Review: Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin

When Monster Hunter Stories first launched on the scene, it was one of the most adorably unpredictable spin-offs for the long-running series. Despite not having widespread attention it managed to gather a following of faithful fans hoping to see a sequel at some point. Now that time has finally come to pass and Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin made its way into the limelight. With tons of opportunity to build upon what the original started we can finally see if it was worth the wait to get this continuation on the series.

The tale begins on Hakolo island, where a young villager finds themselves aiming to become a monster rider in order to investigate what’s going around the island they live and what’s going on with their grandfather’s old Rathalos. After some investigating they make it up to where old Ratha lives, only to meet a young Wyverian girl named Ena who seems to have known their grandfather. She’s been investigating mysterious pits that have been appearing throughout the world, in addition to wanting to understand why all the Rathalos have suddenly flown off and disappeared. With just a single mysterious Rathalos egg, the young rider decides to head off with her in order to speak to others who may have an inkling as to what’s going on. After proving themselves as a capable rider through feats of strength, they’re able to hatch the Rathalos egg which contains a small Rathalos incapable of flight due to its wings being bound and many other mysteries that seem to surround them, including a legend that believes it’s the Razewing Rathalos said to bring ruin to the world. It’s up to the young rider along with friends they meet along the way to learn more about the Rathalos, the bond they share and what’s causing the terrifying pits to appear in order to keep things safe for everyone.

Unlike the core Monster Hunter series many know and love, the Stories spin-offs take on the much different approach of being turn-based titles. At its core the combat is simple to understand, as it relies on three main types of attacks in order to get a leg up on the opponent. The three styles of attack are power, technique and speed, with each one having its strength and weakness. Power beats technique, technique beats speed and speed beats power which is also easily portrayed by the colors being red, green and blue respectively. The way this ties into combat is easy enough as when the player, or companion monstie, is targeted by an enemy monster they’ll each choose the type of attack they want to use. The goal is to predict what the enemy will use, and if picked correctly will win a head-to-head battle and manage to dish out good damage or take more if picked incorrectly. Every character also has their own assortment of special attacks as well which depend on weapons for riders and skills learned for monsties. These skills are able to be used as the kinship gauge fills up throughout battle and when it’s full will allow riders to dish out a heavy hitting attack with their monstie. The gauge fills faster with successful head to heads or combo attacks, encouraging strategic play. Items can also be used during battle once per turn to restore health, get rid of an ailment or help buff attacks. The best thing about Stories 2 in particular is that it’s seen a slew of changes to this combat system.

In the original title weapon choice didn’t particularly mean much when going into combat. Players could easily opt for one particular weapon and stick with it the entire time. Now there are slots for three different weapons to have equipped at once and three main types of weapons to take. This includes blunt, slashing and piercing which are key to one of the new focused mechanics. Nearly every monster has breakable parts with each one having select strengths and weaknesses against weapons. Selecting the right weapon for the job deals more damage and helps break parts faster. What’s great is when a monster has been fought once, its weakness and strengths remain so it’s immediately obvious what it’s weak to on future fights. Also entirely new is the addition of battle partners which occur throughout the story as allies join and leave throughout the duration of the adventure. Together both riders, or rider and hunter, are able to pull off combo kinship attacks if both gauges are full leading to crazy amounts of damage that can be pulled off. Riders can even pull off double attacks with their companion’s monstie, leading to a lot of great opportunities to keep a monster stunned in place while working away at its health.

Of course outside of combat getting new monsties is one of the most important elements of the entire experience. Each monstie has its own preference for type of attack it will use, in addition to many having elemental attacks and weaknesses that are important to keep in mind. Finding monsties is also relatively easy as all it requires is for the rider to find a monster den. Inside will be a short dungeon that culminates in a nest at the end that is sometimes guarded by a monster, but often times left empty. Riders can gather a few eggs before they disappear and are able to take just one back with them. Each monster has its own individual egg appearance which makes finding the right one easy, but with the chance it may not appear at all. Those wanting to hunt down a specific monstie can also try to take fights to their advantage. Every monster has a specific retreat chance after it has been defeated which will lead to a den exclusively containing that monster’s type of egg. This can be increased by defeating monsters in certain ways unique to them or using paintballs to increase the chance they run away. It’s worth noting that not every monster is able to become a monstie or run away to their own den, but the vast majority encountered will be. It’s easy to tell it one can’t by checking the monsterpedia or if a paintball is ineffective. Rare dens also exist and will often be home to harder to find monster eggs in addition to having a hire chance of a heavier and smellier egg. The rider’s felyne companion, Navirou, is able to tell a lot based on an egg’s weight and smell. The smellier and heavier an egg is, the higher the chance it will have more slots and better skills once hatched. While at first it might just seem like a lot of luck to get a good monstie, the rite of channeling is there to help make monsties not only powerful, but crazy for those willing to put in the time.

