The Monster Hunter series has been one that has never really been able to grab me as a newcomer to it, in fact my first time trying to get to it’s orbit was Monster Hunter World when it came to Xbox One X and the various multiplayer issues that plagued its first few months soured that initial experience and whilst I enjoyed the combat, I just failed to really feel the want to dive in for more. In researching Monster Hunter however, I did come across Monster Hunter Stories released for the 3DS back in 2016 and having only recently come to own a Switch console myself, I jumped at the chance to pay Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin!
I absolutely wish that this were my first experience in the Monster Hunter Universe as so many things about Monster Hunter Stories 2 just tick all the boxes of some of my favourite gaming systems in JRPGs. From the look of the art style and incredible musical score right down to the story and the combat system, this was everything familiar to me from my love of Final Fantasy. I was able to sink my teeth into this style of playing so much more so than I could with Monster Hunter World even though probably as much of the story and world was new to me. With “Wings of Ruin” being a self-contained story world with only a few elements of MP to it, it did not take me exceedingly long to become enamored with the gameplay and the world of Monster Hunter Stories.
As I am new to Nintendo Switch, and by new, I mean I have only just picked one up in time for this game, the art style of this game struck me immediately both in handheld and then when docked on my TV. The colour and animation style of the game is so striking that I started the game over again just to experience the opening ten minutes to the game. I cannot at this moment think of a better game to really showcase the versatility of the Nintendo Switch as a console to both play on the move as well as docked for the big screen without losing any performance or quality in gameplay, though I admit I am still trying to get used to the Joycon button layout being so used to the PlayStation and Xbox controller schemes.
The combat system is where the power of Wings of Ruins lies for me and as above, felt familiar thanks to my love of JRPGs but with a few twists that enhanced it for me here. The combat is a turn-based system where you can select the attack or skill you wish to use on each turn to hopefully counter the attack of your opponents. What came as a refreshing surprise was in the almost “Rock Paper Scissors” attack type strategy that comes into play and how you must tailor your combat strategy to adapt to the attacking style of your enemy. Power, Technical and Speed attacks are your options and if say your enemy is using a Power attack, you would want to choose a speed attack to counter it, but a technical attack would counter a Speed attack and a Power attack counters a technical attack. Colour coded by red for Power, green for Technical and blue for Speed, it helps to quickly work out which attack you need to choose. Skills can also be used to throw in a special move to the mix but the most fun part of combat for me comes in the form of your monster partner!
That is right, you get to have a monster partner in combat as your character is a Monster Rider and so the monster you choose to ride in the world will also become your partner in combat. Each monster will focus on a particular attack style so again Power, Technical or Speed comes into play, and along side choosing your own attack or skill to use, you can also decide this for your monster allowing for a paired attack of the same style. Build up enough battle points and you can mount your monster for an even more powerful attack. I found trying to work out the best strategy for each of the monster types you encounter in the game to be really rewarding and became such an intuitive part of the battle than from the easiest random encounters when you are out exploring to taking on the big mission-based battles, the combat system never feels tired from early to later in the game.
Monsters play a key role in everything about “Wings of Ruin” as they play a part in the combat, the battles you undertake, sourcing of materials to forge new weapons and armour but first you need to capture and raise your “monstie” partner and this is done by finding and, stealing monster eggs from nests found in monster dens you can explore. Each egg can then be hatched and whichever monster you get can be added to your monster party with the lead monster being the one you ride in the world. Each will also have a special ability in the world to enable you to reach different parts such as jumping long distance or climbing vines. Every victory in a fight will earn XP for all monsters in your party though eggs can be held back at your various camps and duplicate monsters can be released so not to take up space.
The most interesting factor with monsters comes in how you can share “genes” between monsters to genetically improve another, with nine slots you can boost or give them attributes to enhance them so giving them abilities they may not naturally have as a monster type. The variations you can play around with is a superb way to tailor a part of monsters for any battle situation and it is extremely easy to understand which is a trait that other crafting systems also use. Forging armour for example was a rathe tedious aspect for me in Monster Hunter World where you had to craft each individual part of an amour set but here you simply find the materials needed to craft the entire set with extra materials allowed to be added to improve or add new qualities to it. This speeds up the process of forging and upgrading your armour and weapons at the blacksmiths found in the various camps you visit but also allows you to focus on a particular monster type to hunt down in the world to gather the resources needed for that next upgrade or new weapon and armour set.
The story itself is rich and for someone like me who still feels very much like a newcomer to the series, very quickly explains the world and setting in a way that enabled me to connect to my created character and feel part of this universe. Your character is the descendant of a famous Rider named Red, and you meet and form a partnership with Navirou who a quite different Feyline is who is capable of not only talking but also in detecting and judging the eggs you find to hatch into monsters. Something is wrong in the world with various Rathalos monsters suddenly vanishing and because of their disappearance, has caused a change in behaviour in other monsters in the world and it is up to you to find out why, what and how it has all happened. I really appreciated the pacing of the story which starts off with big set pieces from the opening to the many tutorials to the games many elements which eases you into the game but has a nice slow pacing to allow you to go put what you have learned into practice before the story takes the next big narrative step. How that pacing would feel to someone who does know this world however is going to be rather subjective but for me, as someone trying very much to get absorbed into the world, the story thanks to the incredible voice acting of the cast along side the art style and musical score just won me over completely.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is a fantastic title for fans of the series but especially or someone like me who is a newcomer to the franchise. It never made me feel out of my depth and its very strengths were recognizable to me allowing me to engage with it on a much deeper level than I experienced with the big Monster Hunter World game. For this to be my first Switch review and first big game of its type on my new Switch console, it not only made me fall for the game in a big way but also gave me a nice connection to my new console. This is the type of Monster Hunter game I could see myself investing even more time in for the future and a great game to take on the move with me this summer.