Hands On: Revisiting The Tale In ‘Monster Hunter Stories’ On Switch

Image: Nintendo Life / Capcom Capcom is one of the titans of the gaming industry, and among its most successful and powerful franchises is Monster Hunter. Yet it’s easy to forget that, for many years, the series was exclusive to one platform holder – first Sony systems and then a spell with Nintendo starting with Monster Hunter Tri on Wii. On top of repeated exclusivity, it took a while to establish much of a footing outside of Japan, and even then it was still impenetrable and inaccessible for a lot of gamers. Too difficult, demanding, time-consuming, or downright unintuitive — outside of a dedicated base of fans (this scribe included), it was largely ignored.

Gradually, oh so gradually, Capcom decided to make the series more accessible. The mainline games began to add more mobility and gameplay styles in the Nintendo era, nowhere near as open to a wide audience as Monster Hunter World and Monster Hunter Rise, but on the way to reaching more players. The 3DS entries in particular started that push but still eventually beat up hunters that dared to reach the endgame; then Monster Hunter Stories arrived on Nintendo’s little system and offered an alternative, a gentle hug as an introduction to the series.

An RPG spin-off made sense, too – the series has always had downright goofy elements, and the 3DS was home to many greats in the genre. A colourful, accessible, and smartly developed game, we loved it in our original review.

That said, plenty didn’t experience it on 3DS, though its sequel later landed on Nintendo Switch and was also excellent, albeit held back by performance issues. It’s a little surprising that this port of the original, then, took so long to make it to Nintendo’s little system; it’s also coming to PS4 and PC. We’ve been checking it out and, yeah, it sure is Monster Hunter Stories.

While our full breakdown will come in a review, at this stage we’re pleased to say that the gameplay holds up nicely. Those who played the sequel but perhaps skipped past the original back in the 3DS days will nevertheless still feel comfortable here. The loop of retrieving eggs and hatching them for ‘Monstie’ buddies is largely the same, as is the rock-paper-scissors approach to turn-based battles. It’s all very gentle and kind in comparison to the main series too, as you’re allies of monsters and merely calming down those that are impacted by the story’s ‘blight’.

There’s even a whole lot of item gathering to do along with a degree of the typical Monster Hunter depth in items, equipment forging/upgrading, and more. Yet, ultimately, the game is easy enough that it doesn’t punish you for taking a cursory approach to your hero’s build. If you want to just have a jolly time and experience the story, you can do that.

In terms of the upgrade on offer, the improvements for more powerful hardware are generally positive. The advertised feature is voice acting; it’s fine, but worth remembering this game is designed to appeal to young gamers in particular, so expect performances that are almost excessively bubbly and enthusiastic – that said we adore the the always-rhyming village chief. There’s a Museum Mode to look at artwork and listen to music, and online battling returns, too (we haven’t tested that quite yet). More notably, the user interface is reworked sensibly for single-screen gaming, and the visuals are now nice and crisp with an HD sheen.

Graphically it’s clean, but the 3DS origins are very evident. This isn’t a remaster in terms of substantially reworking the visuals for stronger technology, but rather it’s a polish and upscale. On a big TV screen this can make it look a little over-simplistic, as the art style isn’t quite distinctive enough to hide primitive lighting, geometry, and character designs. Playing on the portable, though, is far more forgiving and for this style of game works very nicely. It’s all very old-gen, yes, but the charm of the storytelling and fun RPG-lite approach to exploration and battles is a good fit for comfortable handheld gaming; this was originally made for the 3DS, after all.

Those basic visuals also ensure we get a smooth outing here as well. Performance has the occasional hiccup, but for the most part feels satisfying; we should expect that considering the source material, frankly, but it’s pleasing nonetheless. Running around in large spaces, the simple effects from some wacky combat moves – it’s all a major improvement over the frame rate drops experienced in its sequel. Each has their own taste, but we feel Stories 2 would have benefitted from having a similar look and performance level; this scaled-back aesthetic likely wasn’t deemed desirable due to its concurrent PC release at the same time, however.

Our early hours with Monster Hunter Stories on Switch have been positive, overall. At times it looks and feels its age, so don’t let the ‘remastered’ tag influence expectations too much, but the core game is still utterly charming and enjoyable. The mechanics, though offset by low difficulty, also offer enough variety and ingenuity to make the journey interesting. Building a team of Monsties, mastering battles, and trying out crazy ‘Kinship’ moves is still a pleasure, and we’re looking forward to seeing how the rest of the game holds up.

Now, excuse us, we have some family-friendly hunting to do.

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