up that ancient hunter deep inside me, and I still get a ton of satisfaction observing the artistic touches that push Capcom’s monsters from mere cannon fodder to living, breathing creatures at home in their strange but wonderful ecosystems. I’m content. Now I look forward to the next time Capcom lets me hug a Rathalos runt.