While I have extensive hours in the core Monster Hunter series, this is my first venture into its spin-off. However, I did go into this keenly aware that it’s a hybridization of a JRPG, Pokémon, and naturally Monster Hunter concepts. Is Monster Hunter Stories 2 the spinoff I never knew I needed that totally doesn’t need the Wings of Ruin part in the title?
…the turn-based combat dramatically outdoes its influence.
The most important part of pretty much any JRPG is the combat system. Knowing that this comes from a Pokémon angle, I had an open mind to it. Fortunately, this is an area of the gameplay that shines: the turn-based combat dramatically outdoes its influence. And even though it might seem it’s all about the monsters you bring, your character is perfectly capable of kicking ass, too. Sadly, it can get a little repetitive, and the game knows this which is why they let you speed battles up to three times as fast and auto-skip all the over-the-top animations (more on that later!). True to its nature of collecting monsters, though, you can also customize them by mixing and matching genes as you see fit. It’s a simple-yet-effective way of improving your favorites. This customization naturally connects to your own equipment, and in simplified form you wear and swing around increasingly powerful dead monster parts. Unfortunately, everything outside of these things in the gameplay category starts to go downhill. The world itself is bland, highly linear, and you’ll find yourself repeatedly wandering narrow halls most of the time save for a few moments where they try to open it up (and even later let you fly). These moments do little to change the effect of “hall running”, and when you do explore, the world mechanics feel and look archaic as if they’ve come straight from a PS2 game. To make matters worse, as you follow along the story missions, you really start to feel that “go here, go there, come back” boomerang cycle and it can wear you down. I don’t mind old-fashioned, but I do mind when it’s simply outdated.
Every dollar spent is accounted for.
As I said, I don’t mind old-fashioned, and if there’s one thing Stories 2 takes from the JRPG side, it’s content. You’ll see the credits roll about 40 hours later (assuming you at least do some subquests, side quests, and monster collecting), but that really just opens up the true endgame grind and the game lets you know it. In fact, I can easily see putting 100+ hours into this game if you just love hunting monsters JRPG-style. Then, there’s a multiplayer mode, and while it’s not quite as fleshed out as it could be and can be quite limited until you’ve actually beaten the game, it does open up that little bit of extra content for you to play with your friends. Every dollar spent is accounted for. Nice.
This is easily two steps back from the miracle of Rise…
This part gets a bit hairy, and that’s because the framerate on the Switch is an absolute embarrassment for a 2021 game. The unlocked framerate not only varies from barely double digits all the way up to around 45fps but spends most of its time either at or below 15fps during action, often hurting high motion cinematics. And to make matters worse, while the anime art style itself rivals Breath of the Wild, its dated graphics engine shows age just about everywhere from bland, repetitive textures, low quality world assets, and short grass draw distance. This is easily two steps back from the miracle of Rise, which managed just so much more happening while remaining above water. It does redeem itself a bit, however, in the “art style to mask shortcomings” method with some of THE most over-the-top combat animations I’ve ever seen. They’re aggressive, lively, and well put-together. Moving onto the story is a bit of a balancing act. Unlike JRPGs, the character development is virtually non-existent: the characters all fit right into their portrayals predictably, and your main character is a trope of naively triumphant. The story’s pace also doesn’t pick up until you’re about halfway, and there is so much allusion to what’s happening that you’ll accurately predict things well before they happen. The plus side is that it’s focused on being a feel-good story, so unlike other JRPGs, you never really feel loss or impending doom, and it keeps things further light-hearted with anime-inspired humor.
…I genuinely respect the work they’ve put into this.
You all already know I appreciate effort. Know that I genuinely respect the work they’ve put into this. Its combat system is far better than anything Pokémon could ever hope to come up with, but this is downtrodden by just a massively outdated world design. Still, seeing all this game has to offer will see you busy for a very solid amount of time. Just be prepared for an abysmal framerate no matter how enjoyably cute or exciting things get from time-to-time. So while I understand Rise and Stories 2 are completely different types of games, this game’s sequel needs to move to RE Engine and make some serious advancements on a relatively sizeable checklist.