As big as Monster Hunter has become worldwide, there’s still a couple of areas that will probably put off some players – the bloodthirsty loop of murdering countless monsters and the lack of a proper story. This anime-centric, turn-based JRPG spin-off, then, is more likely up your street. Starting as a low-key instalment on the 3DS, later ported to mobile, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin – a full console and PC sequel – gives Capcom’s spin on Pokémon another chance to shine.
You’re still technically fighting monsters – albeit in turn-based battles with the game’s own Fire Emblem-like rock-paper-scissors system – but instead of a hunter, your character comes from a village of riders who’ve learned to bond harmoniously with monsties, surely the twee-est of portmanteaus. That said, it still keeps the structure of using parts from defeated monsters to fashion more powerful equipment – it just conveniently glosses over any visible carving up after the slaughter.
Nonetheless, Wings of Ruin is ultimately going for a kid-friendly tone, as evidenced by its colourful, cel-shaded anime visuals, though the monsters themselves haven’t lost their presence or ferocity. The gotta-hatch-’em-all vibe is strong, including the latest beasties from breakthrough instalment World like Anjanath and Paolumu, while optional ‘royal’ monsters and a meaty post-game will keep those up for a challenge going as long as any mainline entry.
In terms of turn-based RPG mechanics, it’s familiar stuff, much of it carried over from the original handheld instalment, although you can pair up with another hunter or rider. As AI companions, they can prove a hindrance, not always choosing the optimal attack, and if they fall, it counts as a game over, punting you back to the last village (that said, having three hearts does make it somewhat more lenient).
Yet with two new Monster Hunter games out in 2021, it’s hard to ignore Rise. It went to exceptional lengths to streamline its action, while Wings of Ruin feels sluggish in comparison, even for a turn-based RPG. Part of that is down to the choppy performance on Switch, even if the turn-based nature should make that less of an issue. More annoying are other mechanics that add up bit by bit, from the animations every time you have to change weapons against a specific monster attack, to the tedium of looking for monster eggs in randomly generated dens – and for these, you’ll still have to hatch them back at the village to figure out what you’ve got, before grinding to get their stats up from Level 1.
The battles are still more thrilling than Pokémon, and there is actually a turbo button, but as I went through the repetitive quest-village-quest-village structure (which doesn’t translate well to a narrative-focused game), desperate for the next cutscene to move things along, I kept thinking how I could’ve used my time better: by breezing through a few hunts to raise my hunter rank in Rise instead.
While the Switch version may suffer from performance issues, it fortunately never puts a dampener on the cutscenes. Rendered in-engine, these all feel like they’ve come straight out of an anime and look fabulous, whether it’s during moments of perilous drama or key story reveals that, when accompanied by the main theme, make your heart soar.
A slower, duller take on Monster Hunter, though the story shows that its heart’s in the right place.
Genre: Turn-based JRPG Format: Switch (tested) / PC Developer: Capcom, Marvelous Publisher: Capcom Price: £49.99 Release: Out now Social: @monsterhunter