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A Whole New World: My Monster Hunter Story

Homecoming.

For me it all started more than a decade ago, though in truth, I don’t remember what specifically drew me towards original Monster Hunter in 2005. The game hadn’t reviewed particularly well on its journey west from Japan, racking up the kind of mediocre scores you wouldn’t associate with an up and coming titan of the games industry.

Perhaps it was the thin blue strip adorning Monster Hunter’s cover art? “With Net Play” wasn’t something I was used to seeing while browsing the vast surplus of title spilling from the shelves of my local GameStation. Sure, I’d heard of online shooters and games like Everquest and the newly-released World of Warcraft, but those were strictly for PC gamers and my desktop could barely chug its way through a match of LEGO Chess. Something else that was relatively new at the time? Broadband internet. Having only just made the leap to fibre optic now, I couldn’t imagine ever going back to the dog days of dial-up.

Entranced by the idea of hunting alongside friends and strangers online, I purchased a copy and embarked on an adventure that has continued for more than half of my life.

Admittedly, my first stint with Monster Hunter was short-lived. Compared to a lot of action games at the time it really stood out. The idea of repeating hunts, farming materials, and crafting sets of gear seemed foreign, coming away from series like Devil May Cry and Dynasty Warriors.

I quickly realised Monster Hunter wasn’t the kind of game you beat, or at least not in the traditional sense. There was no story arc to wrap up and the game could essentially last however long you wanted it to, whether hunting solo or teaming up online.

I still remember having to pilfer an ethernet cable from one of my friends to get an early version of PlayStation Network up and running. It wasn’t terribly complicated, though I had to leave cables dangling in often precarious places. Not only that, but it put the brakes on my family’s already sluggish rural broadband connection.

Still, my memories of those first online hunts are easily my fondest when looking back at the series. Rocking up to the gathering hall with my measly Kut Ku armour, I was immediately set upon by an impressive trio of hunters offering to hold my hand through encounters I would have no chance of beating otherwise.

Fast forward to September 2007 and unable to reliably keep my PS2 online, my interest in Monster Hunter had waned. That was until Freedom 2 came out. When Capcom ported the original game over to PSP, it immediately blew into a huge success in its homeland of Japan. A sequel was quick to follow and for many Monster Hunter fans this was their gateway.

Although I rarely go near a handheld nowadays, back then I was rarely seen without my PSP. It didn’t take long for me to recruit some friends, and although it wasn’t enough for a complete party, the three of us made quick work of the early game and spent hours battling some of Freedom 2’s tougher monsters.

This was around the same time that Activision released Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, a groundbreaking title that would change the face of online gaming for consoles. Instead of meeting up at specific time and place to play together, my friends and I could throw down every day after school, without huddling around a single television or with several PSPs.

That’s what Monster Hunter lacked. Without the same online features of its PS2 predecessor, something felt missing. For Japanese fans this wasn’t such a massive issue, as for them Monster Hunter was primarily seen as a local co-op experience. For western gamers, eyes were now glued to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 where online play was becoming increasingly essential.

I eventually hit a plateau with Freedom 2 that I simply couldn’t surpass on my own. That desperation led to hours of experimenting with different computer software and router settings, scouring forums for convoluted workarounds. Sony would launch Adhoc Party in 2009, allowing PSP users to amplify the range of their local lobbies, but it was a little too late. Not only that, it required a wired connection to one’s PlayStation 3. I couldn’t really blame Sony, however.

When Capcom announced their next game in the series, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, I feverishly prayed that they’d seize the opportunity to add dedicated online play. They didn’t and although Unite was yet another solid entry, I barely made it past the ten-hour mark before dropping out.

This wasn’t the last time I’d be left feeling let down by Capcom. When they announced their plans to release the next main instalment exclusively on Nintendo Wii, I honestly felt betrayed. That wasn’t entirely unreasonable – for years the series had thrived on PlayStation and now it was about to take a colossal detour.

Like many early teens, I didn’t have the cash to splurge on owning all three of the big consoles. You choose one and stick with it, becoming a bit of a fanboy in the process. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally played Monster Hunter Tri, a fantastic yet often overlooked entry in the series. However, as much as I enjoyed it – especially the online multiplayer – something still didn’t feel right.

Monster Hunter would take another unexpected change in direction again when Capcom revealed 3 Ultimate for the Nintendo 3DS. Although it managed to capitalise on the handheld’s success, which was particularly relevant in Japan, the template was steadily growing old. 2015’s Monster Hunter 4 definitely shook things up with a list of cool new features and refinements, but it still wasn’t enough for me.

Despite the potential for a huge next-gen evolution for the franchise, Capcom was busying itself with an ageing handheld in the same year that The Witcher 3, Bloodborne, and Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain arrived on PlayStation 4.

Monster Hunter Generations only exacerbated that malaise – a marginally improved follow-up that underlined just how urgently the power-selling series needed more than new gimmicks. Meanwhile its myriad imitators (God Eater, Toukiden, Freedom Wars, and Soul Sacrifice to name a few) were trying to get a foothold as the giant slept.

Then, from out of nowhere, it awoke. No one saw the E3 2017 announcement coming. Capcom had been milking the old Monster Hunter format for all its worth… while also working on a radical new evolution.

Now, several months after its debut, Monster Hunter World is finally here. That rapid turnaround, from first trailer to final beta, has been a blessing for wizened veterans such as myself. When it comes to modern AAA games and the marketing machines behind them, the long road to release can often be agonising, fans left salivating between each well-placed teaser.

I won’t subject you to a second review of Monster Hunter World – Dom’s review pretty much echoes my thoughts word for word, including the 10/10 score. Part of its excellence is just how well Capcom has streamlined the overall experience while preserving the thrill of the hunt. Watching new players make that first contact has been equally as gratifying. This is truly a Monster Hunter game for everyone.

3 Comments
  1. doug
    Member
    Since: Oct 2008

    This is my first monster hunter game so I joined the party late my first final fantasy game was 13 so I’m having to get used to some things. It’s not my usual solo game I thought you could just go out and kick ass and get on with the story but you have to create a session and all that and I can’t seem to set shortcuts to the d pad like health potions and what not. Any one got any tips for beginners let me know, I’m still undecided on a weapon as well.

    Comment posted on 31/01/2018 at 15:32.
  2. Sweetums
    Member
    Since: Feb 2009

    I played the PS2 game online too and loved it. The friendly community really helped me get into it. I was lucky enough to be able to convince 3 other friends to invest in PSP’s so we could all clear the quests on those games too. I bought a Wii specifically for Tri but found it really disappointing. Getting online felt worse than it did on any of the other games. I enjoyed the 3DS games though, and am really liking World so far.

    Comment posted on 31/01/2018 at 16:13.
  3. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    I think it was the PS2 version i tried years ago, found it difficult to get into but also felt that it deserved a lot more grunt behind it in order to properly realise the universe they were creating. Well, they certainly seem to have gotten there now and i am tempted – so it’s probably just as well that i have plenty of backlog holding me back from an impulse purchase!

    Comment posted on 31/01/2018 at 19:31.