Publisher: Capcom / Nintendo (European Releases)
Release: 2014 / 2015
Genre: Action Roleplay
OFLC Rating: M
Chances are you’ve probably heard the name Monster Hunter before in relation to video games, but never really knew much more than that. You’ve probably seen the promotional artwork and / or the one of the games on the shelf, assuming it to be nothing more than a game catering to the crowd who dream of slaying mythical beasts. Chances are you’ve seen the promotional trailers for one of the games and found yourself mildly curious about the franchise. Monster Hunter is one of Japan’s most popular video game franchise as well as being one of the most rewarding action role-play experiences on the market. Developed and published by Capcom, Monster Hunter presently has four generations of games – The first two were predominantly a PlayStation affair (PS2 and PSP), whereas the latter generations stand out as a reason for giving Nintendo’s computer entertainment systems a look-in. Monster Hunter is a fantasy action role-playing game that is quite self-explanatory when you go on the franchise name alone. But to refer to the franchise as either action or role-play is missing the point about what this video game juggernaut is. One hand it’s very much an open world action game for the most part, but incorporates strong elements from MMORPGs (eg Looting, resource gathering, stat-checking, upgrading, etc.). But, there are other elements that make this stand out from traditional “Hack’N’Slash” ARPGs. Capcom have designed the monster AI in way that seems to add a level of simulation and strategy to game, making you feel like a real life big game hunter in a fantasy universe.
Monster Hunter doesn’t stop there, but also approaches character development different to traditional roleplaying games – Instead your experience being reflected by a level number and the number of experience points, it’s all listed in detail within your profile. This serves as a portfolio displaying your achievements and failures, other players in your party at that time along with the specific weapons and equipment used for that given quest painting a more accurate picture of a particular player character. Your character is not defined by a player class and associated skill set but rather by the armour, weapons and how you put it all to use. Monster Hunter has only two classes (if at all), being Blademaster (Melee / CQC) and Gunner (Ranged) which are associated by the weapon your character is presently using. These classes come into play when crafting new armour as certain pieces as offer a specialised statistics catering to the particular class (when specified). Weapons and armour not only give combat (offensive / defensive) ratings for each piece, but has a set of statistic values (“Buffs” and “Debuffs”) that can add or remove passive abilities. These abilities can be have either positive or negative effects depending on their numerical value, abilities will require a certain number of points to activate (eg 10 or -10) before they can take effect – This is great for adding and removing abilities by mixing various pieces to tailor a set of passive skill beneficial to your play style.
Speaking of play style, there are fourteen weapon classes that each offer their own style of play contributing to what is some of the most diverse gameplay seen in an ARPG. To simply categorise them into one of two classes I honestly believe that does them little justice as they each have something different to bring to the table, despite having very similar weapon types.
The first of these that you will be introduced to from the get-go is the Sword & Shield, offering a basic means of inflicting damage and countering blows at the cost of your stamina. A great weapon set for learning the ropes and ideal for the run of the mill close-quarters skirmisher builds.
Next up you have the Dual Blades which inflict similar levels of damage as the Sword & Shield, but sacrifice blocking for double the attack. These are highly useful, if you’re looking to go for a close-quarters berserker character build.
The Long Sword may not offer blocking, but makes up for it with the ability to offer some offensive and technical swordplay. If you consider yourself a swordsman / swordsmaiden or looking to live out your Samurai fantasies, then this weapon class is your best bet for those builds.
Then there’s the Great Sword, a common real world example being the Claymore often used by Celtic warriors (eg “Braveheart” William Wallace). These bad boys are quite large and often bear resemblance to six-foot clever. Aside from being able to cleve your way through packs of beasts, you can block with them. They’re one of few ideal weapons if you are looking to play the “Beast Slayer” build.
Next is the weapons ideal for Slayers is the Hammer, which doubles down on the offensive. Though this weapon (obviously) inflicts damage with blunt force, you can unleash charged attacks.
