Although you might have heard of the Monster Hunter franchise before, it’s quite possible that you’re not personally familiar with the series. Judging by the name, I’m sure you’ve been able to piece together the fact that the game is about hunting monsters, but this is a franchise that’s been around since the PS2 era, with the first MH title releasing on the console in 2004. That’s a pretty limited amount of information for a game that’s been around for more than a decade. Ask most Japanese gamers, however, and they could probably write you a short novel on the game.
This disconnect between Japan and the rest of the world has been an obstacle for Capcom, as some iterations of the series have never even made its way out of the land of the rising sun. With Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, however, it seems the publisher is trying to heighten the game’s accessibility and break down this often frustrating separation.
I’ll be the first to say: it’s about time.
While this isn’t the first time the series has attempted to appeal to western gamers, it is without doubt the most successful attempt to date. With the release of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate comes so much new content that includes weapons, monsters, maps and a fresh storyline that, unlike most MH titles, feels like an honest attempt to put players into the monster hunting world. This fleshed out story, along with the new online option for the 3DS, will do wonders to bring in a new crowd that otherwise wouldn’t be giving the series a second glance.
The NBA Jam announcer would have a field day with this game.
But what about all of us who have given the series a try and have put hundreds to thousands of hours into it? Does the game do so much pandering to a new audience to the point where it’s lost that special spark that reeled us all in – hook, line and sinker? Simply put: Not even close.
Every new aspect the game incorporates feels fun yet familiar in a way that only Capcom knows how to pull off, and this really does show off the strength of this long-standing franchise. Take the new weapons as an example. The insect glaive, a staff-like weapon that also comes with a stat-boosting insect, offers veterans a new item to challenge their honed reflexes and muscle memory, but also gives new players a more exciting ‘jump’ mechanic to break up the typical strike-and-run style the series has seen since its inception.
The charge blade, on the other hand, combines two familiar weapons (the switch axe and sword-and-shield) into one. Not only that, but it also allows for knockout potential, a feat hammers and certain bows were previously only able to achieve. Although the charge axe might be difficult for a novice hunter to wrap their head around, it’s a multi-layered item that will be sure to give veterans a way to spice up familiar gameplay.
Both of these are deserving editions to the Monster Hunter arsenal, and will be a great asset to hunters looking to master a weapon over the course of their online or offline experiences.
The caravan’s Guildmarm aka lady who gives out quests. Her goofy name is matched only by her overt clumsiness.
While Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate offered games on both the Wii U and 3DS, it only allowed for online play through the Wii U. MH4U traded in its place on the home console for a reserved spot on the 3DS, accompanied by an improved online option. An upgraded chat system, easy access lobbies and minimal lag create the online we’ve been looking for since the PSP days.
This is a huge step considering the only hand-held online the U.S. and U.K. could access until now consisted of using the ad-hoc program downloaded onto a PS3. It also does wonders for the western gamers, because even when they don’t have a group of hunters in their neighborhood, they can still build friendships and a set hunting quartet using their 3DS friend list. This, paired with one of gaming’s friendliest communities, will welcome newcomers with open arms and have them hunting with a group in no time.
If you know anything about the past games in the series, you’ll know that anything in the way of a story has largely been non-existent, because the gameplay was always strong enough to merit its absence. That all changes with MH4U, though, which has one of the franchise’s most colorful storylines to date. To be honest, the plot is fairly minimal and sees the player as a blooming hunter hired by a caravan to protect its inhabitants; but compared to other entries in the series, it might as well be a full-blown movie.
The developers have also employed the use of impressively rendered cinematics to bring the game’s story to life that much more. It’s a nice touch considering graphics such as these were only used in past instalments to show off monsters in their natural habitats, known by some as ‘ecology’ videos that rarely made an appearance in MH3U.
I said it once, and I’ll say it again: Cats. In. Freaking. Tanks.
That brings us to, arguably, the most important factor in Monster Hunter – the monsters. With such a large and diverse roster of creatures, the series is able to fill in jungle swamps and active volcanoes alike, with fun and fitting monsters that seem to have an ecological purpose in their respective areas – and MH4U is no exception. From the cave-crawling Khezu of the PSP games to the new tree-swinging Kecha Wacha, each monster seems to embody their environment and put hunters into a world with real purpose.
Old and new beasts mesh well with each other and create a perfectly well-rounded hunting experience. It’s a true testament to Capcom’s creativity, as no matter how many monsters they concoct, the battle, design and personality always seems to be as fresh and inventive as ever. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate not only showcases the biggest and brightest roster of beasts yet, but it also introduces the new jump mechanic mentioned earlier.
In its wake, this mechanic introduces faster wall traversal, air attacks with each weapon and a mount mechanic that gives hunters a new utility to take down monsters. Plus, you’ll just feel awesome when you’re riding on the back of a wyvern that is dead-set on ripping you to itty bitty pieces.
These new actions all come at the cost of swimming, a far less satisfying feature that MH3U had to offer. Unfortunately, some aquatic monsters don’t make an appearance in MH4U because of this, but it’s generally a welcome change as underwater combat seemed to make action awkward and sluggish, and turned some hunts into chores rather than the adventurous fights the title should be known for.
Subquests are introduced as small requirements to be met as part of a normal quest in order to earn extra money and materials. It’s a small change that won’t alter anything too drastically but one that, again, shows how Capcom is all about the little things that keep gamers interested and intrigued.
You’ll never look at Kermit the same way again.
Another switch the game has made is that cat sidekicks (adorably named palicos) return from earlier in the series, with the chaka boys (tribal pygmies) from MH3U forced to take a hike. The weapon and armor customizations for the palicos overshadow the mask options presented to hunters in MH3U, and will be more familiar to hunters who played the previous PSP instalments. Feral cats can also be recruited during missions, some of which tend to just be healers, while others can attack or give you items. This proves to be particularly useful in single player missions, where they can often compensate for the player only being allowed to rely on two cat comrades throughout the entire experience.
The only complaints I have about Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate stem from the lack of DLC and the extended beginner tutorial missions, but these seem like small bumps in a primarily smooth experience. Extra content will be made available in March, so the wait really isn’t that long and the content looks to be top notch (can anyone say Samus and Mega Man costumes?). I think my gripe with the extended tutorial missions is somewhat biased as I’ve played the series for so long, but I do understand that Capcom is trying to make sure new players aren’t overwhelmed, a problem many western players have had with past titles in the series.
In closing, it would seem that with all of the improvements to traversal, the extended arsenal MH4U provides, and the vast array of monsters that players will be pitted against, Capcom have done just as much to draw in new players as they have to ensure veterans are kept engaged and excited.
The soundtrack remains soulful, each monster has a distinct flair and finding online hunters is simple. As a hunter who’s been around since the beginning, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a must-have. As an interested party who admires challenge and an addictive multiplayer experience, this is also a must-have. Everybody else should at least give it a try. There’s a reason Japan loves this one so much, and it’s everyone else’s chance to find out why.