Monster Hunter and Pokemon are two of my favorite franchises ever, so the Monster Hunter Stories series has always spoken to me. A monster-collecting JRPG where I get to ride my companions and customize them with questionable gene-splicing, all while crafting new equipment and learning more about a world I already love? Yeah, count me in. And after playing the first two chapters of Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, it appears to be more of what I loved about the first with a few tweaks and additions largely intended to address some common criticisms. The jury is out on whether those changes make for a universally better experience, but it certainly left me excited to play more and find out.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin Screenshots
If you’ve never played Monster Hunter Stories (or Monster Hunter at all for that matter) don’t worry, you really don’t need to in order to dive headfirst into Wings of Ruin. Returning fans will recognize some characters and connections to the first game, but this sequel’s story stands on its from what we’ve seen so far. On the mechanical side, knowing Monster Hunter inside and out did give me a leg up and the ability to skim tutorials without penalty, but Stories 2 also teaches players what they need to know to succeed – like how using a Flash Bomb on an airborne monster brings it crashing to the ground.
After customizing your character, Wings of Ruin sets the stage for a story that will span far beyond the charming tropical island you start your adventure on. You learn you’re from a village of Riders that befriend and raise the monsters of the land – called Monsties, once they become our besties. Long story short, monsters all over have begun to act strangely, Rathalos are disappearing, and a Wyverian girl (basically an elf) is given a Rathalos egg by your late grandfather’s Monstie, Guardian Ratha, who also mysteriously leaves. Soon, you bird up with a Kulu-Ya-Ku, meet the weird Felyne companion Navirou, and finish some early quests that serve as tutorials on your home island. From there, you set off to the Wyverian Rutoh Village to hatch the Rathalos egg, protect it from capital-H Hunters, and prove yourself worthy of a grand quest – like saving the world, or at least the Rathalos in your care.
Monster Hunter Stories’ excellent turn-based battles mainly revolve around a Rock-Paper-Scissor type system, but Wings of Ruin seeks to improve and greatly expand on the system. Monsters tend to attack with just one certain type – Technical, Speed, or Power – but this can change after triggering certain conditions which are hugely more learnable than they were in the original, which is a good thing. There is honestly a whole lot that goes into the battle system that’s just too much to get into for a preview, but know that there are three types of weapon damage (Blunt, Slash, and Pierce), six weapon types that all work differently, and elemental weaknesses and resistances to think about.
Changing weapons and switching out Monsties on the fly is required for optimal strategy, making fights a rewardingly complex puzzle to solve. For example, a Blunt weapon makes quick work of Kulu-Ya-Ku’s defensive rock, and a Hunting Horn with Negate Poison gave my party an advantage against Pukei-Pukei. But, you’d also want to have a Power-type Monstie by your side against both of those Technical-type monsters. I haven’t even touched upon items, the Kinship Gauge, breakable monster parts, or armor choices. Monsties also have a use outside of battle, too, as they can all perform various Riding Actions, like climbing, rock breaking, special map marking, and more.
Check out a deep-dive explanation of the gameplay in Monster Hunter Stories 2 in the video above.
There’s a lot to learn here like in most creature-collecting, turn-based JRPGs, but so far Wings of Ruin’s tutorials are well-paced and unobtrusive, sprinkled within a string of story quests that left me with usable loot. Even though I already knew many of the mechanics, I never felt inundated with exposition and unneeded explanation. Tutorials aside, Wings of Ruin opened up early on, letting me do as I pleased within the bounds of the first area as soon as I hatched that Kulu-Ya-Ku. Most importantly, that early freedom lets you experiment with the main mechanic that glues the whole game together: finding monster dens, collecting eggs, and hatching them.
When you find an egg, it’s not just the species of the monster that’s a mystery (although that soon wasn’t a mystery when I recalled the egg patterns from the first game), it’s the excitement of what kind of genes, and how many, the monster will have. Genes make a monster unique, giving it active abilities like a Pukei-Pukei’s Venom Shot or passive abilities, like increased Crit rate. The smellier the egg, the rarer the genes, and the heavier the egg, the more gene slots it has – up to nine for the whole grid.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin Official Monster Art
In just the second chapter, not only is there a huge area to explore, but you also unlock the ability to transfer genes from one Monstie to another via the Rite of Channeling, so hatching duplicate monsters isn’t a waste. Wings of Ruin also gives you even more freedom than its predecessor by letting you move any gene from one monster to any unlocked slot in another. Cue the desire to make a Water-type Paolumu, or a Yian Garuga with a huge critical-chance bonus and synergizing Active Skill inherited from a Velocidrome.
I really enjoyed how many possibilities and tasks there were to distract me from the main path right away, and a great fast-travel option that made it easy to wander. Golden Rare Monster Dens always lured me with the promise of something special, rare monsters enticed me into otherwise unneeded battle for crafting parts and the chance to trigger a guaranteed egg, hard-difficulty side quests challenged all the Monstie improving I’d been doing, and tournament-style challenges easily-accessible from the Quest Board made me want to try to my hand at earning the top reward just to see if I could, and maybe for that sweet XP for newly hatched Monsties. (Which, by the way, receive XP boosts when underleveled!)
But for how much I enjoyed my early hands-on with Wings of Ruin, the battles did start to wear on me somewhat. In the first Stories, there was generally a max of five combatants in battle, but with the introduction of Battle Buddies (an additional party member you can’t directly control) there can be up to seven from what I’ve seen so far – that’s a lot of actions to get through each turn. The problem is that having a buddy didn’t seem to make things any easier, even if they were stronger than me and my own Monstie – instead, the opponents’ HP pools appear to be greater to account for the additional party members.
I can see these longer battles getting tiresome, though you can thankfully triple the speed of the animations, and there is also a Quick Win option when encountering markedly weak monsters, which is most useful if backtracking. I’m still holding out hope that the full game has a way to remove buddies from your party at will, and for monsters’ HP to adjust accordingly, like how dynamic difficulty scales monsters based on party size in the newer mainline Monster Hunter games.
After all, there’s a lot of Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin I haven’t seen yet. I’ve only just finished the tutorial areas of Chapter 1 and 2, which didn’t feel very “tutorial-ly” and probably could have been completed in much less time than the 15 hours I happily spent if the enticing tinkering didn’t endlessly sidetrack me. There is just so much to do, see, and discover; and so many Monsties to befriend, I’m looking forward to playing the entirety of Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin.
Casey DeFreitas is an editor at IGN and recently began hatching eggs of her own, but turns out they’re all just a bunch of chickens. Catch her on Twitter @ShinyCaseyD