Between the disappointment of Monster Hunter Double Cross not being ported to the West and the wait for Monster Hunter World, fans of the series can be satiated with this new spin-off title for the Monster Hunter Series. Monster Hunter Stories alters the patterns of series making changes to the combat, questing, and appearance. Make no mistake, if you love Monster Hunter – you’ll enjoy this Nintendo 3DS outing.

Living up the name of the game Monster Hunter Stories brings a story to the forefront. Monster Hunter games have not lacked story. They just often fell to the side as players focused on grinding monsters for materials for an armor and weapons or simply having fun with friends. Stories create a larger emphasis from the get-go on characters. That is what brings out a larger story element. The Player Character of stories grew up in the starting village, Hakum Village, having friends and relationships with the villagers with more of them having an actual name instead of descriptions. Two that stand out more and take a larger story role is your childhood companions.

In terms of the conflict of the story, it is reminiscent of the Blight from Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.  For those unaware or a refresher for others, the Blight was a status that made monsters more aggressive. They would do more damage and be more sporadic in their movements. The Blight of Monster Hunter Stories has expanded to not only affect the monsters but vegetation as well. The change of perspective within the story gives a fresh feel to the repeated idea. The blight afflicted monsters are not the sole antagonist of the game either.

The change with the most impact is you are no longer a Hunter. Instead, players are Riders that do not simply hunt down monsters for parts, but bond with them also. What makes this possible are Kinship stones. The stones offer the ability to create bonds with newly hatched monsters. Monsters are gathered by entering the Monster Dens and taking an egg from the Nest. The eggs are described in terms of their weight being light, normal is heavy. Weight only seemed to play a small factor in what I got. Multiple monsters are classed under the different weight classes. The chances of the light egg being a Velocidrome and Aptonoth are about the same in the early game. Rare Monster Dens will appear randomly and are identified by their golden color over the normal rocky surface of the regular. When trying to hunt down a specific monster it can be more easily obtained by battling one in the wild and getting it to retreat to its den.

After obtaining the stone and getting my first monster I explored to find as many monsters as I could. The downside was I did not find much. In most areas, you’ll only be finding 2-3 different monsters at first. It grows slightly when accessing later areas in the game. But having such a small amount takes away from the excitement and the pursuit. I usually obtained all possible monsters in an area without much hassle. Once they were all found then I did not find it worth exploring more. While this can be used to keep access from powerful monsters early on, the rarity system already ensures that having high rarity monsters will would not be usable until furthering the story. I think including them in the areas even early on could have offered more challenge when exploring. Similar to how players will run into random encounters during a hunt of the main games.

As for the combat system, it is a turn-based battle. By encountering monsters in the wild you’ll be set for the battle, approaching from behind a monster will provide the advantage of a free hit. During battles, there will only be one of your monster fighting at your side. The combat includes three different styles of attack; power, technique, and speed. Different monsters have different tendencies and by fighting them multiple times their patterns become more clear. Those like myself with prior knowledge of the monsters maybe even able to guess towards some monsters preferred methods.

The need to learn these patterns comes from a countering system. When targeting a monster that is also targeting you it leads to Head-to-Heads. It depends on the type of attack you use as to who gets the upper hand; Speed trumps Powers, Power pushes out Technique, Technique out maneuvers Speed and picking the same will end in a Draw. There are special abilities that can fall outside of this that will negate the head-on mechanic. The system works to build the kinship gauge.

The Kinship gauge has two purposes. First, using up some of the gauges to order the monster in the fight. The orders will only be for special attacks, not to alter their basic attack. The monsters will use special attacks on their own, but it is only when ordering the monster to do them that it will cost. Second, when the kinship gauge has filled it opens up to riding the monster. Riding the monster allows for Kinship Attacks. Often very powerful and unique to each monster. By winning even more head-to-head bouts while Riding will further level up the Kinship gauge and boost the attack power of the Kinship attack. There is a risk to using this, if the head-to-heads are consistently lost then it will knock off the Rider and set the gauge back to zero. It is also impossible to heal while in this position.

Getting into the battle was an odd shift and not exactly what I expected jumping into this game. For the style of the game is worked with some issues springing up in the later game. It was the later game that bosses and even some random encounters would have two hits in their turn. It is a rough time any battle this occurs. Even more so when the monster has one target on both hits. It is surely included to make battles more difficult, but it stops being fun when I’m stuck healing each turn and burning through items.

As a concept and someone who simply enjoys the Monster Hunter Series, Monster Hunter Stories is a fun time. It brings in a different style and expands upon the world of the series. It does feel made for younger audiences with pun-filled dialogue and even with the designs of the Riders. The Hunters are a closer match to the style of the main games and the Riders are younger and shorter. If you are curious at all then checking out the Demo is a must, it lets players go through the first area of the game and only stops right before opening the next area. Plus any progress made in the demo can be recognized after getting the full game, so no need to repeat that section.