My History With Monster Hunter and “Freshness”

With a copy of Monster Hunter 4 arriving at my doorstep soon, I suspect I’ll be writing quite a bit about it in the coming months. In preparation for this, I thought it might be a good idea to briefly discuss my personal history with the Monster Hunter series as a whole. I’d like to do this completely independently of the individual series entry reviews that I’ve been working on, focusing more just on my personal experiences with them instead of analyses. I will also discuss why I’m so excited for a new Monster Hunter game when the series itself is so well known for not differentiating itself with each iteration.

Back when Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G (Monster Hunter Freedom Unite) was selling gang busters on the PSP in Japan, it was hard for an import savvy gamer to not notice the Monster Hunter phenomenon. After much prompting from my wife I decided to not pick up the latest and greatest entry in the series, but rather step back to the series roots (as I often do) and get Monster Hunter Portable (Monster Hunter Freedom) on the PSP. My story was not so different from that of a lot of other first time players: I kind of hated it. The controls were extremely odd and difficult to adapt to (though at the time I would constantly use the left trigger to center my camera, not having known about “the claw”) and many aspects of the game were archaic. On top of that, the level of challenge when I got to the first major monster (In this case Yian Kut-Ku) was just ridiculous. It was like everything that I had learned up until that point went right out the window when Kut-Ku did his tail whip and took away about half of my health. I did eventually struggle through beating Kut-Ku several times, and ultimately put down the game for good when I fought Rathalos. I was destroyed by him several times while barely managing to land a hit or two.

At this point I was fairly certain that the Monster Hunter series was not going to be for me. I loved the aesthetics and the feeling that a boss monster could just show up on you in any area of a map, but I just couldn’t get past the game’s high level of challenge. I briefly considered playing some of the Playstation 2 games, but then heard about the controls being even more awful than the games on the PSP. So I did the only thing that I felt I could do, let my Monster Hunter fascination slumber for what would end up being about a year.

Around the time that Monster Hunter 3 (Tri) was announced for the Wii in Japan, my potential interest perked up again. I had just purchased a Japanese Wii the previous year, and was eager for new titles to try out. My control woes would be solved by the Classic Controller Pro, so I began thinking about giving the series another try. The Japanese version was a bit pricey for me at the time, so I ended up waiting for its US release approximately 8 months later. Taking it home on launch day, this began what would be my complete obsession with the Monster Hunter series. Maybe it took a console version to hook me, or maybe it took the improvements that Tri had made over its predecessors. Either way, hooked is what I was.

My wife and I played Tri every chance that we had, and we weren’t even playing together. While one of us played the other would watch and make comments or criticisms. We helped each other learn the game, and in retrospect that may have been the biggest reason why Tri succeeded for me where Portable failed. The ability to actually play online made the game seem like a completely different one as well. Hunting one monster in an online party was a very different experience from hunting that very same monster solo, and often a more enjoyable one. Solo play taught me the fundamentals, but online play is what really got me to stay. And with what ended up being one of most gorgeous games in the Wii’s library in front of me on a big screen TV, I really enjoyed learning all of the monster’s patterns so that I could become more efficient in hunting them. It was a gaming experience unlike anything I’d ever had, and my game clock ran up into hundreds of hours before I was done.

When Tri’s content started to grow stale, we knew that it was time to set the game aside. The problem was that we still wanted more: We were done with Tri, but we weren’t done with Monster Hunter. Since I had experienced first hand how difficult to handle older Monster Hunter games could be, we decided to take a single step back to the game that had come out just before Tri: Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. In our time with Tri we read about the technique known as “the claw”, used for playing the PSP Monster Hunter games with maximum efficiency. This technique combined with the fundamentals that we had learned from Tri allowed us to get into Freedom Unite without too much trouble, and we were once again hooked. This time was even better in a way though, because we were able to play together via local adhoc multi-player.

We put almost as much time into Freedom Unite as we did into Tri. But if Tri had too little content, than Freedom Unite had too much. We ended up burning out sometime midway through High Rank quests, when the difficulty curve and amount of grinding got a little too intense for us. As luck would have it though, another game would arrive very soon to feed our addiction: Monster Hunter Portable 3rd. It was a portable Monster Hunter with the refinements (well, most of them) of Tri, so it was an instant hit for us. By this point we had a Playstation 3, so we were even able to use Adhoc Party to play with others over the Internet while still playing together. We probably put more play time into this game than any other in the series thus far, and eventually put the game down because we had nothing more left to do.

The release of Monster Hunter 3G (Tri G) on the 3DS brought about some mixed feelings, since we were so used to playing the portable versions on the PSP. Those feelings aside, I felt that I was really looking forward to getting back into the world of Tri for the first time in awhile. What I found is that it had obviously not been long enough. Over the course of the last year and a half I have only logged just around 100 hours on 3G, which is an extremely low number compared to past versions. I just wasn’t feeling it like I’d hoped that I would. This sent me into my first period of Monster Hunter stagnation.

Why did this happen? Well there wasn’t a large amount of variety in going from 3 to Portable 3rd to 3G. Certainly there were plenty of differences, but fundamentally they just weren’t enough to spark my interest again. That feeling of freshness just wasn’t there for the third time. So why do I have hope for Monster Hunter 4 after feeling burnt out on the series for awhile? Because it seems like they may have made enough changes in 4 to bring back that feeling of freshness again. The idea of having more verticality in levels and being able to actually ride on the monsters are two things that the series either hasn’t done very well in the past or simply just has not done at all. Introducing new concepts into the Monster Hunter series is the key element that will keep it selling into the millions for years to come.

Anyone who is interested in hearing more about Monster Hunter 4 as I play it: stay tuned. I’ll try to post impressions and updates here as frequently as I can!