Monster Hunter G

Monster Hunter G Title Screen
Platforms: Playstation 2
Released: 01/20/2005 (Japan)
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Japanese Name: モンスターハンターG モンスターハンター

Less than one year after the release of the original Monster Hunter, Capcom released the expansion: Monster Hunter G. From the moment Pugi (the adorable little pig that wanders around your house/the village from every game here on out) comes walking across the title screen snorting, the game shows us that we’re in for something more than your average expansion. In fact Monster Hunter G does everything that a good expansion should and more: It improves on some of the original game’s flaws, introduces conveniences that make it easier to play, and adds a lot of new content. It creates a template that all of the “G” expansions would follow from here on out.

Kotoko Farm is a new addition to the village that allows you to give a material that you’ve gathered on quests to the hard-working Felyne farmers to harvest, thereby producing more of that material over time. This saves the player a ton of time and provides them with a steady stream of basic materials (assuming that they maintain and upgrade their farm correctly). The staff of the Felyne Kitchen can also cook up a nice stat-boosting meal before a hunt. If the correct combination of foods are chosen, it can prove very valuable for players of all skill levels. The Training School is another new feature that caters exclusively to players who want a challenge. After selecting the monster that they’d like to face, the player will be provided with what is possibly the most sub-optimal setup of their chosen weapon type, along with a minimal amount of healing items. The player is then thrown into the field to hunt down their selected monster. It isn’t for the feint of heart! It really can’t be said what great quality of life improvements these three features are, and all of them will stay with the series in some capacity going forward.

Here comes Puugii!Every hunter's favorite past time - drinking!
Enter Monster Hunter G’s most fearsome creature of all: Pugi!By “hunt and kill monsters” you actually meant drink, right?

The variety of weapons that can be created for each weapon type have greatly increased, and with this greater variety comes two higher levels of weapon sharpness as well (blue and white). The Dual Swords that were featured in the US/PAL versions of the original Monster Hunter have even been brought into Monster Hunter G as well. The armor skill system has also been improved just as much as the weapons. Previously armor skills were static per armor set, but now each piece of armor has a certain amount of skill points for one or more skills. This not only gives skills to sets of armor that previously did not have them, but also allows mixing and matching of armor pieces from different sets to potentially result in a unique set of armor skills. Custom armor set crafting is a big part of high-level Monster Hunter play, and it this is where it was first made possible.

The monsters themselves aren’t without their changes either. Individual monsters now have sizes that are randomly assigned for each quest, reflecting in the actual size of the monster’s model on screen. Sub-species are also available for certain monsters, though they are essentially re-colors of the original monsters with slight changes to their behavior patterns. In addition to new quests added to the village (single player, or offline), a new difficulty level of quests called “G Rank” quests was added to the online mode only, offering the player greater challenges than previous High Rank quests did. Monster Hunter G’s servers for the online mode were sadly taken down along with the original game’s on 06/30/2011 in Japan.

The handling and care of monster partsFelynes and strange little goblin men work together to forge weapons
A rare inside look as to how monster parts are stored and treated prior to making them into equipmentSeeing Felynes and…strange goblin men working together to forge weapons is such a beautiful thing!

There were also many other small conveniences that were added to Monster Hunter G to make it quite a bit more playable than its predecessor. The player inventory and item box now have options to automatically sort their contents, and weapons and armor no longer require the player to have all of the materials in their character inventory in order to forge them. These may not see like they would make a big difference, but every little bit counts when compared to a game that was lacking many modern gaming conveniences at the time.

Unfortunately, not every big issue that the original game had was fixed by this expansion. The weapon control scheme is still the same obtuse one that utilizes the Dual Shock 2’s right analog stick to attack instead of face buttons (see the article on the original Monster Hunter for more details). Farming up monster parts still takes an absurdly long amount of time compared to the later entries in the series, making building even a single armor set a real exercise in patience.

Training-School-Monster-SelectSelecting your weapon in the training quests
Selecting your monster in the training quests…oh him again.Selecting which awful configuration you want to fight your previously selected monster with!

