The Beauty of Monster Hunter
I’m probably over 100 hours into Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and I’m not even that far into the game yet. Part of that has been my personal “grinding quests over and over again for certain item drops to craft armor/weapons I want” thing that most people who’ve ever played a game with item drops knows the pain of. However, I’m not hating the grind. Maybe because there’s a lot in the game itself that makes it feel less like a grind and more like an exploration.
For a game that, at it’s core, is about “invading a pristine environment, killing its inhabitants, turning their skins into wearables, and fighting more monsters while maybe wearing the skin of it kin” Monster Hunter (or Monhun) is a wonderful single player and co-op experience where you’re constantly learning more about the creatures you fight and the environments where you fight them. The lands you explore are fleshed out, monsters have their own individual traits that make them each a joy and a pain to battle with, and the crafting system is a vast mess of seemingly never-ending trees that may take forever to truly master. But even with all this going on, Monhun doesn’t hold your hand (okay, MH4U is a lot better at explaining things to new players, but even then it’s far from hand holding).
I adore how Monhun presents itself to a player. “Hey, here’s a map, go kill a thing. By the way, there’s no health bars, and we’re not gonna tell you where to collect items. Good luck!” For a new player, especially one not used to such things as a lack of a health bar on enemies you’re trying to kill or a some sort of notification that this spot right here is a gathering point, it’s overwhelming and intimidating. Coupled with the rest of the game (expansive single player and co-op quests, requiring everything from killing to trapping to just fishing without dying, on top of the gear grind), and it’s downright offputting to people. Stick with it though, and you’re rewarded with a game that is deep, enjoyable, and well worth the money you spent on it.
Gathering items from the land and the monsters you hunt is a big deal in Monhun. Yes, you can buy items from NPCs, but it’s so much easier to craft them yourself, and many items are not buyable. In MH4U, there’s a long list of possible combinations, available to you as soon as you start the game, telling you what 2 items can be put together to make something new. You won’t find out what until you craft it, but that’s part of the experience! “How do I find these items though?” In the world. Gather points are plentiful, but more often than not you’ll stumble upon them before realizing what they are. A single butterfly denotes a bug gather point, a hive on a tree a honey gather point, and various ever-so-barely-unique plants on the ground might yield goods. For a while, I didn’t even know spider webs were gather points. Ores tend to be more visually noticeable, but I did find a rock that allowed me to get about a dozen whetstones from it while being nothing more that a single rock on the edge of a map area. I love this. I love that there isn’t a big sign that say HERE’S STUFF or a special light or anything. You, the player, must learn what plants might get you things, which colored crystals bear the ore you’re looking for. A subtlety that makes the game that much more immersive. Because let’s face it, if you’re in the woods, you’re going to have to rely on something you may have read on Wikipedia to keep you from eating the wrong mushrooms and plants. And you know if you killed something you’d scavenge what you could from it.
This subtlety reflecting real life extends to the monsters themselves. A bulk of missions are “find this thing, and kill it in the time limit”, which is straightforward. From there, the game forces you to rethink a boss battle for you to win. You’ll have to mark the monster with a paintball in order to track it, because it will run to a different area. Without a health bar or the monster flashing when close to death or anything, you’ll have to rely on audio and visual cues to know if you’re getting a monster into a weakened state. “Weakened state? Like in Pokemon? But how will I know?” Don’t worry, the monsters will let you know. For instance, there’s a set of similar monsters under the family of bird wyverns. All of them are prone to screeching at you during battle. However, as one is weakened, they lose the ability to screech with the power they once did. Sure sign of you getting close to the end. Another common trait many weakened monsters share is the “limp” animation. You can clearly see a monster limp off to another area when they’re close to death, and often times when you chase them down they’re either sleeping or eating to try to regain health. And beyond that, each monster may have something special to show weakening. The kecha wacha, a monkey-like creature with bright yellow eyes, will lower its eyelids into a tired state. The gravios, an almost stone-like dragon, has visible wounds appear as you fight it. Some monsters will use certain attacks less, unable to muster the strength to do so. I feel these cues not only require the player to pay more attention to the game, but make the game feel less fake in a sense. I mean, I get the use of health bars on enemies, but in Monhun the lack of them doesn’t feel wrong. Different, yes, but more organic. It makes me feel more like a hunter, rather than just a player behind the screen.
I wish more games had this kind of subtlety, really forcing a player to pay attention to what’s happening instead of holding a player’s hand. I think it makes Monhun a strong franchise, and separates it from the vast sea of games I could be spending my time and money on.