The Hunt is On
The Monster Hunter series began on the PlayStation 2 and defined its own unique genre of giant creature battling action role-playing game. Its signature gameplay loop of hunting monsters, carving their bodies, and forging new armor has since been replicated in games such as God Eater and Final Fantasy Explorers. Nevertheless, Monster Hunter continues to build off of its own strengths and expand it with each game. After four mainline games and a number of expansions and spinoffs, Monster Hunter Generations for the Nintendo 3DS brings them all together. MHG collects fan-favorite monsters, village hubs, and characters in one adventure while introducing new hunting variations and special moves that completely alter a hunter’s playstyle. With hundreds of quests and a robust online multiplayer mode, MHG is a monstrous force to be reckoned.
If you liked any of the recent Monster Hunter offerings such as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, you will enjoy this game. MHG features the same refined control styles and weapons from MH4U, and it’s easy to switch from one game to the other. The callbacks are welcome fanservice, and the additions allow you to experience MH in a new way. Although this is a novel adventure, a large chunk of the monsters and areas are recycled from previous games. Unless you are completely satisfied with MH4U tiding you over until a new mainline game, this game is highly recommended as a celebration of all things Monster Hunter.
Now, for everyone else who hasn’t experienced Monster Hunter, the core gameplay composes of your customizable hunter taking on quests to battle large creatures. The monsters provide widely different fights and have distinct appearances, such as dragons, wyverns, dinosaurs, snakes, and sea beasts. Upon beginning a quest, you are placed in one of several maps from wintry mountaintops to volcanic cliffs. Each map is partitioned into several sections (usually around 10), and you must search through each area to find the targeted monster. Once you find it, the monster lets out a mighty roar, showing you that it’s ready to fight back.
Battles are real-time action affairs where you must find opportunities to strike while dodging monster attacks. It’s not a strict back-and-forth, however. Your actions are limited by your speed and stamina. Unlike faster action RPGs, every move carries specific weight. Some may see this slower approach to gameplay as a setback, but the controls are deep and sophisticated. Each motion has value to it, and the flow of battle will vary between different weapons and monsters. If you are using a hard-hitting Hammer, you aren’t going to be able to swing it around easily. Each of your actions must be deliberate and strategic, while running on instinct. Lighter weapons like the Dual Blades allow you to attack more swiftly, but you sacrifice power and defense in the process. Since you are up-close to the monster, you need to dodge carefully, which brings stamina into play. Running, dodging, and some other actions use up stamina. If you run out, you slow down and start panting. You can consume items to keep your health and stamina in check, but even the consumption animation takes time.
Conversely, there are times where the monster may get tired or even topple over. You can take advantage by wailing mercilessly on the monster or by powering up. Each monster has its own vulnerabilities, and targeting those weak spots can result in big gains. Monsters also have their own tells, or animation cues that tell you what they’re about to do. Just like reading an opponent in a fighting game or memorizing patterns in a boss battle, evaluating and reacting appropriately to monsters’ moves separates seasoned and rookie hunters.
The steep difficulty curve is the biggest turnoff from this otherwise exhilarating battle system. This isn’t a hack-and-slash game, and players who attempt to make it one may struggle. Learning the ropes has always been the biggest challenge in MH games. It’s never really explained how you should hunt. While this fosters independence, the lack of feedback can be frustrating. There are no monster health bars or indicators of an attack’s power. If you lose a fight, you may not know how well you were doing or what you’re doing wrong. MH fans have grown accustomed to this and even like it, but new players will likely have trouble. There are optional tutorial quests that teach you basics and weapons’ controls. However, truly learning how to succeed will take a lot of patience, effort, and possible external help from veterans and guides.
Once you get past that hurdle, the rest of the game provides an addictive loop of fighting monsters and building stronger weapons and armor from their carcasses. The moment a titanic monster finally goes down after a lengthy battle is comparable to delivering the final blow on a difficult boss. Carving its skin for goodies is the cherry on top. In-between quests, you are free to prepare for your next mission by making and upgrading valuable equipment based on a set number of needed materials. Usually, you’ll need to aim at specific monster parts to gain materials you need. Since the drops are random, you may end up grinding to defeat a single monster several times. It does get exhausting sometimes, especially when playing alone, but it feels great once you finally forge your new creations. Your new equipment actually looks handcrafted from the monster’s remains. The sense of progression feels satisfying as you find yourself defeating more difficult monsters and taking their powerful materials.
Your hunter doesn’t level up, so your equipment defines your stats. They also affect your skills, in another vaguely explained game mechanic. Unlike what you might expect, the skill-up bonuses from equipment only matter if you’ve gained enough to reach a certain threshold (usually +10). Upon gaining 10 points, you gain the new skill. They include stat bonuses, elemental resistances, weapon perks, dodge abilities, and more. Unfortunately, you often need to wear a complete 5-piece set of armor to gain certain skills. If you’re crafty, you can combine certain sets and forge special decorations to optimize your desired skills.
Materials can also be used to make powerful weapons. The large variety of weapons is one of the best aspects of this game, giving the game customizability and replayability. With 14 weapons types, you can find at least one that suits your playing style. A standard Sword & Shield allows you to balance attack and defense, the Lance tests your patience as you wait for opportunities to strike, the blunt Hammer charges up for heavy stunning moves, and Bowguns allow you to fire at monsters from afar. There are even status-changing weapons like the insect-powered Insect Glaive and the music-based Hunting Horn. There is a weapon for everybody, and mastering one is inherently satiating, especially in such a heavily skill-based game. Wielding another weapon completely changes how you play, so trying out new weapons can freshen up your hunting experience. The controls are all different but feel great. As a note, the game works best with the New 3DS or Circle Pad Pro. The extra nub/circle pad for camera control helps during hunts and is almost necessary for some weapons like the Bowguns.
