Monster Hunter games are action-RPGs, but, if you think about it, you could consider them life sims. You’re following a person who is doing the best they can as they go through their day-to-day life in a world filled with daunting monsters. When you think about it like that, Monster Hunter Stories isn’t just a turn-based RPG where people known as Riders befriend these creatures, make them their Otomon and go through a storyline that sees them becoming one of the best Riders and making their world a better place. It’s also about experiencing the daily life of such an authority.
The Monster Hunter Stories demo does a lot to further that notion, as it gives us the chance to go through the Quests and Tournaments that are parts of a Rider’s everyday life. After grabbing the trial from the Japanese eShop, players are immediately offered two options. You can try attempting some Quests or enter into a Tournament. Both options feel quite indicative of the experiences you’ll have in the full 3DS game.
I went with the Quest mode first, because it seemed like a good place to find my footing. After meeting my heroine, I found myself in Hakumu Village with its chief and Dan, a more experienced Rider. The chief and my senpai welcomed me to the Monster Hunter Stories demo, explained how Bond Stones would let me connect with Otomon and use special Bond Abilities, then gave me the opportunity to meet my first Otomon. Naturally, this didn’t go as planned. Nabiru, the game’s Felyne mascot and sidekick, tried to steal the egg and eat it. But, after he was set to rights and welcomed to my team, I found myself hatching my first “pet.” A few taps on the touchscreen later, and a level 10 Velocidrome was part of my crew.
The Quest portion of the Monster Hunter Stories tutorial is designed to make you comfortable with the game’s most common activities. After that brief bit of exposition, my Rider was sent out to the Taruju Snowfield Snowfield. As you can expect, this is an arctic environment filled with monsters like Popos, Bnahabras, Konchus and Zaboazagirus. At first glance, it looks much like any other Monster Hunter game. You have a sweeping view of the location, a map detailing its multiple areas, there are gathering and mining spots that provide materials with a push of a button and monsters freely roam across the expanses. Once you actually start exploring, most likely on the back of your active Otomon friend, the differences immediately make themselves known.
For starters, you can’t run up to a monster with weapons drawn and immediately begin hacking away. As a turn-based RPG, contact with one of Monster Hunter Stories’ creatures takes you away from the open world and into a more isolated space with between one and three monsters who may or may not all be of the same type. You can select one enemy or, if the opponent is a boss, body part to target each turn. You can then choose an Otomon skills, choose one of your Rider’s skills, switch your active monster with one of the other two in reserve, use an item, ride your monster for duo attacks when the bond gauge is filled or flee. Choosing to battle requires you to pick a Power, Speed or Technique attack; Power beats Technique, Technique bests Speed and Speed wins over Power. While watching an opponent for patterns and tells is key, so is keeping track of the attacks you’re choosing, as I found a special attack would trigger after certain attacks were used in succession. For example, using Speed attacks twice, then following with a Power attack triggered one such combo.
Monster Hunter Stories’ Quest mode demonstration did a good job of illustrating the areas and activities you’ll see in the game. Caverns will appear on the field, taking you to a random location with more monsters and resources. As an example, the first quest in this portion of the trial required my Rider to collect two eggs. Nests would only be found in these Taruju Snowfield dungeons. As I’d explore, I’d sometimes have a chance to grab an egg. If I didn’t like the look of the first one or two I found in the nest, I could keep searching for different ones. Once I found one I liked, I’d have to leave that room to add it to my inventory and continue my search. After collecting the two I needed, I was immediately returned to Hakumu Village to hatch my new friends. (They were a Bulldrome and Lagombi.) Now that I had a full party, I could take both with me on my next quest, a fight against a Khezu.
While the Quest portion of the Monster Hunter Stories demo was a lengthy experience someone could spend quite a bit of time exploring, the Tournament was more truncated. Tournaments pit Riders against other Riders. Once I picked my avatar, I was offered the opportunity to play through a battle tutorial. For the purposes of the demo, players have a Zinogre, Rathian, Kecha Wacha, Uragaan, Congalala, and Khezu they can use. All are at level 45 and three can come with you when you head to the Tournament. After picking a team, deciding on which weapon to use (a sword, sword and shield, hammer and horn are available) and choosing some armor, you head into a series of fights against other Riders.
What follows is a battling experience quite similar to the turn-based attacks against regular monsters in the field. The main difference being, you’re in a controlled environment against another Rider and his or her Otomon. You trade blows, depleting the three hearts each side has. Once a monster or Rider falls, a heart is lost. The Rider that survives is the winner and goes on to the next match. This continues until all matches is one and a champion is named.
Monster Hunter Stories is attempting to do something different with the Monster Hunter series. It’s trying to show us a new way of life that involves working with, rather than against creatures that had previously been established as dangerous behemoths. The demo certainly succeeds in showing such a thing is possible by showing what a Rider’s life is like when he or she is wandering the world, trying to complete ordinary tasks, or participating in competitions against other people who have managed to take Otomon. It certainly seems like this new way of life is full of potential.