My first exposure to the Monster Hunter series was the demo for Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the Wii U. I played for about ten minutes, stumbling around trying to understand what any of the inscrutable icons meant. I found a polar bear, and my two cat(?) friends started wailing on it while I drank potions, and I turned the game off.
Monster Hunter isn’t a game to demo for ten minutes.
After picking up Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate with a New 3DS, I’ve come to finally appreciate the divisive and yes, still often inscrutable, series.
Monster Hunter is a game about a lot of learning; a lot of learning that doesn’t happen in the first hunt or two. I’m over 20 hours in, and the “beginner’s guide” tutorial videos are still a constant playlist for me. As much as the newest game remedies the tutorial issues I’ve heard of in past games, there’s a lot that you’ll have to find out on your own. It’s a game *mostly* about stabbing giant monsters in the face, but when you take a step back, you see how much lies below the surface.
With such a huge variety of weapons and items, Monster Hunter is also a game that wants you to feel your way around it. Ten hours in, after feeling pretty satisfied with my weapons of choice (Dual-Blades), I tried a few other weapons tutorials and am now leaning towards the Charge Blade. Each weapon makes the game feel totally different, forcing you to learn the combos and maneuvers required to use the effectively. Every weapon seems just as viable as the next, and it’s all about how they feel to you. Monster Hunter wants you to get invested in its world and learn its systems, and rewards those who do with a deep, rewarding ecosystem of flashy monsters and exciting challenges. When you finally understand how the game works, you’ll use extensive combos to pin a huge, impossibly strong, creature down. That’s just cool.
Monster Hunter scratches an MMO itch that I think I’ve wanted for a while. You spend a bit of time prepping for an encounter, picking herbs, mining, digging through crafting menus, and then finally take on a huge challenge either by yourself or with friends. You’ll grind out a few monster kills, too, but they’re still fun, and you’re still learning their movesets and abilities while trying new things each time. You’re always playing to improve your character, but it’s a slow burn to make any huge leaps. Said leaps do pay off with shiny gold swords and pointy helmets, so it’s usually worth it.
The “loot” drops aren’t as random as “giant sword falls out of monster upon death” either. You’ll skin your prey, and use every part of the beast to craft something that makes sense within the world. Kill a creature with rubber skin? Use it to make electricity-resistant armor. All of your equipment comes from your patience and knowledge of the world, and it feels that much more rewarding because of it. There’s still a bit of luck to the drops when a monster dies, and that’s part of the fun, but it plays much less of a part than something like Diablo. And killing a giant bird by bashing his skull in with a hammer and climbing onto it’s back just before leading it into a pitfall trap feels better than mashing X until your controller dies.
Playing Monster Hunter portably just feels natural to me, and I’m glad I went with this entry over the Wii U game or another previous console version. It’s a game that I can grind out some new armor to while watching a tv show, and one I can give total concentration to while fighting a new monster in a new environment. It seems to have an endless supply of new things to see, and from what I’ve heard, I’m nowhere near seeing the best it has to offer.
And, I can’t stress this enough, being 20 hours in doesn’t mean you understand all of its base mechanics. I’m still learning about armor abilities, and which pieces of gear I should craft to yield the best combos. Learning to use the “wave” gesture toward the hot air balloons, crouching at gathering spots, or realizing that you can roll at a wall with a weapon drawn to climb it are just as obtuse as I had imagined. But that’s the kind of game I love, one with a million things to learn, and never makes all of them obvious. Maybe I’m in the minority, but figuring out these weird quirks is pretty great, and it feels like learning about the Minus World from a kid on the playground.
Monster Hunter is obtuse. It’s satisfying, and there’s more in it than I will probably ever see. The time investment can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you like to play. But, the fact that I’m 26 hours in and just used a transforming axe-sword to bring down an inflatable laser shark (??????) is good enough for me. Monster Hunter is a weird, confusing, great thing, and I’ll be happy to have it live in my 3DS for a long time to come.