JRPGs are often a daunting affair. Final Fantasy, Persona, and similar games aren’t afraid to drown you in endless amounts of lore and complex mechanics that demand your full attention. Fail to drink it all in and you’ll fall behind, unable to sink into an experience that often takes dozens of hours to conquer. Compared to these juggernauts, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin feels like a comforting blanket filled with cutesy creatures and approachable ideas that make the genre remarkably easy to get into.
If you’re familiar with Monster Hunter, you’ll know it’s a series that requires a huge amount of dedication. While newer entries are easier to parse, its combat still asks for a keen understanding of various weapon types, movement controls, and enemy behaviour that can easily prove too much for newcomers. You can jump into a lobby with experts and breeze your way through most encounters, but that’s doing the core tenets of the experience a disservice, especially since these games revolve around a core that, once cracked, can be endlessly satisfying.
Wings of Ruin isn’t like that at all. In fact, it arguably occupies a completely different genre altogether. Much like the original game, Monster Hunter Stories 2 is a turn-based outing where you play as a rider. These young individuals don’t hunt monsters, they befriend beasts and integrate them into a growing society where humans and creatures can peacefully coexist. Hunting still plays a major role, but it’s in the background, only surfacing in battles as you gather materials off fallen beasts and use them to craft new weapons and armour. It’s a more peaceful endeavour, one where the pace is seldom dictated by the next big hunt. Part of me prefers this, even if Stories 2 can feel a little too infantile at times.
The sequel opens with you creating a character, a wide-eyed teenager with a world of possibilities presented before them. Raised in a coastal village where legendary dragons known as Rathalos are worshipped as deities who maintain balance across the land, you are thrown into a state of disarray when the waters and sky run red as Rathalos all around the globe begin to dissapear. As the grandson or granddaughter of a legendary hero simply known as ‘Red,’ you are picked as the impromptu saviour of the village, taught to hatch monsters and fight alongside them before embarking on an epic adventure. Where are the adults when you need them?
It’s a wonderfully paced introduction, establishing the stakes of the coming adventure while also introducing the mechanics of riding, hatching, and questing that feel instantly rewarding. The best way to describe Monster Hunter Stories 2 is to consider it a Happy Meal in comparison to its Big Tasty mainline sibling. It still tastes great, but the portions are more manageable and younger audiences will likely have more fun with it. If you’ve dabbled with Final Fantasy or Persona in any capacity, many of the hallmarks that define this game will be familiar in a matter of moments.
As a Rider, you navigate the world on the back of a monster, of which there are hundreds to hatch and choose from throughout the campaign. Amidst the open world sit Monster Dens, isolated dungeons where you can acquire resources and eggs of varying rarities. Take this back to a hatchery and you can slowly but surely build up an army of critters.The variety is rather staggering, and those who adore Pokemon will have a blast ensuring they hatch ‘em all.
As for the combat system, it feels like a mixture of Fire Emblem and old school turn-based RPGs. You can execute power, speed, and technical attacks, all of which are capable of countering each other when used in the correct sequence. It’s rock, paper, scissors with a Monster Hunter coating, and it only takes a few short encounters to learn exactly how each battle plays out. However, it’s given additional complexity thanks to a selection of abilities and party members who provide buffs and extra damage. At times it can be too simple, but I feel that’s a deliberate move on Capcom’s part to ensure this game is approachable for newcomers.
I still found myself needing to grind away from the main campaign to ensure I wasn’t battered within seconds, with both my character and fellow party members having three lives that can be used before meeting a game over screen. It’s forgiving, but it also expects you to learn its inner workings or suffer the consequences. If you’re afraid that the satisfaction of crafting and resource management that defines Monster Hunter is absent, you can rest easy, because Stories 2 has your back. Each major town harbours a blacksmith who can craft new weapons and armour while upgrading your existing arsenal. Much like the main games, you can create new gear based on each monster you slay.
Speaking of slay – they’re all positively adorable, and I can easily see myself pursuing the fashionable route instead of focusing on the stats of it all. I’ll just grind out experience until I’m unstoppable and can wear whatever I want – who cares about being good at the game when you can be cute? Fortunately, it isn’t all about the aesthetic either, as there’s enough meaningful depth here to rival much larger RPGs, and to provide fans of the series’ siblings with a sense of satisfaction even if the combat encounters are significantly more forgiving.
There’s no prepping for epic 40-minute showdowns in Monster Hunter Stories 2. If you fall in battle, you can easily fast travel back to the objective and try again within moments. As someone with little patience, I loved this, and grinding experience to ensure I was more prepared never felt like a nuisance. A fast forward option is also available for standard battles, making it a breeze to speed through fights in exchange for items and experience when you have far better things to do. I can only talk about the opening couple of chapters as part of this preview, but if it continues to grow in approachable complexity in the coming hours, Wings of Ruin could be a JRPG worth keeping an eye on.
As for the unfolding narrative, it feels far more substantial than Monster Hunter World or Rise. Your character is silent, so it’s up to supporting characters to carry the weight of each new crescendo as new arcs are introduced and explored. Ena is the definite highlight, a young wyverian girl hoping to uncover the truth behind strange environmental abnormalities slowly spreading across the world. We encounter her while trying to protect an egg, one that will eventually hatch into a Rathalos that holds the key to this nation’s salvation. I’m excited to see where the story goes, with everything thus far being remarkably well paced with challenging battles, adorable dialogue, and a surprising amount of diversity in exploration.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin likely won’t convert those who couldn’t gel with the first game, but it manages to expand upon it in almost every conceivable way while simultaneously drawing inspiration from the main series adored by millions. The visuals might be cuter and the combat might be easier, but it’s not trying to ape its older sibling, it’s trying to craft something entirely new in a separate genre. From all I’ve played thus far, it’s achieved this with flying colours. I will murder the annoying talking cat though.
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