Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin – On Rathalos’ Wings
The meteoric rise of the Monster Hunter franchise in the West, a growth in sales and fandom that has it now rivalling its popularity in the franchises homeland has been something to marvel at in the years since the launch of 2018’s Monster Hunter World. As recently as March we’ve seen the latest core entry in the franchise in the form of Monster Hunter Rise, and it, like its predecessor, started breaking sales records. It seems that publisher Capcom has become acutely aware of this surge in fandom and has sought to revive the franchise spin-off, Monster Hunter Stories, hoping it reaps the benefits of the swelling sales figures. As a result, here we are, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is here, and the question is simple: Stories may have greater sales figures given the new legion of fans it’s mother-franchise has recently found, but can this title stand on its own two feet as a strong, enthralling alternative experience?
The core Monster Hunter titles have a narrative that is about as substantial as a wafer. There’s some initial bite, but then you realise there’s not a lot there. The Stories sub-franchise was developed with the intent being to tell some more interesting stories in what is a fascinating world filled with a myriad of magnificent, and mysterious monsters. Like the core franchise titles and even the previous Monster Hunter Stories entry, an opportunity has been missed by Capcom to hone in on some of their other majestic creations with franchise icon Rathalos being the central focus of the narrative. Something is amiss in the world, and this has stirred the Rathalos, and most importantly Guardian Ratha, as the Rathalos suddenly abandon the island of Hakolo for reasons unknown. Our protagonist, who you can name, is the grandchild of a hero of the nation Red, and it’s that connection, coupled with your coming of age as a rider, that prompts your involvement in these mysterious events. Old stories of The Wings of Ruin are told, the fear that the world may soon be coming to an end being very real, meanwhile there’s another lingering threat stalking your every move as you try to restore peace and order to the world. While the narrative being told is simple enough and is a little bloated as Capcom not-so-subtly tries to put as many different monsters in front of you as possible. The story, overall, is a bit on the basic side. Sadly it feels like it is just a narrative ripped from the core franchise and coated in greater levels of exposition.
When you think of a JRPG, you typically think of expansive narratives, and turn-based combat, and it’s the combat side of Monster Hunter Stories 2 shines, despite a general lack of evolution from the previous title. The combat of Stories is built around a core rock-paper-scissors system, though the three options are Power, Speed, and Technical here, and the trio function just as they did in the last entry. The thing that sets Stories apart from other games that use a similar system, is the fact that core Monster Hunter traits have bled across. Not only do you need to consider what attack type to use, but you’ll need to factor in which weapon is most effective, again three types of different weapons you can use there, as well factoring in the monster you’re fighting, its strengths, and potential threats. You may wish to go all-in on Pukei-Pukei’s tail right away to knock out its ability to shoot poison at you before focussing on the kill, other monsters have their own weaknesses that are there to be exploited by you and your accompanying Monstie. Monsties are your partnered, essentially domesticated, Monsters that you’ve hatched from an egg and join your party. Each Monstie has a default attack type (Power, Speed, or Technical), and when you and your monstie are in sync you can launch powerful dual attacks against opponents who target you.
Monsties, as well as being partners in combat, also make up a collect-em-all, Pokemon-inspired component of the game. By exploring monster dens scattered throughout the world you’ll find eggs, that are more often than not being protected by a twitchy, dangerous monster; should you be successful in extricating that egg, then you’ll have the chance to hatch it and add the monstie to your party. It pays to be patient too because you’ll have chances at obtaining rarer eggs that result in monsties with heightened default stats. Every system, from those outlined, to other franchise staples like resource collection, weapon forging or upgrading, works together seamlessly. If even one part of the chain is slightly imbalanced, the whole experience falls apart and can be exploited, but if such a weakness exists, it’s extremely hard to find.
Stories 2, like its predecessor, looks gorgeous, with a more exaggerated style that so desperately needs to be implemented with the core franchise. The style emphasizes the unique quirks of each monster, meaning that even the monsters that may share some similar characteristics, still express themselves in a unique way. The world similarly, looks brilliant, with each region’s personality really shining bright, the same can be said for the audio department, with unique, and sometimes quirky (but excellently delivered) voice-acting, meanwhile, the game’s soundtrack also hits some wonderfully high notes as well. Switch owners will find that the game struggles to maintain a solid framerate while you’re exploring the open world in particular, but even in select combat sequences too, this isn’t an issue that reared its head on PC, but it’s front and center on the console/portable hybrid version.
Despite not doing anything especially new, Monster Hunter Stories 2 is an excellent experience that provides those who still find even the more accessible recent franchise entries in World and Rise a bit tough, an opportunity to explore many of those same core systems, in a less stressful environment. Performance issues on the Switch, while very noticeable, won’t serve as major barriers to your enjoyment, while PC owners will have no such issues. While derivative, Stories 2 executes everything it strives to accomplish, to an exceptional standard, and becomes yet another success story from the recent upswing in quality from Capcom’s releases.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin was reviewed on both Nintendo Switch and PC with codes kindly provided by Nintendo Australia and Turn Left Distribution respectively