MHG also has a brand new 15th weapon, or rather playable character, in Prowler Mode. You can now hunt as a Felyne, a cat that usually assists your character during single-player hunts. Felynes fight similarly to hunters, though are limited to blades, blunt weapons, and boomerangs. Besides being adorable, these cats run without losing stamina. They can also gather materials easily, catching bugs and fish with their own unbreakable nets and rods. You can activate special abilities, like healing or throwing bombs, by filling a meter. Felynes actually level up, offering a more standard progression that players may be more used to. Prowler Mode improves the less-entertaining gathering missions thanks to a Felyne’s abilities, but don’t underestimate leveled up Felynes when taking on monsters.
The biggest additions to MHG are the new Hunter Styles and Hunter Arts. Styles represent different schemes to use a weapon. Fans who want to stick with neutral, familiar territory can use the Guild Style, which is essentially the MH4U control scheme. The three new ways to play are the Aerial Style, allowing you to better jump and mount a monster’s back to topple it; Adept Style, rewarding you with power-ups for successfully dodging a monster’s attack; and Striker Style, focusing on activating the new Hunter Arts.
Arts are special moves that come in the form of powerful attacks, effective dodges, and weapon-specific bonuses. For instance, a Great Sword can unleash a ground-splitting slash, a Light Bowgun can reload all ammo at once, and a Hunting Horn can activate all power-up songs at the same time. Each weapon has three exclusive Arts, and there are another half-dozen Arts that any weapon can utilize. Between the four Hunting Styles and multitude of Hunting Arts, the amount of playstyles essentially multiplies tenfold. For seasoned hunters, these are the most enticing incentives to pick this game up.
Apart from these additions and some quality of life improvements, MHG doesn’t add much more new content. There is one new village and one new hunting area. At least the few novel monsters are all high-quality, including a sleep-inducing owl and a new group of monsters dubbed “The Fated Four.” Regardless, anyone new to the franchise can witness all of the best MH monsters in one game.
MH titles have never been too dependent on story, and MHG is no different. Instead, you progress on quests with a loose narrative tying them together. Quests range from large monster fights to item gathering. Although the game is mostly about the former, the latter is crucial in building up a stock of items (which can be combined to form better items). They can get boring, but they provide nice breaks in-between heated monster hunts. Likewise, capture quests – in which you must weaken and trap a monster – and one-on-one arena showdowns keep the grind from getting stale. In both offline and online play, there are ranked tiers of quests. Finishing certain quests unlocks an Urgent Quest, which upon completion grants access to the next tier up. However, there is no way to tell which of the dozen quests within in a rank are important aside from checking a guide or simply playing them all. Regardless, the higher-ranked quests produce some of the most exhilarating battles with multiple monster “hunt-a-thons” and epic arena fights with dragons. Returning fans may be disappointed to learn that there is no insane G-Rank difficulty, but jacked-up Deviant Monsters provide a worthy replacement challenge.
With all this said, the most enjoyable part about the MH series is its multiplayer mode. Up to four people, either local or online, can cooperate on a hunt. A group of hunters, all trained in different weapons, taking down a large beast, is where the true MH experience shines. Your group can participate in a large set of quests geared for multiplayer. One person picks the quest, and the group can decide if they want to go on it. For the most part, any cleared quest will count as completed for each player. The exceptions are the Urgent and Deviant Quests, whose completion only counts for the person who picked it. This unfortunately means that you’ll have to grind these quests multiple times for each player.
Online play works great, and connection hiccups are rare. Joining or hosting a room for randoms is fast. A lack of voice chat hurts communication, and players are limited to keyboard chat and preset greetings. Voice chat would have been welcome since this game is so dependent on working together and communicating which quests you need completed. Although you can use outside chat proxies, there is little excuse to exclude voice chat, at least with friends.
With dozens of monsters and hundreds of quests, each taking an average of 20-30 minutes, there is a lot to do in MHG. Finishing the main storyline can take anywhere between 50-100 hours, depending on how many quests you do. Finishing all the quests, earning every achievement, and grinding to forge equipment easily adds several hundred hours to that count. Finally, playing with friends adds replay value on top of that.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics look as sophisticated as they’ve ever been, with gorgeously detailed monsters and scenic areas. The animations are spot-on and help you easily notice monster tells. Your customizable hunter fluidly attacks with little to no problem in framerate. There aren’t many cutscenes, but they all look stunning. You will quickly notice the music starts out eerily quiet when you begin a mission. This is purposefully done to offset the moment that the monster notices you, in which an alert jingle plays, leading to orchestral-quality battle music. Some of the new tunes, including “The Fated Four” battle songs, energetic arena music, and the calm Bherna Village theme, are beautiful pieces that are worth listening to on loop. The victorious jingle that plays when you finish off a monster is sure to fill you with a triumphant feeling. Characters only grunt, but you’d be convinced the creatures were real after hearing their roars and battlecries.
Monster Hunter Generations is an engaging foray into a world filled with menacing monsters and spirited hunters. Although it’s not a new full-fledged entry in the series, there are enough exciting features and monsters to make this a worthwhile purchase. The Hunter Styles, Hunter Arts, and Prowler Mode, combined with the already impressive 14 weapons, add to the diverse playstyles. A solid multiplayer mode, albeit lacking voice chat, keeps the game a highly entertaining social experience. Even single-player’s addictive gameplay loop of epic monster battles and beefed up equipment is enough to keep any hunter engaged for hundreds of hours. It may have a steep difficulty curve, but mastering its deep strategic gameplay to take down huge monsters is a thrill worth the investment.