I’m ashamed to admit that I underestimated Monster Hunter for many years. However the last year has led to a series of epiphanies – this is a game that calls for more thought than most games, encouraging you to improve with the promise of a thrilling and compelling experience just out of reach.
The community is at the heart of that experience – so here’s what Monster Hunter feels like to play with them in tow.
Fighting through difficulty with others
Camaraderie is at the heart of this game, and that works because of how the rewards and drops are independent to other players, there is very little sense of competition, and the balanced etiquette of play means that the focus is on information sharing, helping each other avoid failure by striving to make a strong group. The deepest criticism about this game is the steep learning curve, but ultimately all that is needed is time to learn each monsters patterns, made infinitely easier by a group of friends willing to spread the difficulty between them. Even the vastest struggle becomes a series of battles made fun just because of the thrill of play.
So all at once what was once a slow, unwieldily weapon, transforms into the tool right for the job, utilized with new-found precision and fluidity, no levels have been gained, no experienced unlocked just a better sense of how to succeed. The only thing that has improved is your intuition of how to play, amassed after observing every monster for minute weakpoints, evening the odds over time, and as such each victory feels all the more rewarding.
The balance of tension and humour in this game is paramount, after a hair-raising fight or titanic struggle against a new foe nothing beats the comic relief of playing with others – a perfectly timed comic gesture shared between one another, a playful kick once the fights over – sending someone flying using a powerful attack. With no friendly fire the moments of hilarity are ripe, easing the tension after short, very focused moments of concentration.
So in Monster Hunter success is hinged on the collective skill of your group, clawing back respect from a monster as your group grows in confidence, all with the encouragement and support of each other. This is a game of friendship and initial gameplay complaints aside the synergy between community, the lush environments, and captivating music are a fantastic reward to those bold enough to keep going.
Mind over matter
Like any healthy community there are veterans and newbies, all drawn together by Monster Hunter’s stylish, old-fashioned gameplay elements. The old idioms of risk and reward from 8-bit consoles and older have returned; nothing is for free, everything has to be crafted, bought or grown.
As a result most objects in Monster Hunter come from toil. Money comes purely from finishing quests, meaning everyone has everything to play for – constantly. While it’s a different item mechanic to most other games, starting to gather the money and resources to start a hunting career can be tricky, but this doesn’t mean that the game is punishing, it simply takes more patience to get started.
In the beginning the camera can difficult to manage, the individual weapons take some time to register in the memory, the lack of enemy health bar can be a burden. But slowly but surely over the course of each hour things begin to click and Monster Hunter sprinkles you with hope eternal. Be it in the form of your post-battle reward or the rush of success. Suddenly the game becomes less about constant struggle and more about a comfortable dance around your enemies, as you revel in your new-found mastery of both combat and self-sufficiency.
Over time we become master hunters capable of moving between strict professionalism in the face of danger and comic relief, as we fight enemies methodically with the smartest movements between evasion and attack, we move between the role of hunter and player behind the persona with ease; destroying a foe and then returning to laughter, gestures and drinking, relieved to have succeeded, or simply laughing because of how badly we failed.
With a good party not even winning becomes too important, just the idea of completely escaping the normal online pressures of competition.
For the greater good
This represents the sort of online game we should be getting from developers – a simple to play, hard to master challenge supported by a free drop/in out model that is the antithesis of modern MMOs. Monster Hunter comprises a friendly, co-operative community bound together by a common goal – to succeed and to have fun while doing so.
This is Monster Hunter’s addictive element and it helps to create a game that is vastly improved by the quality and character of others playing.
Most of the appeal at the moment surrounds the buzz of the online version, because it’s a game of vivid experiences and memories, this is the sort of game you think about every waking moment, looking back on your time played years after with nothing but the fondest of memories.
Ultimately this is a game of friendship with each person bringing skills to the table, offering a different tactic or approach, and while Monster Hunter Tri is by far the most accessible by quite a margin, the elements of the gameplay still left explained in both this game and previous iterations are clearly meant to be a point of discussion.
Monster Hunter has built up a ferocious reputation for being hard to master, but this is offsetted by the genuine passion its fans have for the game, they are its ambassadors, helping and explaining its intricacies to others so no one is left behind, and that’s the way it should be.