Then there is the Hunting Horn which works like a club for the most part, but allows you to play songs to boost the moral of your hunting parties. A weapon ideal for party leaders and / or party support.
Moving on you have the Lance which comes with a shield allowing you to block as well as being able to thrust at the enemy. This weapon is ideal for those looking to play either heavy skirmisher slayer builds.
Then you have the first hybrid weapon class, then Gunlance. This weapon like the lance has a shield, but this lance allows hunters to fire a close range gunshot serving as an amplifier for greater impact. The gunlance is ideal for similar builds using lances.
Then there is the Switchaxe, for those really looking rock the slayer builds to the nth degree. This badass of weapon is a hybrid that can switch between an axe and a great sword offering the offensive capabilities of both weapons.
Then you have one of the franchises two newest weapons, the Charge Blade. This hybrid switches between being a broadsword with shield and a battle-axe. Highly versatile for aggressive close-quarters combat.
The other new addition is the Insect Glaive, which comes with a beetle-like creature called a Kinsect. The glaive itself is a dual edged staff allowing you pole-vault onto your targets. In addition your Kinsect serves as an attack dog that leaches from the life-force of your target. This particular weapon is ideal for those looking to play a sort of beast wrangler build.
Then you have the Bow (pretty straight forward really), a traditional RPG staple weapon for ranged combat. Like you would expect, this weapon allows for ranged combat with agile mobility. Being a projectile weapon, the bow allows you to apply coating to your arrows if you’re looking to (for example) poison or tranquillise your targets. An ideal for those looking to play ranged builds traditional in nature.
Then there are the Bowguns, with in both light (LBG) and heavy (HBG) that are cross between a crossbow and a rifle. The HBG is the superior option for firepower, whereas the LBG makes up it with superior mobility – Like comparing a carbine to a high-powered rifle, really. All bowguns are able to use different ammunition types, ranging from regular rounds to various specialty rounds. Both make ideal weapons for those looking to sport commando and sniper builds.
Here’s where Monster Hunter gets interesting in the weapons department – All weapons have their own set of advantages and disadvantages with no clear-cut night & day differences between them. Ultimately it will come down to the hunter as to which is the better weapon. However, no two beast is the same as any real-life hunter will tell you. Which is why you will either need to line up a selection of weapons or an entire playbook of strategies for a single weapon. To say whether or not to specialise is the answer will again come down to the particular player and what works best from their play styles – At the end of the day, Monster Hunter stands out as being one of the most gameplay diverse ARPGs on the market. But make no mistake, Monster Hunter has never been about “Hack ’N Slash”. When hunting beasts there are no health gauges as you would be expecting from RPGs like the critically acclaimed Elder Scrolls franchise, hunting requires you determine your target’s state from their body language. This is easier than you might think as there are typically three main states creatures can be in – In the case of MH4 you have an additional state that ties into this games lore. These are normal, exhausted, enraged and infected or frenzied.
Normal state is pretty self-explanatory as all beasts have a set of behavioural patterns, especially when attacking. This useful for allowing players to learn both using each of their weapons tactically and understanding specific game. Because each weapon takes a certain amount of time to attack, one must learn to position themselves strategically in order to strike (or land a shot) their prey whilst ensuring their own character’s safety.
When exhausted beasts will begin to drool, move slower, have certain attacks become less effective (eg those with fire-breathing go to breath fireballs will only produces bust of hot air) and when injured will limp.
When enraged a beast (even when injured or exhausted) will have greatly increased mobility and capabilities along with some not normally displayed during a fight. In these states beast will fight fiercely to the death and require you to up your game when attempting to take them down (whether you kill or capture).
The frenzied state is all part of a story mechanic relating to a devastating rabies-like virus that causes the infected to take on a super enraged state. This particular virus is not restricted to the beasts you hunt – Meaning your character can contract it during a fight. The virus can be treated with the aid of certain medicines. Ultimately this virus can kill player characters, but it can also empower them.
