Monster Hunter is a reasonably popular game series with a reasonably large following of players, who have spent unimaginably countless hours just beating on monsters for the sake of entertainment. To most it’s just a video game like any other, but Monster Hunter is notorious for being a deep and challenging series, with mechanics that are relatively unique to their own concept. It’s easy to view them as a typical video game, but in many respects they also showcase why video games can make learning a fun and rewarding experience.
Monster Hunter is more or less explained by its own name – your primary objective is to hunt monsters. On a basic level, this seems rather rudimentary because a large portion of the video game industry makes games exactly like this, but it works differently in this essence. Battles gradually progress into these large-scale affairs, where the enemy can take up the entirety of your screen, and once it’s over you can choose to do it all over again, just because it’s fun. While it might not appear that these games are unique in terms of gameplay, it’s strange to see that a game of this ilk is so well-received in the gaming community.
Story is secondary in every incarnation of the series, and the developers know people aren’t playing to learn the next thing about the world of Monster Hunter. Despite this, there’s probably a lot to be learnt from the way that storytelling and world building is explored in each game. It’s fair to say that they’re relatively light in these respects, and the player isn’t expected to pay attention if they don’t wish, but for those that do, there are surprisingly entertaining characters and rich environments to fawn over. All of this is easy to glance over and are never really forced on the player, other than to provide logical progression in quests, and it’s not often that a developer would sacrifice story over gameplay in this manner.
What really makes the Monster Hunter mainline titles worth playing is the act of hunting monsters. Your typical progression lies in defeating monsters, carving them for parts, and then upgrading your weapons and armour using said parts. It’s a simple system that anyone can understand but laced with so many mechanics and nuances that it becomes a very deep and strategic experience tailored to how you want to approach the game. It takes time to learn how everything works, and the payoff becomes immediately gratifying when everything starts to click. Players can take the game at their own pace, learning each part piece by piece, though you can play however you wish without necessarily getting too seriously involved with the underlying mechanics of everything.
And this is what I think sets Monster Hunter apart as an individual experience compared to other video games. Battling a monster is a relative experience to the player. Your reasons for accepting quests can range from doing it for fun, to needing parts for the next cool weapon you want to create, to wanting to just move on with the story. Sometimes it can be a straightforward experience, and other times it can be a long and difficult process. Being prepared, patient and mindful is all part of the learning curve that the game presents – and it’s quite a steep learning curve for the uninitiated. Those who stick with it will find themselves rewarded with a game that lasts well into the hundreds of hours, and those who don’t will have at least learnt something, even if it’s about things they don’t like doing. There are so many details to learn that it would be hard to justify learning everything unless you planned to solely play these games for months straight, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that it’s easy to lose that much time in them. Each game in the series has added more features and lowered the skill-cap slightly to help induct new players into the fold, while still balancing core systems for players that really want to get into the nitty gritty of them.
Fundamental to what I think makes these games important in the wider gaming community lies in their ability to teach players about games as a medium of social interaction. Monster Hunter presents an unfathomable amount of unexplained data to players from the outset, and it’s up to them to decipher it on their own. Terms that come across as jargon first are somewhat harrowing, especially when the NPC’s aren’t willing to divulge any information, and the in-game manual can feel a bit lacking too. Luckily there is a huge community backing these games, consequently providing players with resources shared across the globe. A quick search on Google gives players access to information pertaining to how damage is calculated, weak spots, efficient ways of harvest parts, upgrade paths, invincibility frames, pretty much anything you need to know and more is freely available online. Sharing tips and tricks with each other like in the early days of video games is a significant part of what makes them so valuable as examples of impressive social tools.
That isn’t to say it would be impossible to work this all out on your own, just that the game openly suggests working as a team will allow you to get way more out of it. Co-op play is one of the big draws of these titles, allowing you to play with up to three friends to take down huge beasts with one another. The game scales the difficulty of fights up in multiplayer but it would probably be fair to say that the game is easier with even just one friend helping you out.
Not to mention that good co-op games that last a long time are quite hard to come by any more, Monster Hunter does a great job of filling that gap in the market on the 3DS. Back when online play wasn’t available or as well developed as it was on the 3DS, players would group together in real life meet-ups just to play the game and build a community of like-minded players. These events were pretty popular and often endorsed by Capcom themselves, who were pretty keen to expand the community as much as they could. Events like this would provide new players with help from experienced players who would be happy to explain how the game works, which you a lot of games don’t advocate now, mainly because they just aren’t built for that kind of interaction.
There are key skills to adapt from these games too – patience, observation and attack being some of the pretty important lessons to take away.
Patience is paramount in tackling a quest. If you rush in headfirst without caution, you’ll just find that you’re going to get knocked back and struggle to make any impact on the task at hand. The best thing to do is take a step back and…
Observe the situation. Keep an eye on what is happening and watch how things are moving. What happens when you change your position? How about looking at the task from a different angle? Take your time and understand why things are happening the way they are. When you’ve decided it’s time to make a move…
Attack! Now that you have knowledge of what is happening when and why, you can make a rational decision on when to act. Be confident in your choice and if things don’t work according to plan, learn from it and start over again.
Trying to word these into a vaguely real life scenario rather than attaching it to the specific game experience isn’t easy and it’s likely very tenuous, but you can see how it can share parallels to real world scenarios.
Other games have tried to emulate the Monster Hunter experience, but Capcom still hold the title for creating the most gratifying version of them all. The God Eater games throw a distinctly more anime twist your way, with a heavier focus on story and character development. Toukiden provides a more historic Japanese take on the genre, providing a much more visual spectacle for the player. Releasing later this year is the PC game Dauntless, which is shaping up to be a very interesting take on the monster hunting genre, and while it appears to offer a very similar experience to the Monster Hunter titles, it’s looking like it will showcase it to a completely new audience.
Personally, I’ve found Monster Hunter just has the best game to offer of the lot. It’s not for everyone but what it does offer is unparalleled by any other game trying to do what it does, and Capcom knows it. These games are as simple or complex as you want them to be, and it lies in the player’s hands to tailor the difficulty to what they want. This might put some people off, but I would encourage everyone to at least give it a try before brushing it off completely. There’s a lot to learn about game design, mechanics and community building from the franchise, and it’s not often that developers manage to make something that can create such a diverse and unique experience. They might not be perfect, but they are a great example of how we can learn so much about the industry and each other on many levels.