Players coming over directly from the first game will be glad to hear that their existing save data can be imported into Monster Hunter G. Those expecting nothing to be lost in the transfer will be disappointed though. Many of the minor items (potions, etc.) are not carried over directly, and not all quest completions are carried over due to a slight restructuring of quest order (accommodating for the insertion of new quests). All weapons and armor are carried over in tact though, as well as all of the various monster parts obtained from completed quests. Regardless of it not being a perfect transfer, players who even just a few hours into the first Monster Hunter game will definitely want to take advantage of this.

Something that careful observers will pick out are the very beginnings of Capcom realizing that Monster Hunter’s real strong point is its multiplayer: the introductory movie. Instead of featuring hunters fighting and running from monsters, it shows hunters interacting with one another and making their preparations in Kokoto Village. It also gives us an inside look into the jobs of those who are constantly assisting the hunters: The barmaids, Felyne assistants, and old goblin guys who forge the weapons and armor from monster parts. It really shows the gradual shift in focus toward a more multi-player focused Monster Hunter.

While Monster Hunter G makes the first generation of this series much more palatable, it probably won’t convince someone who found the first entry unplayable to jump into the series. Like all great series though, things will continue to gradually improve with each iteration. Players in search of the answer to the question “Where in the series should I start?” should probably still not settle on this entry. The answer to that question for a series like Monster Hunter is almost certainly to start with the latest entry.

The Wonder of Lost Odyssey

I was told when I started playing Lost Odyssey a couple of months ago that it was essentially a modern version of Final Fantasy 6, which is one of my favorite RPGs of all time. Now I’ve had many RPGs recommended to me over the years, and I’ve found that rarely do they ever live up to the strength of their recommendations. In this case, the game completely exceeded its recommendation beyond anything that I would have ever expected. As I write this I have finished Lost Odyssey completely: I’ve beaten all of the optional bosses and have gotten all of the achievements (I am not typically an achievement hunter by any means). I don’t mean to write a full fledged review for this game just yet, so let me tell you a little bit about what, in my opinion, is easily the best JRPG of the 360/PS3/Wii generation, if not even further back.

A frequent criticism of modern JRPGs is that they just don’t feel the way that they used to (whatever that means). I’m here to tell you that this game feels more like a completely modernized version of a 16 or 32-bit era JRPG than anything else I’ve ever played, and that is a fantastic thing. It’s hard to describe in detail, but the way in which you interact with the game world feels very much like Final Fantasy 6 or 8 to me, but with far more relocatable and better fleshed out characters than either of those games had at the time. The writing in this game is absolutely not trite or trivial, which is what allows for characters that I became attached to in a way that had not happened to me in a game since the 16 or 32-bit eras.

A huge part of this are the fantastic visual novel parts of the game that come in the form of Kaim’s memories returning to him. They were written by Kiyoshi Shigematsu and translated into English by Jay Rubin, both of them real authors. These sequences of the game will make just about anyone feel some sort of emotion, and make for very interesting interludes for the game’s otherwise fairly standard JRPG fare gameplay. Rounding out the entire experience is music by famed Final Fantasy composer and frequent Mistwalker collaborator Nobuo Uematsu, art by Takehiko Inoue of Slam Dunk and Vagabond fame, and one of the most fantastic voice casts (speaking for the Japanese audio) ever to appear in a video game.

I could go on and on about how much I love this game and exactly why it is far greater than any reviews ever gave it credit for, but allow me to wrap this up by making a final point. Back when Blue Dragon came out for the XBox 360, it was understandably viewed as the next Chrono Trigger because of the collaboration with famed manga artist/writer Akira Toriyama. What many did not consider is that it was missing a lot of the other collaboration elements that Chrono Trigger had (Yuji Hori, etc.). While Lost Odyssey may not seem as epic of a collaboration when compared to Chrono Trigger (probably due to the fact that Chrono Trigger was the first time that sort of a collaboration really happened), I would certainly argue that its results produce something just as epic given the talent involved.

My plea to everyone who has any interest in playing a JRPG on the XBox 360 is to give this game a chance. If you have any nostalgia for a Hironobu Sakaguchi-era Final Fantasy game, Lost Odyssey will certainly not prove to be a waste of your time.

New Super Mario Bros. U – The Second Coming of Super Mario World?

In all honesty, New Super Mario Brothers U is definitely not the game that sold me on buying a Wii U shortly after the Japanese launch date. I had eyes only for the HD version of Monster Hunter 3G, with absolutely no intention of even buying this new entry in the Super Mario series until it dropped in price a bit. But then I heard the words that made my heart leap and brought back feelings of wonder once felt by my 11 year old self: “It’s like Super Mario World.”