The rite of channeling unlocks a little ways into the second main area. Much like the first title how it works is players will select their main monstie and then another one with a gene they wish to transfer. The monstie the gene is taken from disappears forever, but the new one gains that new ability from that gene in order to make them stronger. The big appeal for channeling is getting bingos, in which monsties have certain genes lined up that are similar and offer them a bigger stat boost because of it. One of the greatest changes from the first title is that skills can be put anywhere now, instead of only having to go into a similar empty slot. Genes can even be powered up by combining the same ones on order to make even more powerful monsties. For those looking to make something crazy, there are some great options available. While people might think of Rathalos as a well-known fire-based monster, it’s possible to give him any type of elemental attack thanks to channeling. If players so desire they could make an electric, ice or even water based Rathalos by giving it genes from other monsters. This leads to near endless possibilities at their disposal. With nearly 400 genes that can be discovered from every monstie available, there’s no end to what can be done. The nice thing is despite the fact that this mechanic is so wide and expansive, it’s not necessary at all to simply enjoy and playthrough the campaign as no enemies ever require maxed-out genes to defeat, but is wonderful for those looking to make a monstie of their very own design.

Outside of monsties the most important element is gearing up the rider themselves. After defeating a monster in battle the rider is rewarded with a variety of items which can increase based on how well they did in the fight. These items in turn can be used to make familiar armor and weapons the series is well known for. Going to a blacksmith will allow the player to craft their gear that will help them across their journey. Gear can also be changed at any time outside of battle, meaning players can easily switch on the fly between fights in order to go in best prepared every time. At first armor is easy to make and upgrade, but of course as it progresses more rare items will be required in order to craft the most powerful equipment. Generally speaking riders will deal less damage than their monstie companions, but going into battle with weapons monsters are weak to creates a huge advantage. There are six different weapon types riders can craft, two of each type, with each having their own advantages and disadvantages over the other which makes finding the type of style each player prefers a fun challenge when going through them all. Armor meanwhile can depend heavily on its elemental defense and weakness, in addition to skills that are all important to help buff any rider. There are also talismans that can be equipped as well, but these are generally found by mining out while exploring or in a treasure chest.

While combat is the meat of gameplay, exploration is also just as important outside of just admiring the gorgeous landscapes. Similarly to the main series gathering items is a huge part of the cycle as it allows players to craft better items to use in battle. This is also where players will head out to complete quests from the quest board or given to them from other NPCs. Most quests require gathering certain items or defeating certain enemies and is the main source of income early on. Monsties also help play a large role in exploration with their field skills which vary from each one. Some have the ability to jump, while others can break rocks or swim and eventually monsties will start having the ability to fly in larger areas for faster traversal. Most of these skills are simply used to help get to secrets or treasure, but it’s well worth having a variety on hand in order to get everything in an area. It also encourages players to revisit areas to get things they missed the first time and perhaps find new monsties that may have shown up along the way.

The original title boasted one of the most charming visual styles on the 3DS, and Stories 2 has continued that but changed it much more for continued endearing design. The more realistic proportions of characters and monsters were a great decision. Each area is delightfully brimming with enemies and gorgeous wildlife in addition to familiar cosmetic endemic life that first appeared in Monster Hunter: World. The soundtrack is utterly captivating with all songs becoming not just enjoyable and catchy, but some so outstanding it’s almost startling how fantastic the overall soundtrack is. The framerate can be inconsistent at times in busy areas making it feel choppy, but never slow by any means. There are also a few monsters that it’s  disappointing can’t be monsties, but instead are just enemies for armor and weapons. As far as content is concerned, Stories 2 is far from lacking much like its predecessor. After completing the main story players will gain access to high rank monsters which act as more powerful foes to overcome. New high rank dens will appear out in the wild for them to challenge and allow gear and weapons to be further upgraded and more powerful. This also includes a brand new area featuring a good handful of challenges for them to overcome and some new monsters to fight and collect as well leaving much to be done for those looking for more to sink their teeth into after the story has finished.

Closing Comments: 

Monster Hunter Stories was one of the most brilliant spin-off decisions in the series and this sequel does its best to improve upon what the original started and does it well. The story is wonderfully charming and manages to have tons of surprises to keep players invested in learning more as they adventure through. The characters are all wonderfully voice acted and enjoyable, save for one with the mistake of a surfer dude-bro accent, and they all feel as though they leave a genuine impact throughout the story. The gameplay improvements can not be understated and make for a much more balanced and strategic experience instead of the first title which often felt random at times. It is, as Navirou would say, Pawsitively Clawdacious in every way. For fans of the first title this one is a must-have to dive into so much more, while those interested for the very first time need not worry as nothing will be missed by picking up this sequel as the first entry. Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is an absolute joy with near endless amounts of fun to sink many hours into.