Nintendo didn't show up to the Tokyo Game Show this year - it rarely does - but that didn't stop Capcom from bringing one if its most popular franchises on the 3DS along. In fact, Monster Hunter Stories was one of the only Nintendo exclusive games prominently displayed. Fitting, because playing the game felt like an amalgamation of Nintendo goodness: one part Monster Hunter — a Nintendo 3DS bestseller in Japan — mixed with a handful of Pokémon mechanics and a dash of Fire Emblem-like battle mechanics. The colourful booth stood in stark contrast to the massive PlayStation booth across the way, reminding attendees that while Nintendo wasn't there to showcase titles like Pokémon Sun and Moon, the 3DS still has life in it yet.
The demo we played opened like many Nintendo games before it, with a choice between a boy or girl main character; no customization screen was offered in the TGS build. After choosing, Stories opened on a snowy mountain range. Nyavi, a cat character that functions as the player's guide, instructed us to hop onto the blue, raptor-like creature that wouldn't look out of place in a Jurassic Park film. Once in the saddle our avatar waddled down to a monster fully rendered on the map; touching the creature pulled us into a battle.
Combat proved rather convoluted at first. Both our character — named Rider by Nyavi — and our "Monstie" stood side-by-side before our foe. The lower half of the 3DS's screen was divided into seven buttons: Skills for both the monster and Rider, typical RPG conventions like items and run, a standard attack option, a swap option to change Monsties, and a special Kinship gauge/button that slowly filled in the centre of the lower screen. Monstie and Rider skills were only useful as heals and debuffs, so we spent most of the time using the attack option, which once selected breaks into a further three options: Power, Technique, and Speed.
Reminiscent of Fire Emblem's weapon triangle, Power beats Technique, Technique over Speed, and Speed trumps Power. Our opponent gave us visual cues for which move it may select and how we should counter it; at first, the cues made little sense, but as the battle went on we began to learn what a swish of a tail or a growl meant in the context of the battle. When Rider attacked so did the Monstie, making quick work of the first foe.
Several other monsters dotted the mountain we explored, but we instead chose to enter a nearby cave. Inside we were greeted by a Zamtrios, a monster long-time fans might recognize, and engaged in a longer but still quite easy battle. During the fight we swapped our blue raptor for a Naruga Karuga (better known as Nargacuga in the West), a black wyvern creature, that at one point locked heads with our opponent. When that happens it's necessary to tap A to push Zamtrios off screen, resulting in significant damage that pushed the creature over a threshold. Zamtrios then sprouted ice armour and began breathing ice attacks, but we never came close to failure or being able to fill up the Kinship gauge to unleash an ultimate rider attack.
Items to create better equipment were awarded upon victory; deeper in the cave we uncovered a nest of eggs to steal from. We automatically returned to the village (possibly a function of the demo) after clearing two caves and thieving two eggs. There, we were able to tap the eggs with the touch screen to hatch them into new monsters to use in battle. Quite suddenly we were thrown into a boss fight with a Khezu, a worm-like creature without eyes but more than enough mouth and teeth to make up for it; we actually lost all of our health points, only to discover we had three "tries" before a game over screen appeared. The demo ended immediately after the inevitable victory.
Monster Hunter Stories left us with a strong impression of its inspirations; with those influences there's a certain amount of confidence that this game will have more than enough ideas to please those curious but intimidated by the barrier of entry and dedication a main Monster Hunter game requires. It's possibly a more casual experience that may turn off a few long-time fans, though monster collecting and the rather complex battle system may or may not pull doubters in, despite how the modest difficulty level on show in this demo. Western audiences won't know for a while either way, because while Monster Hunter Stories launches in Japan next month, there is no word of a localized release.