Now I look at Super Mario World as one of the finest games ever made, and most likely my favorite platforming game of all time. I’ve also come to view the New Super Mario Bros. series as having grown somewhat stale after its original DS entry. Therefore I was very weary upon hearing this statement, but then I heard it from multiple sources. They were all sources that I trusted implicitly. So just like that my mind was opened to giving New Super Mario Bros. U a chance, and at full price no less. I’ve now spent a good amount of hours with this game and have just completed (though not 100%) the game’s main mode. So is it really the second coming of Super Mario World?

In several ways, yes it is. At least it’s closer than any Mario game that has come since. The normal New Super Mario Bros. style of world map has been overhauled to make all of the worlds and levels flow together much more fluently, in a manner that certainly hasn’t been seen since Super Mario World. Each world typically contains a fortress ghost house and a castle. Each level also encourages a high level of exploration. And perhaps most importantly, gone are the sluggish controls of New Super Mario Bros. Wii: They have been replaced by a much tighter feeling control system of old.

Even with all these great improvements to the New Super Mario Bros. series, this game isn’t quite on the same level of magnificence as Super Mario World though. It was definitely created by people who had the utmost amount of love and respect for its predecessor, but they just didn’t manage to recapture the same magic here. Is it because of the young age that many of us were the first time that we played Super Mario World that makes it seem so unbeatable? Possibly. But I think this game at least proves that that sort of magic can potentially be recaptured again. One of the things that made Super Mario World so great is its originality: It threw in so many new elements that hadn’t been seen in a Mario game. New Super Mario Bros. U dabbles in this, but doesn’t do enough of it to make it a real competitor for the Mario throne.

New Super Mario Bros. U depends a little bit too much on making its originality from features that utilize the Wii U’s unique traits. Being able to play on the Wii U GamePad is certainly a unique feature, and very convenient. The game looks gorgeous on the GamePad’s screen, but I preferred the feel of the controls when using the regular Wii Remote instead of the GamePad. Challenge Mode is very nice for what little I’ve played with it, great for a change of pace. I confess that I haven’t really played any of the other new modes, though it certainly is appreciated that such a high volume of content was added. It gives me a great incentive to revisit this game later on.

All of this said, this game is absolutely worth a purchase, particularly if you love Super Mario World. The sheer amount of content and re-play-ability makes it worth the full price tag. Nintendo should also be told by as many as possible that we support them going back and really attempting to rediscover what made Super Mario World so great.

Dragon Ball Z for Kinect: Throwing Kamehamehas at Your TV

I’ve played a few sub-par Kinect titles on the XBox 360 at this point. Most of then have spotty motion detection at best, and many of them aren’t even much more fun playing with the Kinect instead of a regular controller. Though it’s hardly a must-play, or even worth spending much more than a couple of hours with, Dragon Ball Z for Kinect is neither spotty with its motion detection nor without its amusements while Kinect-ing it up.

This Dragon Ball title re-uses assets from other recent titles and doesn’t do too much new for a Dragon Ball game in general. Its highlight is the story mode, in which you punch kick, dodge, and Kamehameha your way through the major Dragon Ball story arcs as you would expect if you’ve ever played one of the franchise’s titles before. It also has a Score Attack mode in which you can have specific character matches.

All of that being said, it does those very typical things well. If you’ve played several of the DB games up until now, you certainly won’t mind going through an abbreviated version of the story one more time. Very spot-on motion controls accompany all of this, along with a decent array of moves and semi-interesting combo system. Helpful on-screen prompts guide you through completing combos and dodging enemy attacks, making each battle a fairly non-frustrating experience.

In the end though, you’re still throwing punches at your TV. Even though I didn’t have anyone judging me as I was playing, I couldn’t really help but judge myself. For this reason I wasn’t really able to stick it out much past the first story arc. I will freely admit that if I was a young boy I’d probably think that this was one of the greatest games that I’ve ever played. Finally being able to throw a Kamehameha did have a way of filling me with a child-like sense of wonder.

