When keeping it simple works right.
Monster Hunter Stories had one objective when it came out in Japan; hook the youth. It sets out to do this by fusing the exploration and crafting of the main Monster Hunter titles with a turn-based combat system and cel-shaded graphics. Based on early returns from the demo, Stories will be a great refresher for those who burned out after Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate even if the series’s trademark multiplayer is replaced by some very chatty characters.
The demo is essentially the first few hours of the final game, complete with a full character creator after the opening sequence. Since save data will carry over to the final version of the game, I spent a great deal of time making sure my hunter – or huntress, as it turned out - looked just right. Once I had control, I had a quick trip to a cave to perform a right of bonding with my starter monster, a Bird Wyvern “Monstie”. Due to a story conceit and demo limitations I was only able to explore a short distance from the village, but it seems as though the movement through the world will be more on foot than the village hopping seen in the other 3DS entries. There are optional quests on a notice board in the village, usually of the “beat X of an enemy” or “bring X of an item” variety. I hope there’s more variety in the quests in the final version.
One major improvement to the item quests is that the item collection has been slimmed down dramatically. It’s not necessary to carry a fishing pole, bug net, and pickaxe in the inventory; the hunter has them all by default. I also didn’t have to hit the deposits of ore or swing the net multiple times to get all of the items. One swing adds everything from the spot into the inventory by default, and items can be combined straight from the menu if more space is required. This is definitely a change I’d love to see brought over to the main games.
The simplicity of exploration carries over to the battle system as well. Regardless of what the hunter has equipped or which Monstie is up first, there’s an attack type triangle in place. Power attacks are beaten by speed, which is beaten by technical attacks. The hunter and Monstie pick one, and a successful triangle advantage builds a meter. Once the meter is maxed, hitting Y will have the hunter ride the Monstie and allows for far more damaging attacks. The first encounter with a Monstie in the field can be a bit tricky if the combat advantage isn’t evident, but the enemies I encountered tended to stick to either one type of attack unless it was a boss monster who used a special move that bypassed the triangle entirely. I left the Monstie to their own devices in combat, and my starter monster worked well as an enemy debuffer.
Longtime Monster Hunter players may be surprised at the amount of dialogue that’s in Stories. Since the noticeboard so far has only had sidequests on it, there’s a lot of reporting back to the village elder or the guiding adult for quests. And the elder speaks entirely in rhyme: I jammed the A button a lot of the tme. There’s a hot-headed male companion/rival and a female friend who have some extended scenes after the opening sequence. I’ll be interested to see if they get any character development beyond the early impressions when the final version releases.
There’s still a lot of things for me to do in the demo, and by the time I hit the end I may be several hours into the final game. Often with demos of this size I get all I need out of the game, but Monster Hunter Stories feels like it’s just scratching the surface of what could be a very engrossing RPG. Now if only the elder would put the poetry book down...