Capcom’s latest transforms the classic Monster Hunter experience into a Japanese role-player, with surprisingly successful results.
The success of Monster Hunter: World in the West is the video game industry’s best example of a late bloomer. The series has been around for almost two decades and yet it was only with 2018’s World that it found any significant level of success outside of Japan. That could have been an exception to the usual rule, but Monster Hunter Rise on Nintendo Switch proved otherwise. So now the big question is whether the spin-offs will also find success here.
The original Monster Hunter Stories was released on 3DS in 2017 and was completely ignored by almost everyone in the West. It wasn’t the first Monster Hunter spin-off but it was certainly the most ambitious, taking the format and structure of the mainline games and turning them into a relatively traditional Japanese role-playing game.
Pre-empting Yakuza: Like A Dragon by several years, the combat was transformed from the classic real-time action of the mainline games into a turn-based system. Although the tone is slightly more serious than the original, Wings Of Ruin is still skewed towards a younger audience and the resultant game is a bright and breezy role-player that creates a surprisingly successful blend of two very different styles of game.
Structurally, Wings Of Ruin works very similarly to Monster Hunter Rise. The missions are usually more story-orientated than just going out to hunt a particular monster but other than that the trips out into the open world areas, and returning to report your progress and check the quest board, is exactly the same. A fundamental difference though is that you’re cast as a rider rather than a hunter, with the latter often taking an antagonistic role in the story.
Riders are portrayed as being more in tune with nature and respectful partners of the various creatures they ride. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that the franchise is all about hunting animals for food and body parts, which isn’t going to sit well with some people. It doesn’t help that many of Wings Of Ruin’s missions revolve around sneaking into a monster’s nest so you can steal its egg and raise the creature as your pet.
The pseudo-medieval setting and cartoonish atmosphere are pretty effective at distracting you from these concerns, although the overall plot, about the disappearance of a guardian monster and a newly hatched critter that could bring about the end of the world, is very basic stuff and the only really memorable characters are a couple of unusually talkative Felyne – creatures that communicate almost solely in cat-related puns.
Like Rise, the world of Wings Of Ruin is split up into a number of quite small open world areas, with dungeons called Monster Dens whose location is randomised each time you return home to a village. Monsters can be found wandering about on their own and as soon as you touch them, or vice versa, the game initiates a turn-based battle, just like an old school Japanese role-player.
Combat is based around a rock, paper, scissors concept where you have to chose whether to use a power, speed, or technical attack. This isn’t as random as it sounds though, as most monsters have a tendency to use one in particular, and even if you haven’t met them before the game gives you very straightforward clues as to what they’re likely to opt for.
There’s a wide range of different weapons in the games, many of them familiar from the mainline games, but they’re simplified into being one of three types: blunt, slash, or piercing. Again, you can guess which is going to be most effective in most situations, but first encounters do involve a certain amount of luck.
Items can be used but often have different uses than in the main games, such as whetstones which, instead of being necessary to ensure the sharpness of your blade, simply increase the chance of a critical attack. You only control your character, so battles are nice and brisk, but you can often team-up with allies and your own ride. Monsters can be mounted mid-battle and if you happen to choose the same type of attack as them this initiates a team-up move that triggers an enjoyably OTT battle animation reminiscent of something out of Final Fantasy.
Wings Of Ruin is the sort of low stakes, comfort food kind of Japanese role-player that doesn’t really get made any more, especially with any kind of budget, and while the low difficulty is just one of many things that seems like it should count against it, it actually comes across as a positive feature. If the game had involved endless level grinding and 30-minute-long boss battles it would’ve quickly lost its charm but thankfully Capcom’s designers have a clear image of the sort of game and audience they’re aiming for.
The game is undoubtedly shallow though, and not just in terms of the storytelling and combat. The crafting of armour and weapons is also simplified and even the hatching of eggs is peculiarly straightforward. There’s little effort needed to hatch them and while you can try some genetic manipulation of your own it’s not really anything that hasn’t already been done in any number of previous Pokémon clones.
Different monsters have different abilities when you’re riding them, such as being able to climb or fly, but other than that the only thing that distinguishes them is their stats, as you instantly abandon a long-time partner the second you get a better ride.
The graphics are also disappointing, and more reminiscent of Pokémon Sword/Shield than Monster Hunter Rise. The frame rate is stable (since battles are turn-based there’s not much to upset it) but very low and there’s an unpleasantly arthritic feel to movement and even just turning the camera. The game is also being released on PC, where it no doubt performs much better, but this is one recent release where you really wish the Switch Pro had been real.
Wings Of Ruin isn’t a cash-in. There’s clearly a lot of work that’s gone into it, including a co-op option that works both offline and on. However, like the rest of the game, it’s much more limited than the mainline games. That comparison wouldn’t be so awkward except that Rise only came out three months ago and it’s baffling as to why Capcom decided to release such a fundamentally similar game so soon after – when it would’ve worked far better as something to release at a point equidistant from the mainline sequels.
That curious scheduling choice only reinforces the feeling that maybe this shouldn’t have been a Monster Hunter game at all and might have done better to invent its own systems from scratch rather than trying to shoehorn in those from a completely different game. That’s the task its designers were given though and while you might question the overall wisdom it’s hard to imagine a JRPG version of Monster Hunter working much better than this.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings Of Ruin review summary
In Short: A clever reinterpretation of classic Monster Hunter action in the form of a Japanese role-playing game. Although it can often seem a little too oversimplified compared to the mainline titles.
Pros: The turn-based combat works surprisingly well and the Pokémon style egg collection is engaging. Fun presentation and plenty to see and do.
Cons: Everything is greatly simplified from the mainline games and although it’s not as bad as it first seems the random element in combat can irritate. Graphics strain to work on the Switch.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC
Release Date: 9th July 2021
Age Rating: 7
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