Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin at first glance invites comparisons to Pokémon, monster collection, turn-based combat with a rock, paper, scissors style system and a cute, colourful world. Like most simplifications though, Monster Hunter Stories 2 is most definitely more than just a Pokémon clone and it has a lot to offer, both to existing fans of the franchise or to total newcomers.
The move to a more traditional JRPG adventure with the original Stories was one of those curious choices that ended up really working. Taking the more realistic, deliberate hunting combat the series is known for and moving it to a more cutely designed, colourful aesthetic on paper seemed an odd choice but it managed to feel like the main series whilst being a charming title on its own merits.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 takes what worked in the first game and runs with it, with the focus being on Riders and their almost Pokémon trainer like focus on working in harmony with the series’ monsters (here called Monsties) rather than the main entries combative Hunters. It’s also a great place to start as it doesn’t require knowledge of the first game, it’s its own thing but it does make references and has older characters show up to reward players of the first entry.
The game kicks off with an event causing all the Rathalos to mysteriously vanish and you stumbling across a Wyverian girl who was entrusted with an egg by the island’s Guardian Rathalos that seems to be the key to an ancient prophecy. So you and the Wyverian girl set out to defend the egg and try to find out what is causing the mass exodus of Rathalos and the odd behaviour of the monsters.
The story itself won’t win any awards for originality but it’s interesting enough and has enough twists and turns as well as a cast of characters that are written well to keep you invested. Series fans will get a kick out of seeing and hearing monsties in fun and interesting situations whilst newcomers will come to love an adorable roster of fearsome critters.
Combat itself is where the biggest improvements from the first game have occurred. Battles consist of you and your monstie as well as a fellow Rider and theirs as you take it in turns selecting attacks. At its most basic, the game uses a rock, paper, scissors system with monsters and moves being split into three types, Power, Technical and Speed.
Having an advantage in this type triangle gives you the edge during head to head attacks which occur when an enemy is targeting you specifically. Winning these charges up your kinship meter and can deal significant damage as well as knockdown or otherwise interrupt a potentially dangerous situation. As well as these, there are also elemental types to keep in mind.
The kinship gauge can be used to ride your monstie and gain a power boost, it also allows access to powerful kinship moves, powerful attacks which are unique to each monstie and can turn the tide of a battle if used correctly. As well as this, there are different weapon types that have unique uses that you can switch between at any time, from the Hammer being a part-breaking powerhouse to the huge burst damage of the Great Sword.
All these things interact in a really natural way and whilst it might sound confusing, the game does a great job of breaking it down in chunks whilst teaching you at the start. Getting your head around these interactions and when you should use a weapon skill or a monstie attack lead to a very satisfying combat loop. The battle system rewards you with more item rewards for finishing fights quickly, encouraging you to learn monster patterns and their weaknesses in a natural way.
The core gameplay pattern from the main entries is also here, battling monsters gets you parts which you can use to craft and upgrade new weapons and armour at the blacksmith in town. On top of this however, there is the small matter of the monsties themselves, collecting your favourite beasties and training them to become fearsome allies is still an interesting concept.
To find your new friends, you enter Monster Dens and steal eggs from nests which you then hatch. There are a number of factors which determine how good your monster will be, from obvious things like what moves they have access to and any natural abilities they might have like improved critical hit change for example.
Stories 2 adds even more depth here by having each egg have unique genes, these surface as bonus abilities or useful traits like enhanced defence or improved fire damage. This is combined with a bingo-like matrix where lines and rows of same coloured genes give you more bonuses. This all stacks to make a really intriguing and interesting combat system that encourages you to still hunt out eggs and specific monsters even in the post-game when the credits have rolled.
Visually the game is mostly stunning, with an adorably cute art style that really pops out of the screen with its vibrant use of colour and shading. Most of the world you explore can often take your breath away, especially in cutscenes where judicious usage of effects like bloom and depth of field can look stunning. Monsties and characters also look great, with emotive and extremely attractive animations that bring the whole thing together.
However, there is still one main thing visually that let it down and it’s kind of a shame more wasn’t done in the sequel to fix some of this. Most monster dens where you hunt out eggs are extremely generic, with very simple geometry and layouts. This was understandable in the original Stories as it was primarily designed for the Nintendo 3DS but it’s disappointing that this area wasn’t improved, especially with how great the main world itself looks here.
Audio, which has often been one of my favourite elements of the series, is still fantastic, with an exciting OST that captures the feel of the main series’ motifs but with a unique flavour, Monster Hunter World’s effect on the series is subtly noticeable here too. The voice acting is strong and helps elevate the whole thing.
Overall there is very little to criticise with Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, it’s a charming, entertaining ride through a world full of adorable monsties that has a surprisingly deep and fun combat system that you can engage with as much as you want to. It’s a shame some aspects like the dens haven’t seen as stark a change as the rest of the game but it’s a fantastic title to lose yourself in.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
A fantastic game for both fans of Monster Hunter and newcomers alike, cleverly weaves aspects of the main games into a traditional RPG setting and can stand on its own.