Monster Hunter

Monster Hunter Title Screen Image
Platforms: Playstation 2
Released: 03/11/2004 (Japan), 09/21/2004 (US), 05/27/2005 (PAL)
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Japanese Name: モンスターハンター

There was a time (namely before the HD era of gaming) that big game companies like Capcom were not afraid to take a chance on new franchises. Taking heavy inspiration Sega’s Phantasy Star Online series as a base for its game play, it was in 2004 that the modern day Japanese gaming powerhouse began: the first entry in the Monster Hunter series was released. Though Capcom invented a brand new genre for this game called “Hunting Action”, it was similar to its predecessor in many ways, with just enough different twists to feel like a brand new experience. The basic flow of the game involves accepting specific quests from within a hub world, then setting out into separate areas to complete objectives for that quest. The difference is that in Monster Hunter you’re dropped into a prehistoric National Geographic Explorer where your opponents are dinosaurs, dragons, and other creatures that come right out of their natural environments. Though weapons and armor are constantly being upgraded throughout the game, in Monster Hunter there is an added sense of realism: It’s done using parts carved right from the carcasses of the monsters themselves.

Running from Rathalos in the Opening Cut SceneMonster Hunter Character Creation Screen
The only thing missing from this action scene is a Michael Bay style explosion as the hunters leap off the cliff away from Rathalos…My strange male Harley Quinn inspired character that I can’t believe there was even a facial option for.

Since there are a good number of different monsters to hunt throughout the game, there are also a good number of different weapons and armors to forge. Many sets of armor will give certain skills that will prove useful both in and out of battle, and many weapons will contain different types of elemental and status damage that can be used to your advantage against monsters with those weaknesses. There are a few different types of weapons to suit different styles of play: Sword and shield (the starting weapon, and for those who like to a speedy and combo heavy attack style), great sword (for those who prefer a slower but heavier damaging weapon, though it didn’t have the charge mechanic yet), hammer (if you want a weapon that’s heavier than sword and shield but not as heavy as great sword, and want a different feel than a bladed weapon. Also note that while it has the ability to charge, it doesn’t yet have the golf swing after two pounds), lance (if you want to be able to hide behind your shield and poke, or just love that 3 stab/evade combo), and light or heavy bow gun (you can attack from a distance, but these are really not good weapon choices in this particular installment). The western versions of this game actually featured the ability to create dual swords as well, though this feature would not come to the Japanese games until Monster Hunter G. The variety in weapons means that each monster battle requires a great deal of planning: Which armor set to wear, which weapon type to use (certain types are arguably more suited to specific monsters), and which element or status to use (if any).

Forging these weapons and armors are one of the many things you can do in Kokoto village, which acts as your hub world. In addition to accepting quests from the village elder and buying/upgrading weapons and armor, you can also buy some items (though you’ll primarily be gathering them when you’re out in the world), and just see what the other villagers have to say. Different levels of quests will unlock as you complete key quests in previous levels, allowing you to fight new and different monsters in new areas, and ultimately get better equipment. For those familiar with Phantasy Star Online, this is a very familiar game play loop. And like PSO, you’ll quickly loose interest if that loop isn’t satisfying to you in some way, since there’s very little story to be had here.

Kokoto Village's DrunkThe Dusty Bed Flop
And here I am spending some quality time with the Kokoto Village drunk. Every village has one!I call this one the Dusty Bed Flop! Seriously though Harley, I don’t think you should actually sleep in that bed…

When fighting a monster, observing their patterns and behaviors is critical. This isn’t your typical action game, and you can’t start pounding it with your weapon and expect to win. In fact the ability to read a monster’s tells and know exactly what it’s going to do next is a point of pride for any good Monster Hunter player. You’ll also never see the monster’s health, and will only be able to tell when it’s weak once it starts limping away. Most monsters also have breakable and cutable parts on their bodies. Bladed weapons are able to cut off tails in some cases, and all weapons are able to break a part if it’s breakable in the first place. The act of doing so often results in the related monster parts as quest completion rewards. These elements give Monster Hunter a depth not found in any similar game before it. They also make fighting the monsters themselves incredibly fun. The feeling of encountering a new monster and having no idea what it’s going to do is both thrilling and stressful, making the discovery of its patterns all the more rewarding. Each monster feels like a living, breathing creature that’s full of personality, instead of just another enemy with a different AI.

Digging Through Dinosaur PoopVelociprey in the Opening Cut Scene
Man, all the shit you have to go through to get anywhere in this game…Wait, I didn’t mean…They should all be destroyed!

