Monster Hunter Stories is kind of an odd concept. It takes the basic grind of Monster Hunter, makes it a lot more accessible, and then combines it with Pokemon.
The result is a cutesy story-driven adventure that feels a lot more like Pokemon-lite than Monster Hunter, though there is plenty of grind for fans of the core franchise.
It's not exactly clear who it's for though. In striving to make the experience more accessible and mainstream, Capcom might just have alienated its core fanbase.
That wouldn't be an enormous problem if the result was likely to pick up fans of its own, but there's not an awful lot here to suggest Pokemon players will jump ship any time soon.
Monster Hunter Riders
You play as a budding Rider, which is basically a hunter who can tame and ride the monsters they encounter while exploring the world. The tutorial acts as your training, and introduces you to the new mechanics.
It's not long though, before the village is attacked by a monster infected by the mysterious Black Blight, and you have to set off on an adventure to figure out what's going on.
The story's only really there to help introduce the vast number of changes in Stories though. This really isn't Monster Hunter as you know it.
In fact, the tables have kind of flipped, with the attention put mostly on the monsters themselves rather than the Hunter-like Riders.
More like Pokemon?
It takes a lot more cues from Pokemon than Monster Hunter. Hell, the focus is more on collecting and upgrading monsters rather than your equipment.
Catching a monster is simple. You head out into the world, seek a dungeon-like Monster Den, and battle your way to the nest of eggs in its depths.
You then have to grab an egg and get out of dodge before the monsters grow wise to your presence. Eggs come in different colours (i.e. monster variety), and you can try a few times to get the one you want.
Finally, you take the egg back to your village and hatch it to get a monster. You can then make a team of six from those you've unlocked to bring into battle with you.
But this is still Monster Hunter, right?
The rest is a lot more like Monster Hunter though. You can explore a variety of levels, seeking out valuable resources in the various nooks and crannies and battling enemies.
It's all streamlined though. You can ride a monster to get around faster, you no longer need tools to grab resources like bugs and ore, and there are no enormous recipes to learn.
You will still purchase and upgrade new gear, but it's not like before. You'll basically complete subquests for cash to buy new equipment, and upgrade your old stuff using basic resources.
Each piece of equipment only needs a single type of resource for upgrades though, rather than a list of ingredients.
So for example, your sword might just need ore, and you can use any ore you find out in the wild. Rarer ore, means more experience to level up your equipment faster.
The rest of your resources either go directly to quest rewards, can be combined to create a useful battle item, or can be sold for a profit.
What about the combat?
It's clear that Capcom wants you to put more love and care into the monsters you collect this time around, instead of increasing the stats on your gear.
That's where all the true depth lies. Monsters have varying different stats, combat abilities, and even genes that you can mess with. You can even breed monsters to create more powerful hybrids.
And the reason? To take them into combat of course! It's turn-based this time around, and based on a rock, paper, scissors system.
Each time you attack, you choose between a power, speed, or technical strike. Choose the attack that beats the other, and you get to attack. Draw, and you both do a bit of damage.
Then there's combat abilities that provide buffs, different attacks, and kinship abilities. The latter of these are interesting. Each time you perform a battle action, it increases your kinship meter. Fill it, and you can hope on your monster and attack as one.
Attack while aboard your monster and you'll level up your kinship level. Get to level three, and you can perform a super powerful kinship ability that will decimate your foes.
Most battles are a breeze, so you won't actually see it much but this is a very handy, and fun, system during boss battles and tougher enemies.
And it's undoubtedly a gorgeous game. Capcom has swapped the usual mature style for a chibi one that's more suited to a younger audience. So lots of colour and oversized heads.
It's clearly squeezing as much as it can out of the 3DS though, and the result is a mixed bag. On the one hand it looks terrific. You'll thoroughly enjoy exploring the world.
On the other though, it's marred with technical problems. The framerate is inconsistent, there's lots of texture pop ins, and the relatively bland, untextured environments clash with the detailed character models.
There's nothing game breaking here on any level - the framerate never dips to unacceptable levels and even in the worst instances it's far from ugly. It's more a problem of consistency, and I feel like Capcom could have slightly sacrificed the visuals for a smoother experience.
What's the verdict then?
Monster Hunter Stories is undoubtedly an odd one. Capcom has clearly developed it with the intention of pulling in a more mainstream audience by streamlining the experience and including popular mechanics like catching monsters.
The result alienates core fans though. Gone is the core loop of hunting monsters, upgrading your equipment, and managing your inventory, and in its place is catching, breeding, and upgrading monsters.
That would be fine but Pokemon already does monster collecting way better, and there's very little new here that will draw fans of that particular franchise over here instead.
It's not a bad game by any stretch of the mile. It looks fantastic, plays great, and there's plenty to like. After all, it's a combination of two of the most addictive games the 3DS already has to offer.
But ultimately, the result falls in the cracks somewhere between the two. You certainly won't pick this over core Monster Hunter or Pokemon, so it's kind of tough to see who the target audience is.
But if you like either and are gagging for something new, it might be worth a punt. There's plenty to like, it all works, and it'll keep you busy until another entry in either franchise comes along at least.