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Monster Hunter: A Retrospective

 

If you haven’t seen or played a Monster Hunter game before… relax. Chances are you’re not alone.
Although the series has been running for ten years now, and is hugely popular in its native homeland of Japan, it isn’t as well-known to gamers in the US and UK. I played my first MH game five years ago and, though it wasn’t easy to get into, I’ve been a dedicated player ever since. For most fans, this is how you start out: a fledgling with no prior knowledge or experience. But, if you’re willing to invest the time and effort necessary to learn the ropes, you will be hooked. Getting to know the series and its intricacies on your own is hard enough, so if you don’t know Aptonoth from Altaroth, let me be your guide into the massive and immersive world of Monster Hunter.


Monster Hunter is an action RPG series created by Capcom (the company responsible for Street Fighter and Resident Evil). You create and play as a beginning hunter who must take on quests and hunt monsters to improve his/her skills and arsenal. It may sound simple – but in execution, it’s another story. The monsters you encounter are fantastical, but portrayed as living, breathing animals. Every creature has its place within the world, from lowly scavengers (e.g. Altaroth, an ant the size of a lion) and herbivores (Aptonoth, a duck-billed dinosaur), to top predators (Deviljho, the T-Rex from Hell) and monstrosities large enough to feature in the next Godzilla film (Dalamadur, a gigantic silver serpent). Your objective is to kill or capture them in real-time combat, watching their body language for openings to attack, use items or dodge incoming attacks. Killing a monster allows you to carve its body parts, which you use to craft new armour and weapons as you progress. Along the way, you also have to harvest items such as plants, mushrooms, insects and metals, which are used to make provisions (e.g. health potions, antidotes and traps). These things take time – up to 50min per quest – and this, coupled with a high difficulty, makes for a steep learning curve liable to throw off most beginners. MH isn’t an easy game to get into, and it’s certainly not for everyone – but it’s very much a case of high-effort, high reward. If you like games that demand hard work and perseverance, you won’t be disappointed. The more you play, and learn, the more you will get out of it.



Still with me? Excellent! Now, to the games themselves. There are seventeen in all (including spin-offs), but I’ll focus on the main entries and games which were released worldwide.



The original Monster Hunter was released in Japan for the PlayStation 2 in 2004, and in the UK the following year. It set the basic template for all MH games to follow and featured an expansive online mode – including multiplayer, exclusive quests and more content than the offline single player campaign. Sadly, US and UK servers for MH1’s online mode were shut down in 2007, with Japan following suit in 2011. The flagship monster (cover star) was the Rathalos, a red dragon with a poisonous sting; it has since become the series’ mascot and appeared in every instalment to date.



Monster Hunter 2 was released in 2006 for PS2, but only in Japan and, sadly, nowhere else. This entry introduced new monsters, an improved weapon upgrade system and the use of gems to raise the stats of your equipment – additions which would make their way into future games in the series.



To make up for MH2’s absence in the West, Capcom released Monster Hunter Freedom; a series of portable adaptations which expanded on and modified elements of the console games. Made for PSP, these versions lacked online multiplayer but, to make up for it, incorporated a huge amount of content compared to the originals. The most successful of these was Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, which sold 3.7 million copies and introduced new CPU-controlled allies called Felynes (bipedal cats). Flagship monsters for these games included the Tigrex (MHF2) and Nargacuga (MHFU).

MHFU was originally a PSP-exclusive, but is now available on iOS – for a fraction of the original price (and, thankfully, without in-app purchases).


2009 saw big changes for the series. Originally planned for the PlayStation 3, Monster Hunter 3 (or Tri) came to the Wii in 2009, arriving on our shores the following year. It was the first game in the series to appear on Nintendo consoles – and my entry point into the world of Monster Hunter. MH3 introduced underwater combat and, with it, a whole new range of beasts to hunt. The game sold 1.9 million copies, became the Wii’s bestselling third-party game in Japan and increased interest and awareness of the series overseas. MH3’s flagship monster was the Lagiacrus, an electric sea dragon.



After MH3’s success, Capcom decided the time was right to release more games outside Japan. Three years later they made Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (3G in Japan) for 3DS and Wii U. An expanded remake of MH3, the game boasted improved graphics, a rebuilt online mode, new quests and a brand new ‘target camera’ to keep track of monsters (good news for newcomers). Due to technical issues, the 3DS version lacked online multiplayer – but the sheer amount of content, more than twice as much as the original MH3, made up for it spectacularly. The game sold 2.5 million copies and had two flagship monsters: the newcomer Brachydios (a volcanic carnosaur with battering rams for arms and an explosive horn) for Japan, and series veteran Rathalos for us.



The latest entry in the series, Monster Hunter 4 was first released in Japan on 3DS in 2013. Now, after much demand, it’s finally arrived on our shores as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. Like MH3U, it’s an expansion of the Japanese release featuring new quests, new equipment and new beasts to hunt. But, the major draw to this release is not new content, but new features – MH4 introduces new terrain mechanics, allowing you to move, climb and use the high ground (literally!) to attack from above. You can even mount – that is, climb onto the backs of monsters – this time. But, best of all, the game includes improved tutorials and a smoother learning curve, making it the ideal starting point for new hunters. MH4U has sold 3 million copies worldwide so far and, as it only arrived on 13th February, looks set to sell more in the months to come.



If this sounds like a deep, informative overview of Monster Hunter, I’ll be honest – I’ve merely scratched the surface of a huge and captivating world. Taking up the hunter’s life is like climbing a mountain; you won’t achieve it in a day… but when you do, you’ll feel a great sense of achievement. And you will be hungry for more.



To explain everything there is to see and find in Monster Hunter is impossible and, even if I could, it just wouldn’t compare to discovering it for yourself. So armour up, sharpen your blade, gather your potions and answer the call. Happy hunting!

 
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