Monster Hunter Stories 2: Capcom's RPG style and design

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Capcom's RPG style and design

Monster Hunter Stories 2

A few days after the release of Monster Hunter Stories 2 on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC (game that you can already try thanks to the free demo available on eShop), Capcom has published an interesting in-depth analysis on some aspects of this spin-off in JRPG sauce . We found that Capcom wants to support it a bit like it did with Monster Hunter Rise and Monster Hunter World before it, releasing various free updates over the months following launch.

While traveling on parallel tracks, Monster Hunter and Monster Hunter Stories have more traits in common than it first seems, and the chat between producer Ryozo Tsujimoto and director Kenji Oguro revealed some tasty background on the development of this sequel, and in particular on the artistic direction.

The style of Stories

The Monster Hunter Stories project was born from a desire to delve into the bizarre universe of the series: a decidedly difficult undertaking to complete in action games focused on killing monsters, accumulating materials and finding the best combinations of weapons, armor and skills. That's why Tsujimoto, who along with Kaname Fujioka has been puzzling over the issue since 2010, eventually chose the JRPG genre to represent the world of hunters from a different point of view.

The JRPGs would have made it possible to explore the Monster Hunter imaginary in a more didactic way, and at the same time Capcom could have addressed a wider and more savvy audience. Anyone who has played even just an hour of Monster Hunter Stories knows very well that the Capcom title does not resemble that much to Pokémon, but the reference to the colorful universe of Game Freak was not a coincidence.

Monster Hunter Stories 2, a scene from the game. Wanting to hook even a younger audience than the average Monster Hunter user, Tsujimoto's team opted for an almost completely different look. If it is true that Monster Hunter World had not yet come out, and therefore it would have taken another two years before we saw our first "photorealistic" Monster Hunter, so to speak, it must be remembered that the Monster Hunters we had played so far tended however, to represent the monsters and the game world from the point of view of verisimilitude.

Using the cel shading technique, however, Monster Hunter Stories was proposed in the form of a pseudo cartoon: the soft colors and features recalled Japanese manga and anime, which also facilitated the work in phase adaptation when Capcom ordered the production of an animated transposition, titled Monster Hunter Stories: Ride On.

Monster Hunter Stories 2, a scene from the game. The other decisive artistic choice was the deformed style: in the first Monster Hunter Stories the designer Takahiro Kawano preferred a real stylization in terms of proportions and builds. Some characters, and especially the protagonist or the protagonist, look like very young kids, but this was part of the plan that included a young adult storyline, a strong collectible component and a more intuitive and accessible turn-based combat system than the really JRPGs. sophisticated.

The idea was therefore to offer players a different atmosphere and context compared to the bloody battles of the traditional Monster Hunter, trying to approach even a very young audience, and for this reason Tsujimoto and Oguro bet everything about what makes Monster Hunter ... well, Monster Hunter: Monsters.

Monsters from Stories

Monster Hunter Stories 2, a scene from the game. Monster Hunter Stories tells the misadventures of a Rider who learns the trade, becomes a hero and discovers the meaning of life in the course of the adventure, but Tsujimoto wanted this avatar - mute, as in many JRPG of yesteryear - to be just a means between the player and the real protagonists: the monsters. After all, the series is known more for its ultra-characteristic monsters than for its transient player avatars, but after spending ten years programming titles in which monsters had to be mangled, dismembered and mated for the sake of it, the moment had come. time to change perspective and focus an entire game on the bond that could be established between a human being and a monster.

Kenji Oguro declined the proposal to direct the game twice before accepting. He too thought that Capcom should develop a spin-off in which hunters and monsters were friends, but he was convinced it was impossible. Once an understanding was reached with Tsujimoto, however, the Stories code could be said to write himself.

Monster Hunter Stories 2, a scene from the game. However, it is not easy to imagine the effort that Kawano and the other artists must have made while redesigning the monsters of Monster Hunter in the Stories version. The goal was to get the player to sympathize with monsters and see them in a new light. The plot obviously had a role of primary importance, in this sense, and this is how the idea of ​​the Rider was born, a type of hunter who tames and rides monsters instead of killing them, establishing an empathic bond of mutual trust with them. The Rider is not all that different from the Pokémon trainer, in fact, but at this point another problem arose: the monsters had to be not only more sympathetic, but also smaller, because the Rider could not ride ferocious and gigantic beings. It was therefore decided to shrink the monsters, employing unnatural proportions even in their case, so that there was a visual coherence with the characters who rode them sitting on colored saddles.

The Pukei-Pukei in Monster Hunter World. Taking as an example the image of the Pukei-Pukei that we can see above in the Monster Hunter World version and comparing it to its counterpart in Monster Hunter Stories 2 below, the stylistic choices that have been made to adapt the monster to the standards of the spin appear very clear. -off. By eliminating the finer details, such as the scales or ribs in the cartilages that form the large wings, the monster takes on a much less repellent appearance. The Pukei-Pukei has a habit of inflating its tail and producing a poisonous gas: it is a gruesome move that in Stories 2, thanks to these small visual tweaks, appears on the screen much more cartoonish and far-fetched. Capcom artists worked a lot on shaders and shading to better define the monster's build, placed a nice colored saddle on its back and then brought the final touch of class with the feathers, making them more colorful and noticeable around the neck, to the wings and legs.

