The Monster Hunter series seems to be pretty inescapable at the moment. We received the excellent Switch exclusive Monster Hunter Rise back in March and just last week the series' movie adaptation hit theatres in the UK for the very first time. Surprisingly though, things aren't soon to go quiet, as a sequel to the criminally overlooked Monster Hunter Stories is launching next month. Recently, we were able to check out the opening first three hours of Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, which consisted of its opening two story chapters.
The events of Stories 2 are completely separate from its predecessor, so you won't need to hunt down a dusty old 3DS to get up to speed. Here you play as the grandchild of a legendary rider known as Red, who hails from the gorgeous tropical region of Hakolo Island. You soon learn that Rathalos are mysteriously disappearing and you are simultaneously handed an egg to protect that is related to your grandfather's precious monster Guardian Ratha. The responsibility falls on you to raise the egg and solve the mystery surrounding the absence of these grand fire-breathing creatures.
Monster Hunter Stories has always reminded me of the Mario & Luigi series in a lot of ways, as it takes many of the conventions derived from the core games and adapts them to a new turn-based style of gameplay. The Stories games are an entirely different beast to other mainline entries, but still, you'll be embarking on quests to slay imposing beasts and using their remains to fashion yourself more powerful weapons and armour sets.
Along with the turn-based combat style, these games distance themselves from the main series, as they enable you to raise and train a small team of monsters. Monsters can be obtained through finding their eggs within dens on the map, and once they have been hatched they can join you out on the battlefield. Just like the main games, each of these monsters has its own specific talents and there's even a chance to combine the skills of each monster together through a process known as the Rite of Channeling. I have always admired the designs of the monsters in the series, so I loved being able to use them as my allies and it was satisfying to create the perfect monster by experimenting with traits.
As I touched upon earlier, the game has a turn-based combat style, which differs heavily to the brutally difficult and real-time action oriented core RPGs. This is very similar to rock-paper-scissors, as there are three types of basic attacks (power, technical, and speed), and to gain the upper hand you need to read your opponent and counter their attack with a move that outperforms the one that they are plotting. You can also perform really potent synchronised attacks if you and your monster perform the same type at the same time.
There's an added layer of depth here too, as like in the core games, you can target specific parts of a monster to snap them off and gain more crafting resources. You can also switch your core weapon out mid-fight to inflict more damage as blunt weapons and sharp weapons have different levels of effectiveness of different creatures. There are also special attacks too that you can utilise once a blue meter at the bottom of the screen builds and these will differ depending on your current creature. Using a Pukei-Pukei, for example, you can perform a move that showers your foes in poison and leaves them afflicted with the status condition.
Outside of battles, exploration is also a key pillar of Stories 2's gameplay and it was pleasing to see that your monsters also have their own uses here within the semi open world. Pukei-Pukei, for example, has the ability to roar and scare smaller approaching monsters away, whilst the Velocidrome can be used to jump across rocks and up to higher platforms. Many hidden treasures can be unearthed by taking the right monster with you and taking the time to explore, which makes it even more imperative that you think about your team composition.
So, besides the story graphics and the story, you might be asking yourself what is exactly new within Stories 2. Well, allow me to explain. The first thing that I noticed is that Stories 2 features an increased cast of monsters with some of the fresh faces originally debuting within World and Rise. Early on into the game, I was able to befriend the adorably fluffy Paolumu and I was even able to spot Rise's Great Izuchi taking a stroll. In addition to this, scoutflies from World have also been added as a method for you to track down beasts in some locations. Here the scoutflies will lead you directly to the monster you're searching for if you follow them and gather up various clues and markings.
Whilst most of what I experienced filled me with promise for Stories 2, I did encounter a few little blemishes that left me a little concerned. My first issue stems from the combat system. Here you'll often fight alongside an ally character and their monster and you are only responsible for using items yourself and planning your own attacks. Due to this, I found that my partner would frequently heal a party member during the same turn as me, which resulted in a waste of a turn. It also felt pretty dated that each explorable area was separated by loading screens. This was something that older Monster Hunter titles had to resort to due to technical limitations, but we saw Rise abolish this when it launched on Switch in March.
Stories 2 appears to be equally as charming as its 2017 predecessor, and I can't wait to see just what surprises are lurking beyond its opening few hours. I loved having the chance to use many of its majestic beasts as my own allies and it was satisfying to experiment with giving them different traits and abilities. That said, I found the constant cutscenes between areas to feel a little dated and it was frustrating when allies would waste turns by healing the same party members as us. Be sure to check back for our full thoughts when Monster Hunter Stories 2 releases on Nintendo Switch and PC on July 9.