Release date: February 2015
Format: Digital download (eShop) and physical cart
Other platforms: NA
Price: ~$55 AUD
“Hi, my name is Rebecca and I’m a Monster Hunter addict.”
Some time ago, I picked up Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the Wii U. I didn’t know much about it, but it looked decent enough, and it was part of a two-for-$X sale at EB Games and buying it along with another game I wanted made it cheaper than if I bought the other game on its own. I only played it for about an hour or so and then lost interest, and even though a lot of people told me I hadn’t given it enough of a chance (which is a fair comment, if I’m honest), I decided it was one of those series that I WANTED to like and SHOULD like, but just wasn’t for me.
When the Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate demo came out, I played it and enjoyed it, but still couldn’t justify shelling out the fifty-odd bucks when I wasn’t sure I’d play the game in the long run. Then one day when I was in EB Games with my Nan, who I’d dragged in while she was on the hunt for a new bag, she saw me looking at the game and decided to buy it for me when I told her it was about “going on quests and hunting monsters and stuff”.
Thus we went home with a new bag for my Nan (I picked out a Legend of Zelda bag for her so she’d be cooler than all the other grannies) and a new Monster Hunter game for me.
The story in MH4U is pretty insubstantial, though apparently it has the most story of any MH game; then again, these aren’t really games that you play for their story. As a Hunter just starting out, you are travelling to the town of Val Habar to join the Hunter’s Guild there. Along the way, the sandship you are travelling on is attacked by a Dah’ren Mohran (a huge dragon-esque monster) but you are able to defend the ship for long enough for the Guild’s advanced hunters to arrive and drive the monster away. Once you arrive safely in town, the Caravaneer – one of the ship’s passengers – tells you he is impressed by your skills and invites you to join his Caravan as they journey across the world in an attempt to learn more about the ‘Article’, a strange artifact the Caravaneer had discovered years earlier. This mostly involves travelling from settlement to settlement and hunting different monsters in the process (sometimes the monster is causing trouble for the local residents, other times the monster’s materials are needed for construction to progress the story), but it’s enough of a plot to make the game feel like it has some purpose, rather than just being a grind-quest. Also, the relatively slight plot is more than made up for by some interesting characters and entertaining dialogue.
MH4U is made up of a variety of quests that get more challenging as you progress through the game. Some quests involve gathering and/or transporting a set number of a certain item, while others involve killing a number of small monsters. The gathering quests, while easy, can sometimes feel a bit pointless, and transport quests are usually downright frustrating; you have to carry a large item back to base camp, meaning you can’t use your weapon and you can’t run quickly, making you vulnerable to monster attacks that will often cause you to drop and break your valuable cargo. The majority of the quests, however, see you hunting one large monster to either kill it or capture it (though occasionally other monsters will show up to try to make things difficult). The monster types are varied and though some take inspiration from real-world creatures, others are of completely surreal design. Also, unlike in most other similar games, monsters do not have a visible health bar to tell you how much damage you’ve inflicted on it. Instead, you have to watch the monster’s behaviour or look closely at its body; if you damage certain parts of it, this damage will be visible, such as broken off horns or tusks or severed tails. Also, when a monster is weak, it will limp away to another area so it can rest. Quests generally have a time limit of 50 minutes, and while some can easily be completed in a fraction of this time, many fights against the big monsters will push you right to the limit, especially when playing solo.
A key difference between Monster Hunter and other RPG/quest-type games is that you do not get experience points. There are levels, or ranks, but this is determined by how many key and urgent quests you complete. You improve by killing tougher monsters, making better weapons and armour from the parts you harvest from their remains, and then taking on even stronger monsters. There’s an almost endless variety of armour and weapons to craft, so you can really customise your character to fit your playing style. There is something really addictive about gathering the parts for that set of armour you want and finally being able to craft it when you have everything you need (even if I did spend an unhealthy amount of time farming for a certain armour set with bad stats just because it was pretty).
Each armour type has different strengths and weaknesses (eg. some have low fire resistance but good defense against water, while others are good against fire attacks but provide little protection against thunder attacks), so it is well worth taking the time to put together a few sets of armour to use depending on which monster you will be attacking. Monsters can also cause a variety of ailments with their attacks, such as burns, poison or paralysis, so it’s important for hunters to stock up on cures for these before setting off on a hunt. Armour often has skill points as well which can raise or lower certain attributes (such as resistance to hot or cold environments or how effective certain items are when you use them). There are a total of 14 weapons available, ranging from impact weapons (hunting horn and hammer) through bladed weapons (long swords and dual blades) to projectile weapons (bow and heavy bowgun). Two of the weapons – the insect glaive and the charge blade – are new weapons to the series that have been introduced in MH4U. The weapon you choose will have a significant effect on the way you hunt, so it’s well worth experimenting, though most people have a few favourites. The weapons chosen by different players can also make for interesting strategies in multiplayer.
Graphics-wise, MH4U is a beautiful game and feels right at home on the 3DS. The environments are detailed and – for the most part – nicely rendered, and the monsters themselves look magnificent and organic. The variety of environmental locations and monster designs keeps the game feeling fresh and gives you a real sense of exploration when you enter a new area and hunt new creatures. The music adds to the sense of scale, especially the fast-paced battle music that starts up when you encounter a large monster. One slight downside to the environments is that rather than being truly open-world, each environment is broken into a bunch of separate smaller areas, with a black loading screen as you pass from one area to another. The loading time between areas is very short (no more than a second or two) and after a while I barely noticed it, but some may find it annoying. The entry points to and from areas are designed to look like part of the environment so it doesn’t detract visually in any way.
One criticism I have often heard about the Monster Hunter series is that it usually doesn’t do much to help newer players get into the game, instead expecting them to have at least some prior knowledge of the series (what little I played of MH3U made me agree with this). Long-time players of the series I have spoken to say that MH4U is definitely the most ‘noob-friendly’ of all the Monster Hunter games and does a lot more to help new players get into it. While the tutorials and quests early in the game did a pretty good job of easing me into the mechanics and allowing me to figure out what I was supposed to do, I still had to rely on Google and helpful experienced Monster Hunters on forums and groups – as well as the odd Wiki or guide – in some instances where I was unable to kill a certain monster or was missing materials to craft a particular weapon or piece of armour.
For me, the best part of Monster Hunter is undeniably the multiplayer aspect. MH4U allows for both local and online multiplayer, and though I haven’t had the opportunity to play online (thanks to a crappy internet connection), I have been to a couple of MH4U gatherings in the city, where players gather each Thursday to hunt together for a few hours. Of all the gaming communities I’ve been a part of, the Monster Hunter group has been by far the friendliest and most welcoming (at least in Melbourne). There are always experienced hunters willing to help newcomers complete quests and gather materials, or to give tips and explain subtle game mechanics that inexperienced players might not otherwise have been aware of.
Monster Hunter games are not going to appeal to everyone. While I can definitely see how some people can become addicted to them, I can also understand why some people might find the core game play somewhat repetitive or grindy and get bored with them relatively quickly. But if you enjoy the thrill of the hunt and like the constant chase to get bigger and better gear, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate will give you many joyful hours of play time. At the time of writing I’ve logged about 40 hours on my save file and am just under half way through the story and I am nowhere close to putting it down.
Once I finish with MH4U, I think I will go back and give MH3U another chance.