Who says Monster Hunter can't be for everyone?
Monster Hunter is a hard core game that isn’t quite accessible to uninitiated players, particularly in the West. Over the years, Capcom has come a very long way since the days of “the claw” making the series easier to get into and bringing in more gamers to the hunt. Despite their efforts, is it possible that Capcom has reached the ceiling with how many more people they can welcome into the fold of traditional Monster Hunter? While that is certainly debatable, Capcom has decided to go a completely different route with the series with the spin-off RPG Monster Hunter Stories for Nintendo 3DS. Cacpom brought a build of the game to Tokyo Game Show and I walked away extremely impressed by the promise this game has.
Monster Hunter Stories is still set in the Monster Hunter world, but instead of focusing on the hunters, it focuses on an entirely different group known as riders. Riders don’t hunt and kill monsters in the same way that hunters do, but rather capture (usually when they’re still inside of eggs), raise and fight with these creatures on their adventures. The demo at TGS starts by immediately putting you into the role of either a boy or girl as you start your quest to steal a monster egg. After grabbing the egg and running away from the crazy monster parent, the little guy, known as a Monstie, hatches giving players a companion to explore the world with. This aspect really helps to make the world of Monster Hunter feel deeper and more than simply a world full of hunters.
Unlike mainline Monster Hunter games which go for a more realistic feel, the art direction in Stories sets the game apart visually with its colorful cartoony style. It’s similar to the huge difference between realistic Zelda titles and Wind Waker. Like the cel-shaded Zelda adventure, the characters in Stories can come to life more than any character ever could in past Monster Hunter games. There are tons of great facial animations that are fun and make character expression one of the main focuses of the game. The locales from the demo - a small forest, a town, and a wide open field - all look stunning and have bright vivid colors that make the game akin to watching an anime on your 3DS. It’s an incredible visual achievement on the system and it runs silky smooth.
Being an RPG, things work quite a bit differently than typical monster hunter games. Battles initiate once you run into a monster in the open field. All of the actions that you can do while in combat are mapped to the touch screen (you can cycle through them with the d-pad or Circle Pad if you like). From there, you have the standard menu items that you find in most RPGs. One interesting element that is added to regular attacks is a rock, paper scissors element that can give you an advantage over you foe. Once you choose the standard attack, you can then choose if you want to focus on using power, speed or technique. As you attack, enemies also choose one of these to counter your attack. With the system, power beats technique, technique beats speed and speed beats power. No matter what, you’ll deal damage, but if you hit just right, you’ll deal quite a bit more damage than usual. On the flip side, if the enemy wins this, you’ll take a serious amount of damage. It’s a cool addition to make even basic attacks more of an event.
On top of standard attacks, players can use special attacks that unleash a specific player skills, Monstie attacks, the ability to swap Monsties or use items and the option to retreat. The center of the touch screen features a kinship gauge that fills up throughout battle. Once it is completely full, you are able to hop on your Monstie with Y and unleash some very strong, satisfying attacks. The entire battle layout on the touch screen looks extremely sharp and is very easy to use.
Monster Hunter Stories was a pleasant surprise that is not only fun but also looks fantastic. It’s great to see a game being set in the same world as Monster Hunter but being more accessible and something completely different from what Capcom has done in the past. Stories is set to come to the 3DS in Japan in 2016. There still isn’t any word on a release in the West at this time. Be sure to check out the trailer below!