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Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: July 9, 2021


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Switch Review - 'Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 7, 2021 @ 8:00 a.m. PDT

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin tasks players to become a Monster Rider and embark on an RPG adventure filled with popular monsters from the series.

Buy Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin follows the adventures of a created protagonist, who's the grandchild of a legendary Monster Rider known as Red. You've just become a Rider, and strange lights appear out of nowhere and cause monsters to go on violent rampages. Hunters across the land are searching for the Black-Winged Rathalos, which is rumored to bring about world-wide destruction. When you find a Rathalos egg, you begin an world-spanning adventure to discover the truth about the lights and the Rathalos.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 suffers from a drastic difference between the gameplay and story. Within the story, monsters are natural parts of the ecosystem, friendly and lovable, and even if they're dangerous, it is because they were provoked or were defending their land or their children. You don't have to kill monsters to solve problems, and killing a monster because it may be dangerous isn't the way to do things.

Then the core gameplay loop is based entirely on murdering monsters for their precious parts and then stealing their eggs.

It's like the weird gap between "Pokémon are our friends," and "Optimize your Pokémon to be strongest no matter the cost," except in Pokémon, you're not killing Pikachu and using its bones to make a new sword. It feels even weirder when cut scenes show your grandfather scaring away a monster without hurting it or mediating a situation, and in the same position, you have a fire-breathing T-Rex immolate them instead.

Aside from that (major) disconnect, the story is standard JRPG fare that focuses on legends, prophecies, and the fate of the entire world. The characters are fun enough, but they're carried by some tremendously charming animation work. If there's one flaw, it's the over-reliance on comparisons between your character and their grandfather. The game pulls an, "I remember when your grandfather did this…" followed by you being thrown into a near-identical situation a touch too often.

The core combat in Monster Hunter Stories 2 is rock-paper-scissors mixed with the need to read your enemy's patterns and movements. Parties are made up of four characters: two humans and two monsters. You only have direct control over your own character, and the rest is handled by the AI. When you attack, you choose one of three elements: power, technique and speed. The three elements are a triangle, where power beats technique beats speed, which beats power. Most attacks in the game correspond to one these elements.

How does this play out? Before a turn, you can see which character an enemy is targeting, and you choose an attack. If you target an enemy attacking you, it starts a head-to-head battle. If your attack beats the enemy, you stop their attack from going off and deal additional damage. If they beat you, the opposite occurs. A draw causes both attacks to go off. As you can imagine, you want to win these duels as often as possible to minimize damage and inflict as much damage as you can; winning a head-to-head battle raises your kinship level with your monster, and you can use kinship to perform special attacks.

How does this stop from being a RNG fest? All monsters have AI that initiates certain attacks based on the monster type; for example, big, brutish monsters will perform power attacks more often than not. Each monster has a standard set of moves, and once you learn their tells, you know how to counter them. Monsters don't repeat one specific attack; they respond differently based on the situation. More powerful monsters even have multiple parts, and breaking those parts can force an AI change or disable an attack. Friendly monsters can be given direct commands, but the more powerful the move, the more kinship it costs.

Of course, the usual collection of Monster Hunter tricks and tips are at your disposal, many of which allow you to counter enemy actions. Flying enemies can be stunned and blinded by flash bombs, or you can set traps specifically geared to certain attack types, or you can throw knives coated with poisons or soporifics. You need to grind materials to create these items, but they can turn a difficult foe into a helpless weakling. You don't need to use items, but you'll gain lots of advantages if you do, so you may as well.

Speaking of grinding, the core grinding loop of Monster Hunter is alive and well in MHS2. Go, find a monster, kill it, loot its body, and use the various materials to craft better gear to go on better loots. As in the regular game, breaking apart an enemy's body can earn extra materials, but the best way to boost your gains is by earning a high rank in battle. Defeating enemies quickly, breaking parts, using status effects, and winning head-to-head battles grant points. After the battle, you're graded from D to S on how well you did, with a higher score earning more and rarer drops.

The other kind of loot involves the monsters. With a few exceptions, your monsters come from eggs that you snatch from a monster den, a randomly appearing dungeon on the map. When you reach the end, you're given a chance to grab an egg, with the egg's shape, color, scent, weight and markings determining the quality and type of monster that you get. Friendly monsters are called "monsties," but they're no different from their wild counterparts, except for wearing a saddle. You can "roll" multiple times in most dens to try to get a different or better monster, but you run the risk of an angry mama coming home to ruin your day.

Once a monster is hatched, you can instantly add it to your team. The leveling appears to be heavily weighted to certain checkpoints, so a newly hatched monster gets up to par with your team rather quickly. As monsters level up, they unlock new attacks and abilities, which are mostly determined by its genes. That is a 3x3 grid comprised of multicolored genes that determine a monster's attacks and passive skills. If three of the same color skill line up, your monster gains a power boost, with additional colors earning additional boosts. You can transfer one of a monster's genes to another at the cost of losing the original monster, allowing you to customize your favorite beasts into something special. You can have one monster that is hyper-optimized for a specific element or another that can always match an enemy's head-to-head choice.

The only part of the monster not determined by genes is their innate exploration skills. Most monsters have one or two skills they can use while they're lead "monstie," such as searching out certain materials or enemies, breaking rocks, climbing ivy, digging, becoming invisible, swimming, and more. You don't need all of these to explore, but each one gains you access to rare monsters or treasures that you'd otherwise miss.

This brings me to one of MHS2's flaws: The dungeons are pretty boring. The majority have similar environments and layouts, especially the monster dens. It's fun to realize your team has the skills to get rare loot and cool items, but it's immensely difficult to tell the dungeons apart beyond, "This is the one where I needed a lever," or, "This one is made of ice." It shows that the focus is on combat, but the areas lack the charm or familiarity of a regular Monster Hunter area, so they feel cramped and claustrophobic.

MHS2's biggest problem is arguably the same one that exists in Monster Hunter itself: It's a repetitive loop of killing enemies to get more loot to kill stronger enemies, but this time, it's a JRPG instead of an action game. The core combat system is strong and fun to play, but figuring out attack patterns for turn-based combat isn't going to match up with perfecting the muscle memory needed for something like Monster Hunter Rise.

Stories 2 is a relaxing game, aside from the occasionally button-mashing QTE. It's very easy to pick up and hit one dungeon, explore a monster den, or play with the gear and equipment. Its flaws tend to stand out more if you're throwing hours at it rather than picking it up for quick play sessions. There's enough customization and leveling to keep you busy for a long time. If anything, it may be a bit too relaxed, with the game taking a shockingly long time to introduce some of the most basic mechanics. I was shocked by how long it took to gain access to multiplayer or the gene fusion system.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 has an incredibly charming cartoony art style that works so well that it makes me wish the main games would use a similar style. It makes some of the more ridiculous armors look cool instead of silly. The standouts are the kinship animations, which are the right mix of ridiculous and amazing. The downside is that the frame rate is not particularly great. I noticed a lot of slowdown and lag in busy areas, especially in towns and in handheld mode. It's not enough to ruin the game, but it's very noticeable. The audio work is solid, with some nice catchy songs and a good dub that fits the game's "Saturday morning cartoon" feel.

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is a charming and enjoyable little RPG that is geared toward Monster Hunter fans who are looking for something with a slower pace. The story and tone may be a tad childish for some, but it works well for the characters. The strong core combat system buoys some lackluster dungeons and a generic story. It's a chill RPG for Monster Hunter fans and a pretty good introduction to the franchise for newcomers, especially younger children who may be frustrated by a traditional Monster Hunter title.

Score: 8.0/10

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