There is one big drawback to be found here, and in fact in all console Monster Hunter games prior to Monster 3 on the Wii: The control scheme. The designers unfortunately thought that it was a good idea to have weapon actions controlled with the right analog stick: Instead of using the controller’s face buttons to swing a sword/hammer/lance or shoot a bow gun as you would do in later entries, the directional movements of the right analog stick are used. This means that the right analog stick is not controlling camera movement, as might expect. So how is camera movement controlled? Well with the D-Pad of course! This results in the player’s left hand being in a very awkward and uncomfortable position given the shape of a PS2 controller: Thumb on the left analog stick to move the character, with forefinger on the D-Pad to adjust the camera. With the optional middle finger on the L1 button reset the camera, it makes the player’s hand look like a withered claw (The name for holding the controller in this style is even nicknamed “the claw”). Even with this painful left hand configuration for managing character and camera movement, weapons could have still been controlled with the face buttons as they later would be.

Versus the VelocipreyEgg Carying
The first minor enemies you really encounter are these raptor lookalikes called the Velociprey, or Ranposu.Velociprey jump accuracy really hurts when it comes to everyone’s favorite Monster Hunter quests: Egg carrying!

But despite having one of the most obtuse control schemes ever, this first entry in the series was successful (though not even close to being the most successful in the series). This was undoubtedly due to all of the attention put into the general design and feeling of life that inhabits the game. “Leveling up” does not occur through stats that increment with battles fought, but rather with the increase in your own proficiency that comes with time and practice. This makes grinding monsters for parts used in the weapon and armor crafting system that much more bearable. It’s very repetitive due to the surprisingly low amount of quest rewards that you get after defeating each monster compared to later games in the series though. You can expect to fight a specific monster quite a few times if you want to create a full set of armor made from their parts. The individual areas in the game are not graphically mind blowing, but they do all have a life of their own. With each area being separated into individual and divided sections, not knowing exactly when a large monster may appear in front of you is one of the most interesting facets to how the area maps themselves were designed. Though the load screen that briefly appears during section transitions is a bit jarring at first, it becomes just another part of the game after awhile.

Introducing the VelocidromeVersus the Cephalos
Velocidrome/Dosuranposu – The King of the Raptors. See? He’s bigger!Not all of the minor enemies are as small as the Velociprey, such as the Cephalos. He loves to hip check and tail whip, so have fun carving out his liver!

Both online and offline modes WERE available in Monster Hunter: Offline takes place in the previously mentioned Kokoto Village, whereas online takes place in a larger city called Minegarde. Once connected, a player could team up with up to 3 other players to take down monsters in online-mode specific quests. The monsters are largely as in the offline mode, with the big exceptions of a couple of elder dragons (they could only be fought online), most notably the huge lumbering Lao Shan Lung (who you have to fight much differently than any other monster). Players are forced to work as a team, each one playing a specific role dictated by their weapon choices, if they want to take down the monster. Though the objectives don’t change, it makes fighting monsters even more exciting than doing it all alone. It’s almost enough to make you wish that this game featured voice chat, but at least there was USB keyboard support. Minegarde was a fully functional city that also included a marketplace, armory, player housing and a tavern to accept quests with other players in. Playing online in Japan required a monthly fee, whereas the US and PAL versions were completely free. Unfortunately the servers were shut down on 06/30/2011 in Japan, and quite a bit earlier for the US and PAL versions of the game. This means that the online-only quests are no longer accessible by standard means.

Rathalos Roars!Yian Kut-Ku
Ratahlos would just like you to know, via an in-game engine cut scene, that he is NOT happy that you are stealing his eggs!While the Yian Kut-Ku might look like he rides the Monster Hunter short bus, he is a Japanese fan favorite. He’s nicknamed “sensei” due to being the first large monster to fight, so he really teaches you how the game works.

There probably aren’t many who would recommend starting with the first game in the Monster Hunter series, myself included. I don’t have much nostalgia for these very early entries in the series myself, since it was slightly later ones that hooked me. And by then quite a few more quality of life improvements were introduced over what can be found here. This is one of those series where the best entry to start with is always the latest one. None the less, it set the foundations of everything that will make later entries in the series truly great, and gave those seeking a new mission-based gaming experience something fascinating.