Taking into account these states that by going in swing or all guns blazing can easily get your character taken out. So understanding how your weapons work and find those that fit your style of play along with knowing your game are crucial factors to getting the most out of a hunt.
The only displayed gauges in the game show the player’s condition (health and stamina), time (when contract specifies a time limit) and the mounting gauge – Because of the verticality introduced by MH4 players execute aerial attacks, even mount a beast which opens up a rodeo-style mini game. While mounted players can either hang on or stab their prey in the back. However, the mounting gauge displays a bar that will fill from every attack with a dinosaur skull at the starting end. This head represents when beasts attempt to throw you off – Of course, this will happen when this reaches your progress on the bar. By filling this gauge you are able to bring your prey down long enough for you and your party to get in some free hits.
Verticality also effects basic movement, allowing players to have a parkour-style flow to their movements and in addition players are able to climb cliff faces faster as well defend themselves by slashing at attackers that would ordinarily knock them off.
Where this franchise truly excels, is playing with others (whether locally or online). By adding teamwork into the mix, the game becomes more strategic and more engaging. However, games that promote teamwork such as your typical Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games (eg DOTA2 and League of Legends) can be severely off-putting to newcomers due to the potential toxicity that can exist within these player communities. Because of the way MH4U is set up, it’s makes it difficult (though not impossible) to experience player toxicity (eg Harsh undue criticism) with lack of voice chat (though that feature would have been a useful for coordinating with others) along with Nintendo’s family-friendly influence. Ideally this is game you will want to play among friends and players you know, whether in person via local link or online via the friends list.
I’ve talked about Monster Hunter’s gameplay, but what about the single player experience?
MH4’s story loosely follows the travels of a caravan that you become a part of, setting out to discover the mysteries of a strange fragment that the caravan leader has in his possession. The single player game will introduce you to the game and prepare through playing the village quests – These will range from fetch-quests (eg Gathering a specific type of mushroom) to eventually being introduced to both your first big-game hunt and expedition. On the subject of fetch-quests, people often roll their eyes at the thought of something so menial, but they are used to teach about how to develop provisions on the field which become very relevant later on. While not exclusive to single player – Along with shopkeepers for weapons and provisions, you have street cooks that serve meals which are useful for giving you additional statically based perks for your next undertaking. By playing the single player portion of the game, you will hopefully pick up (this game conveys information via text, so be careful not skip over any of it too lightly) the “ins and outs” of Monster Hunter. By the time you make some serious progress with the single player component (if not finish it outright), you will have figured out crafting (upgrading / forging new sets via the blacksmith) weapons and armour are how you progress in Monster Hunter along side having to learn the finer arts of hunting big game in a fantasy world.
Overall, between hunting beasts, crafting new gear and coordinating a hunting party Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is one of the most satisfying action roleplaying games as well as being a damn good reason for owning a 3DS system.
Don’t get me wrong, I have played MH4U as well as a bit of MH3U (Wii U) and I can tell you Capcom do a good job in making it more accessible to newcomers while keeping the challenge fresh for veterans with each new instalment. Any veterans holding out for a Western release of Monster Hunter X (“Cross”), MH4U has plenty to keep you occupied until then if you haven’t already stepped up to this current hunting season. As for newcomers, MH4U is an ideal starting point to begin you Monster Hunter experience.
So if Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate worth purchasing?
If you’re that player who plays The Elder Scrolls (Chapter) V: Skyrim just to slay dragons, then consider MH4U your ticket to the big leagues!
If you have been longing for a deep and satisfying action roleplaying game, then MH4U will offer that and then some!
If you love play games with co-op functionality with your mates, then be prepared for you and your hunting party to break out that playbook entitled “Greatest Hits”.
If the idea of big game safaris in a fantasy world excites you, then look no further than Monster Hunter!