Forewarning; this is not so much of a review as much it is a fangasm. Discretion is advised.
So I’ve prided myself on my ability to finish Hopscotch projects when I begin them, unlike a certain someone else who shall remain nameless for the purpose of this conversation. You will notice, however, that I have yet to continue my MMO series. I fully plan to — Star Wars is next on the docket — but that’s for later. Instead, let’s talk about Monster Hunter.
I’ve been occupied with Monster Hunter for almost three weeks now, so I figured that this would be the perfect opportunity to make the Monster Hunter post that’s been inevitable for some time now. You may have noticed me casually mentioning MH several times in the past, but never really going into any real semblance of detail concerning the series. So here we go.
Time for a history lesson.
The original Monster Hunter was released back in 2004, and the only single reason I bothered giving it a try was because I saw a single page ad in a magazine and happened to remember that ad when I subsequently saw the game when I was browsing through gamestop. Paying heed to that one ad was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire gaming career.
Being found solely on the PS2 at the time, Monster Hunter was (and still is) a fairly straightforward game. Everything you need to know about it is in the title. You hunt monsters. You’re a monster hunter. That’s it.
This brings us to the first perceived drawback of the game. There is no story. There is no plot. Every single monster hunter game has the same situation — you’re the official hunter of some village, its your job to keep the village safe, and generally there is a certain monster that poses a unique threat to the village that you ultimately have to face (the flagship monster in most cases). There’s the village chief who believes in your ability, there’s the snobby rival who thinks they’re better than you but aren’t, there’s a washed up former hunter, and that’s it. Nothing more.
In most other cases I would agree with anyone who said that the lack of any actual narrative would be detrimental, but not here. Story-telling just isn’t what Monster Hunter is about. Its why I disagree with the notion that MH can even be considered an RPG — its more of an action/hack-and-slash game. Its about taking on a floating, poison-spewing octopus the size of a house with only the sword on your back and the potions in your pocket.
Its also a very good looking game, especially in the monster design. Some people may roll their eyes about fighting what clearly appear to be dinosaurs, but fuck those people. Its more like fighting dragons, and who doesn’t wanna do that?
I will admit, however, that MH had an incredibly sharp learning curve that wasn’t for everyone. There is nothing on the HUD indicating a monster’s current health, camera control is done entirely by the player (mapped to the D-Pad), attacking is done by the left analog stick while movement is the right, and a single monster fight could take nearly an hour without any guarantee of success. Mind you, I love each and every one of these aspects. Its what makes MH the game that it is. But not everyone feels the same way, which is what led to a variety of reviews.
This is the point where I go into how lukewarm MH’s success was in the West, while its success in Japan rivaled that of Pokemon. Because of that, it would be the start of a period where Capcom would be very hesitant is releasing anything Monster Hunter-related to the West. The Dark Times.
We weren’t entirely without hope, though. Monster Hunter Freedom was released for the PSP in 2005, the localized version of Japan’s Monster Hunter Portable. Its was effectively a supped-up version of the original, with a number of new monsters to face as well as a whole new difficulty ranking to toy with. Shit was pretty cash, even if I was unable to experience it due to my lack of a PSP at the time.
It would be another two long years before the west would see the light of a new Monster Hunter game. Meanwhile, Japan got Monster Hunter 2 (made for the PS2), considered by many players to be the best (as well as the most difficult) monster hunter game to date. This happens to be yet another game that I missed out on. Woe and tragedy.
But fear not, for in 2007 was the West graced by the presence of Monster Hunter Freedom 2, a game based on the advancements made within MH2. Sold on the PSP, MHF2 was nevertheless a wonderful and comprehensive addition to the West’s lacking library of MH games, as well as including new shiny features in the manner of weaponry, including the (in)famous Longsword.
And then it was only a year later that Monster Hunter Freedom Unite was given to us, an expansion to MHF2 that was utterly massive in scope — with 81 monsters to drive into extinction it was practically every hunter’s wetdream.
And then everything changed. Well, not everything. Basically Capcom and Sony got into a fight and ended up divorcing their MH marriage. Nintendo snatched the IP while it was available, and Monster Hunter Tri was born. Released onto the Wii, many people had doubts as to its ability to succeed, myself included. The only reason I purchased a copy was because I knew in my heart that Capcom despised the West and would look to any excuse to stop giving us Monster Hunter, including bad sales numbers.
Luckily, my fears were unjustified. MH3 was a solid and enjoyable addition to the family. It was prettier, and had brand new monsters, and best of all it fixed the nightmarish hitzones that had been plaguing the series up until this point. Even Nintendo’s online functionality didn’t suck ass, which I believe may have been a first for them. The only drawback was that Tri introduced underwater fighting, which sucks and is terrible and I’m bad at.
Then came a period of silence. Japan got the revel in the release of Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, while we got nothing. Capcom was quiet, and the West’s MH division did everything to assuage our fears. “We’re doing all that we can.” “We want Monster Hunter here too.” “It’ll happen. One day. Believe.”
And that day came. On March 19th 2013, Monster Hunter Tri Ultimate was released in the West on both the 3DS and WiiU. And it is glorious. Little more than 70 monsters to fight in full HD glory on your TV, or out wherever you happen to go. Save transfer functionality. online network mode, G-Rank difficulty quests, subspecies stacked upon subspecies, Ultimate is all that I ever could have wanted. (Well, almost. One day we’ll get Frontier)
Now that the history lesson is done with, I realize that there’s not a whole lot to say. Monster Hunter’s combat is deep and visceral and satisfying. Each and every monster is special and unique. Each weapon feels and handles differently, and you’re going to get a different experience from one to the other. The weapon and armor design is top-notch, the environments are beautiful, the monsters themselves are fantastical and gorgeous, the music is phenomenal, damn near everything about this game is breathtakingly awe-inspiring, and if anyone would ever had the notion to try it out I would tell them to fucking go for it.
There is only one caveat about the entire MH experience that I must mention and stress. Monster Hunter requires time. A lot of time. Everything you do in this game will take chunks out of your day, especially for beginners. You need to learn how your weapon works, you need to learn how the monster works (each and every one of them), and then after you’ve killed a monster within a 50-minute time limit, you most certainly have to kill them again for their body parts in order to upgrade your equipment, so that you’re strong enough to take on the next strongest monster. And some materials have abysmal drop rates, which means you could farm the same monster on the order of several dozen times and then have to do the same thing on the next monster.
Which is what I consider to be the only legitimate gripe that can be levied against Monster Hunter. Broken down to its core concept, Monster Hunter is a grindfest. And a long one at that. And there will be monsters you have to farm that you’re going to hate farming.
And despite that fact that in every other situation I loathe grinding, I love Monster Hunter. Because that might be what lies beneath its skin, but that isn’t its heart — its not what its about. Its about the wonder of stepping out of base camp your first time. Its about the terror when Rathalos lands into the area you’re desperately trying to navigate through with one its its unhatched eggs in tow. Its about satisfaction of downing your first Wall for the first time, whether that Wall be Kut-Ku or Tigrex or Barroth or Naruga. Its about the intensity of going hit-for-hit with a limping monster in your last life. Its about the high of carving that last Plate you need for your armor. Its about the awe of standing in front of Lao and knowing that you’re supposed to kill something the size of a skyscraper.
Ultimately, is a game about Hunting Monsters. And that’s something I can get behind.