The colourful spin-off Monster Hunter Stories found itself in a bit of a precarious spot when it first made its debut. The game was released in the west in 2017 which was right at the end of the 3DS' life cycle and just ahead of the spike in popularity that the series saw right off the back of Monster Hunter World. Needless to say, despite a positive critical reception, the title didn't get the chance to shine as brightly as it could have done under the right circumstances. Fortunately for fans, the title has now received a sequel on the Nintendo Switch and it looks to expand upon the rock-solid foundation of the original release.
If you missed out on the 3DS original then fear not, Wings of Ruin has a story separate to its predecessor. Here you play as the grandchild of a legendary rider known as Red and you find yourself following in his footsteps and setting out on a grand adventure of your own after strange events occur within your hometown of Hakolo Island. Majestics beasts known as Rathalos are disappearing across the land and strange pits are opening up that are causing monsters to turn uncharacteristically vicious and turn on humans. Naturally, it's up to you to investigate these curious events and try and prevent any further chaos from being caused.
The story, whilst well-voiced and feeling at times like it could be a standalone anime series, was one of the weakest aspects of Stories 2 for me. Starting with the positives, I liked how it called the moral consequences surrounding hunting and raising monsters into question and it made me contemplate whether my group's actions were truly for the best. On the other hand, though, I found having a silent protagonist made for many awkward exchanges, and feline companion Narvirou never failed to make my blood boil during cutscenes. I get that his inclusion is to brighten up the rather bleak plot, but his persistent cat puns and slapstick humour grew pretty tiring quickly and this is coming from somebody who is a huge cat lover.
Just like the original game, Stories 2 sees you raise up your own small army of monsters from the many favourites that have graced the series. To obtain these creatures, you need to venture deep into a monster's den and grab yourself a brightly-coloured egg from its nest. Once hatched, these monsters can battle alongside you, and just like Pokemon, you carry a team of six with their own attacks that can be switched between freely during encounters. Impressively, there's even the opportunity for you to combine the movesets of each monster to create a super creature of sorts through a process known as the Rite of Channeling. This gives value to every monster you obtain and gives you added incentive to collect more.
Battling with these creatures is done through a turn-based style that differs heavily from the series' more action-orientated roots. During a turn, players can select between three different types of basic attacks (power, technical, speed) and this works like a game of rock-paper-scissors when you and your opponent have targeted each other. Here speed beats power, power beats technical and technical beats speed. There are also special powerful Kinship attacks that can be unleashed once a blue gauge has filled up at the bottom of the screen. Additionally, if you and your monster perform the same move (speed, for example) you can perform a synchornised attack that dishes up some extra damage.
The combat system is simplistic, but you will be forced to switch up your strategy with every monster that you encounter. Some monsters, for example, will take to the skies and you'll have to rush to attack their wings to take them down, and others will burrow deep underground and will leap up and attack you unless you use the right item to stun them. Opposing monsters also have the ability to inflict status conditions on you like sleep, burn, and poison, so it's important that you prepare and stock up on plenty of healing items.
Outside of battles, you'll find yourself exploring through a variety of different biomes as you track down the next creature for you to slay. The explorable areas within Stories 2 span across frosty mountains, dark and dingy caves, and gorgeous tropical beaches, but disappointingly, they feel awfully linear and are separated by lengthy loading screens. What I did like, however, is that these areas had Metroidvania-like elements and you can earn yourself some hidden goodies by bringing the right monster with you. One monster, for example, maybe needed to shatter a boulder ahead and you might require another to scale a wall covered in vines.
Beyond its narrative, I also found a few other shortcomings with Stories 2. The game's quest structure begins to feel pretty repetitive by its mid-stretch, as you're just moving from one village to the next and slaying more and more powerful creatures. I get that this is the main hook of Monster Hunter games, but personally I would have liked to see more variety such as exploration-based quests and activities involving monster's specific abilities. Some Monster Hunter veterans may also be disappointed by the scaled-back gear crafting, which I imagine has been purposely simplified to make the game more accessible. You now craft full armour sets at a time instead of individual armour pieces and weapons have a much more linear upgrade path rather than a branching skill tree of options.
Still, my complaints aside, Monster Hunter Stories 2 is an entertaining sequel that is worthy of co-existing alongside the excellent mainline series of games. Fighting alongside my favourite beasts from the franchise never failed to be entertaining and I liked how the option was present to combine together different monster traits. That said, I wasn't overly fond of certain story aspects such as your feline companion Narvirou, and I found its quest structure to feel pretty tiresome by the time I reached its mid-way point. If you're a fan of the series and/ or of monster collecting games like Pokemon, I'd certainly give this one a consideration.