Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin

The monster-collecting genre might be one of the most criminally underutilized in gaming. Aside
from the Pokémon games and the steady trickle of indie projects inspired by that franchise, it’s
practically barren. It is my hope that Monster Hunter Stories 2 will stand as proof to AAA developers that
there is currently a huge commercial demand for unique and polished ideas within the archetype. While
it’s by no means a masterpiece, it’s easy to say that Monster Hunter Stories 2 provided the most
enjoyable gameplay experience I’ve had within the genre in recent years. But there’s more to a game
than just the play, so I’ll start my discussion of Stories 2 with the aspect of it that left me the most
conflicted – its story.

The plot here is tremendously satisfying. Quite possibly the best that a JRPG has had to offer all
year. It’s thrilling, exciting, mysterious, and genuinely moving at times. However, like most JRPGs, it
moves like molasses. Most of this game exists within such a stagnant storytelling limbo that whenever a
critical scene was happening, I had to smack my cheeks and wipe my eyes to wake up from the dormant
state my brain had settled into. The formula here is simple. An important plot point will occur, split by
four or five mind-numbing errands pertaining to the current town you’re in, all rounded out by a scene
that ends the current arc before having the player move on to the next town. Then that process is rinsed
and repeated for the remainder of the game’s run time. As much as I want to give Monster Hunter Stories 2 nothing but commendations for a narrative that came off as genuinely fresh, it just settles into
too many low points far too often for me to ignore. Luckily, those low points are chock full of the most
well-thought-out gameplay I’ve seen from a monster-collecting JRPG.

The combat of Monster Hunter Stories 2, maybe more than anything else, is what lends this
game such a unique identity amongst its peers. It all goes back to the fact that the source material that
inspired this game was the Monster Hunter franchise, while just about everything else that fills the
genre was inspired by Pokémon. Thanks to that, the battle system has a wonderful flow and feels fresh
to boot. Monster Hunter Stories 2 takes everything that worked about the first game in the series and
pushes it just a bit further, landing at a point that feels like a perfect recontextualization of Monster Hunter battles into a turn-based format. Weapon types, elemental attacks, and status effects all play
similar roles to the ones they have in base Monster Hunter games. Different weapon types have varying
levels of effectiveness on different parts of monster’s bodies, and each weapon has unique skills and
playstyles that go along with them. The sword and shield, greatsword, hammer, hunting horn, bow, and
gunlance are all available in this game, with the player able to bring three weapons with them into a
combat encounter at a time. Tied into all of this is a “rock-paper-scissors” aspect in the form of power,
speed, and technical attacks. Pretty much every attack and skill in the game will fit into one of those
three categories, and the way that Monster Hunter Stories utilizes this system is my favorite feature of
the game. Each monster in the game has its own proclivity towards one or two types of attacks, and
many of them have states they will enter that will change things up. For instance, the Jade Barroth will
begin a combat encounter by using speed attacks. If they armor themselves with a snow covering, their
parts will all become weak to fire while they start to use technical abilities. If that snow mantle is broken
off of them, they will enter an enraged state and use power attacks. The thing I love about combat like
this is that it forces the player to forge a unique identity for most monsters and monster types in their
head – swift victories always come with a sense of mastery, especially because if you get good enough at
predicting your opponent, you can pull off sync attacks with your monstie to stop your opponent from
acting, or even ride your monstie to pull off a finisher.

Ironically enough, the biggest hindrance to executing any of these is the seemingly mandatory
uncontrollable “buddy” that the game will sic on the player throughout the vast majority of its run time.
The way that Monster Hunter Stories 2 handled its party system might seem like a small oversight, but it
was easily the most frustrating aspect of the game that I encountered. Basically, you’ll always have an
extra party member in this game, either in the form of a hunter (a lone human) or a rider (a human and
their monstie). There is no way to control these party members in combat, and they will often muck up
plans you might be trying to execute. Aside from just wanting a competent ally in battle, I also just
wanted to be alone sometimes. I remember being so excited after leaving the tutorial island – it was me
and my monsties against the world. Battles became a bit more difficult, and I found myself needing to
make smart decisions with attacks and items in order to get through them. All that bright-eyed
excitement was flushed down the drain when I was soon joined by Alwin and his powerful Legiana
wyvern. I think what frustrates me about this misstep more than anything is that its such a small
oversight and such an easy fix that winds up sucking so much enjoyment out of what could’ve been a
near perfect gaming experience.

That being said, if you’re a fan of monster-collecting games and, like me, feel tired of the vastly
overused Pokémon formula, Monster Hunter Stories 2 is a title that you shouldn’t miss. It quickly carved out its own special place in my heart, and isn’t a game that will be quickly forgotten.

#Monster #Hunter #Stories #Wings #Ruin

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