Since its demo, I’ve seen people both on social media and other game sites comparing Monster Hunter Stories 2 with the Pokemon series, often praising the former over the latter, especially when discussing Pokemon Sword and Shield. More recently, I’ve seen people talking how Pokemon Legends Arceus seems like a Monster Hunter game. While I get that Sword and Shield was divisive in some ways, I still stand by my original impressions in terms of what an MMO focused fan would want from the Pokemon series: fast, accessible, online multiplayer that isn’t just limited to 1v1 battles or training.
So while even MOP’s Andy felt the Sword and Shield was a bit too safe, many people who enjoyed the game agreed that the Wild Area –where up to four people can raid pokemon online together almost from the start of the game – was its best part. MHS2, which builds on a series known for its online play, is strangely less multiplayer than Sword and Shield in addition to burying it under a myriad of level and story requirements.
While MHS2 simplifies the series’ combat so it’s more accessible, limiting online play to two players is far too much like old-school Pokemon, which is a mistake I feel even The Pokemon Company has realized as per Sword and Shield’s earlier, accessible raids.
Party size: Monster edition
Now, I know the fanatics will be looking for my bias, so here it is: I’m still enjoying and playing MHS2, while I haven’t raided in Sword and Shield for at least three months. I am getting a lot more out of MHS2 and am thoroughly enjoying myself. However, a large part of this is simply that I know more people playing the former, and outside of work, my gaming habits revolve around playing what I can enjoy with the people I know, not necessarily what I want.
There is a lot I enjoy about MHS2: The combat demands your attention despite being turn-based, the smaller monster roster means each critter can be worked on to stand out more, and the “catching” aspect feels fresh. There’s plenty the Pokemon games could take from the series too. But to be honest, I’d argue that the things MHS2 does best are things we’ve seen in multiple Pokemon games, while the most critical part of the Monster Hunter series – the online part – suffers the most in MHS2.
Let’s boil the two IPs down to bare basics, Pokemon is about trading and battling pokemon, almost purely in a 1v1 fashion. It’s a PvP game that still has tournaments solidly grounded in PvP, even in other formats, such as the 1v1 fighting game Pokken or its trading card game.
Conversely, Monster Hunter is a co-op online series about slaying a monster for its parts with up to three other people. MH is inherently more of a simultaneous multiplayer game than Pokemon, full stop. The fact that Sword and Shield added four-player co-op raids that are accessible early on still blows my mind when discussing how long the main-game series took to reach this point. In fact, it’s downright weird that pokemon raids are something that first appeared in Pokemon GO, which is still the most multi-player Pokemon game, while Monster Hunter has had not one but two MMOs, neither of which got official English support.
And yet MHS2 is a two-player max game in terms of co-op. It’s like if NBA games suddenly turned into 1v1 half-court matches. Yes, it’s still exciting and has its own twists and turns, but we’re used to something a bit grander. Worse, though, is that MHS2‘s more accessible turn-based combat can easily be used to get people interested in the series, but core fans can’t bring newcomers into their established hunting groups outside of MHS2.
For example, my Pokemon fan friend has repeatedly been told she’d like the MH series by her other friends, but the action-based combat kept her out. Now she’s in MHS2, but even ignoring that she has to “earn” access to relevant online content, she can play with only one of us at a time.
Already the four-player max gameplay can be restrictive. I’m sure I’m not alone in having those nights when you have five people who want to do four-player restricted content in a proper MMO, but four seems to be a number many developers enjoy for non-MMO online games. But two-players only for an online, co-op game with randoms feels restrictive, especially for a 15-year-old game series that’s helped define four-player co-op content and had lobbies housing up to 100 players.
Yes, MHS2 is a spin-off game. Yes, games are allowed to be different. Yes, not all games need to be online and multiplayer. But for all that, it’s still odd to me that Capcom would make such an accessible, online, multiplayer game that can welcome new fans and not allow more than two people to play simultaneously.
Recycling the opponent’s content
This isn’t just me complaining about the lack of more people hunting with me at once though. I get that some people really enjoy MHS2 because it does things they wanted from Sword and Shield. People are enjoying creature partners that walk with you in the world, perform special tasks, can be tracked down and specifically targeted… all things that Pokemon games have had in recent generations, including Sword and Shield via DLC.
Signature moves have been in Pokemon since gen 1, and luckily they’re not just limited to finishers like MHS2. Gen 1 is also when we had Pokemon field skills, but we could choose who learned the skill, something that MHS2 lacks. 1998’s Pokemon Yellow was the first time we had a pokemon following us, and 2010’s HeartGold and SoulSilver gave players the chance to walk with any pokemon they had. And if you want to talk about stat acquisition and specifically hunting a Pokemon, you probably haven’t been paying attention, since the series makes this easier and easier each generation: breeding, the destiny knot, the Masuda breeding method, pokeradar chaining, friend safaris, chain and combo catches, bottle caps, Max Raids (excluding the exploit), and so on.