The Pukei-Pukei in Monster Hunter Stories 2. The Pukei-Pukei in Stories 2 perfectly represents the artistic philosophy behind the transition from Monster Hunter, the violent action game, to Monster Hunter Stories, the JRPG in where the player goes for a stroll in the company of monsters that could eat it in one bite but that would look great on our bed in the form of a soft toy. The technique has worked for practically every monster, especially those characterized by reptilian traits, which do not have a fur, such as the Khezu or Rathalos himself, on which, moreover, much more effort has been concentrated, being the most important monster in the game and the most different from the original counterpart for narrative reasons.

The Rathalos in Monster Hunter World. On the sharp Ratha, as the specimen on which the story of this sequel is centered is called, the Capcom artists have worked with even greater care. The monster had to be immediately recognizable, but it also had to have some peculiar characteristics that differentiated it from all the other Rathalos, as well as a changing shape and expressiveness. The sharp Ratha had to have an aggressive aspect, because in combat he had to behave like any ferocious monster, but at the same time he had to show a certain vulnerability to consolidate the bond with the protagonist Rider, which is us.

Kawano's team therefore opted for the inevitable saddle on a monster slightly smaller than the others, then worked on the features and colors, softening the shades. Finally, he redesigned the wings, which the sharp Ratha keeps tightly closed for narrative reasons that we cannot anticipate: almost like stumps that prevent him from flying, the alleged Wings of Destruction instead help to give him a defenseless appearance especially in the cinematics in which the animations of the muzzle recall those of a domestic animal.

The sharp Ratha in Monster Hunter Stories 2. The skill of the Capcom artists, however, lies in the fact that, while disproportionating the monsters and softening their wild features, they have succeeded however, to convey all their ferocity and aggression by reproducing the animations characteristic of these creatures in the cinematics that represent their most famous attacks, especially during the very powerful and spectacular Bonding Skills. Let's take that of the Zinogre, one of the most beloved monsters in the series: the Bond Skill is essentially his famous electric paw that he has claimed so many in traditional games, but the cinematics is embellished with a captivating direction and a spectacular choreography that ends with an atomic explosion before which the darkened form of the Zinogre howls to the sky. In this way, Capcom has pushed the accelerator on the most cartoony and exaggerated traits, but at the same time it has remained faithful to the original game, maximizing the spectacularity and the lethal power of the famous fanged wyvern.

What changes in Stories 2

Monster Hunter Stories 2, a scene from the game. Having said this long premise, it is important to underline that Tsujimoto's team has made significant changes to the artistic direction of Monster Hunter Stories 2. The producer himself said that, approaching the development of the sequel, they found themselves thinking deeply and for a long time about the sector. graphic that the game should have had, especially from a purely stylistic point of view. Having cleared Monster Hunter all over the world thanks to the success of Monster Hunter World, targeting different age groups in the same niche of fans no longer made much sense. The popularity of the franchise finally allowed us to dare also in the perspective of a spin-off that belonged to a genre that is now even more popular than in 2016, but abandoning the peculiar cartoon style that distinguished Monster Hunter Stories was impossible, also because in the meantime the game had also landed on mobile systems and on TV with the animated series.

Monster Hunter Stories 2, a scene from the game. Capcom artists have therefore revised and corrected some choices made in the past, starting with the proportions of monsters and characters. The latter are higher and more likely, a solution that, according to Tsujimoto, also serves to contextualize the passage of time: Monster Hunter Stories 2 takes place four years after Monster Hunter Stories, so not only the player who bought the first title has grown. in 2016, but also the characters in the story. In the sequel we meet again in fact supporting actors like Avinia, Lilia or Reverto, who appear a little more adult than the original title not only from a physical point of view, thanks to the more sensible proportions, but also from the character. Lilia, for example, has become commander of the royal scribes, while Avinia is now an expert Rider: it is precisely the customs and bearing that reflect their inner and outer growth.

Monster Hunter Stories 2, a scene from the game. As for the monsters, however, the guys at Capcom have increased the level of detail, but as the image of the Pukei-Pukei we examined earlier demonstrates, they limited themselves to playing with polygons and shadows, without touching everyone. those tiny details that could have moved the bar in the direction of realism. From this point of view, the most important change concerns the proportional size of the Riders.

If before a Rider was about the size of the monster he rode, now the monsters have regained their grandeur. The new proportions make much more sense especially in the narrative context as Monster Hunter Stories 2 is chock full of long cinematics, fully dubbed in English (and subtitled in Italian), which tell the story as if it were an animated feature film. If in one of these scenes we had seen the protagonist challenge a big monster a little bigger than him, the impact that the cinematics would have had would have been totally different.

Monster Hunter Stories 2, a scene from the game. And Monster Hunter Stories 2 plays a lot on this aspect of the story, introducing an important additional point of view: it is that of Ena, a young Wyvernian who joins us in our journey in search of the truth about the prophecy of the sharp Ratha, a Rathalos which is said to be destined to cause a real catastrophe with its infamous Wings of Destruction, but which has been entrusted to us and which we, as Rider, will have to protect at any cost. Will the mutual trust between a human being and his Monstie be enough to prevent the end of the world?

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