The difference is that MHS2 has fewer entries and can piggyback on Pokemon’s experimentation while also being new, making it seem like it’s doing new things when in actuality it’s reskinning. Yes, I like watching my monstie smash a rock blocking my path, but I’ve gotten that in numerous pokemon games, and I often picked who learned that, rather than having to find the MHS2 critter that’s got the best stats and naturally has the move. I love Deviljho’s ultimate attack, but it can’t be used as readily as, say, Mewtwo’s Psystrike or Intelion’s Snipe Shot.
But the flee system/egg hunting in MHS2 is a lot more visually appealing than Pokemon’s most successful chaining situations where you’re physically looking for the same pokemon to beat on again and again or to create your desired Max Raid den, especially since it’s easier to “exploit” the MHS2 dens since you can just save and close the game without Sword and Shield’s careful timing or needing to disable auto-save. MHS2 can do its own thing, but some of the borrowing just feels weak. MHS2 does best when it does something different.
MHS2’s ever-changing rock-paper-scissors combat is more engaging than much of what Pokemon’s slowly iterated on over eight generations, though The Pokemon Company seems to be playing with this in the upcoming Legends game. I also get how some people can prefer MHS2‘s monsties, as each family gets a unique kind of “finisher” and often few “genes” that you can pass to other monsties. Moving genes from one monstie to another feels more exciting than playing Pokemon’s hour/day/week/month-long breeding game. MHS2’s fewer stats also helps simplify the process of “getting a perfect,” and those stats are so minimal that it honestly probably doesn’t matter. And honestly, having a smaller roster with deviants/variants from the main series is smart. Pokemon’s been doing regional forms lately, and that feels like a smart move both in terms of keeping the roster under control and having familiar-but-different faces, but MHS2 has the main series monsters already in place to borrow from, and that’s smart and exciting.
Both games are good – for different reasons. I do hope an eventual Monster Hunter Stories 3 will open the series up to more simultaneous multiplayer and have it as a more core part of the game. MHS2‘s story was admittedly better than most Pokemon plots (and much better than the typical MH main series plot), but that’s also not saying a whole lot. Still, the parts of MHS2 that feel the most fun are the ones that feel more like Monster Hunter things, like online co-op and evolving combat, rather than Pokemon limited ideas. However, as much as Pokemon may have rubbed off on MH, the reverse may happen as well.
Best collab ever pic.twitter.com/XeT46eKOr2
— Gaijinhunter (@aevanko) August 18, 2021
Borrowing from each other
Some outlets are comparing the upcoming Pokemon Legends: Arceus to Monster Hunter, but most of it seems cultural to me. How many times in an MMO do we stalk the bad guys via quest lore, learn their weakness, and take them down before farming them again and again? Heck, in early MMOs, how many of us naturally did this when discovering a new mob type with rare drops that needed to be combined, such as searching for golem dens or rare spawning ones, collecting their motes, then combining them for Atlan weapons in Asheron’s Call. The fact that we’re seeing attacking bears and sea serpents in old Japan is probably more about the companies both coming out of Japan than any real design choices.
But for a moment, let’s run with the idea that Pokemon really is sampling from its competitor. MHS2’s red-eyed monsters are being borrowed, as are the main series monster-specific hunt/catch missions. Awesome. It’s a fun mechanic. But also, the sad reality is that most Pokemon games aren’t really that multiplayer except for a few recent entries. If The Pokemon Company decided that, in Legends, players can team up to take down a bigger pokemon, yes, it’d be even more MH-esque, and that’d be for the best. We’ve already seen how much people enjoy massive co-op in POGO, so giving us more of that in the main series would be great.
For a Monster Hunter game to go into the monster-collecting business and drop a lot of multiplayer to get there, though, it’s disappointing. I’m loving MHS2, and I’m hoping Legends will do some MH borrowing, but I want spin-offs that help me bring my friends with me into their game universes. Pokemon GO and the more recent Pokemon Unite do this quite well, even if Sword and Shield is limited to four players at a time in turn-based content. At least it’s still accessible, and at least the spin-offs allow for good-sized multiplayer. But man, out of all the things for Capcom to bring from Pokemon into the MH series, why did restricting online play to only two people have to be on their list?
Massively OP’s Andrew Ross is an admitted Pokemon geek and expert ARG-watcher. Nobody knows Niantic and Nintendo like he does! His Massively on the Go column covers Pokemon Go as well as other mobile MMOs and augmented reality titles!