Monster Hunter is one of those series that gets under your skin. The premise is simple: prepare for a hunt, track your prey, take them down using a variety of fantasy weaponry, and then scavenge parts from the resulting carcass to craft better weapons and armour so you can take on even bigger monsters. Rinse and repeat.
While there’s always a vague bit of storytelling beneath the action, it’s pure window-dressing to a game which has remained fundamentally unchanged since the original game launched on the PS2 in 2004. While its heart has always remained in Japan, the recent entries in the series have really started to find a footing in the West, partnering with the mighty Nintendo to hammer them home on the plucky Nintendo 3DS, and much like a scrawny looking hunter dressed in Jaggi armour, they were part of a movement that managed to topple the much more powerful Sony Vita with ease.
Despite having started out on a home console, the Monster Hunter series is fundamentally tied to handheld gaming. It was on the PSP – a console that it effectively saved in its home nation – that it really began to take hold, with ad hoc multiplayer allowing teams of hunters to meet up anywhere they liked in order to take down the next menacing beast. And while the jump to Nintendo admittedly included two home console entries, the 3DS version’s sales kicked them into a very real cocked helmet.
So naturally we have the latest version of Monster Hunter coming to Nintendo’s newest piece of tech, the handheld/home console hybrid Switch. Except we don’t, at least not really. Right now you can enjoy the demo for Monster Hunter XX (that’s Double Cross to you), an upgraded version of the 3DS’ Monster Hunter X on your Switch, but it’s currently only coming out in Japan, and it’s only thanks to Nintendo’s generous decision to make the console region free that we can experience it in the West at all without some ridiculous importing shenanigans – see here for how to set up a Japanese Nintendo Account to grab the demo.
Part of the problem may well be Nintendo’s abject failure with the Wii U. Capcom’s last upgraded was Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, but it obviously didn’t do as well as the Capcom would have hoped on the troubled dual-screen machine. They’ve become increasingly more risk-averse in recent years – just look at Street Fighter 5’s PlayStation partnership – and despite the Switch’s great start maybe they’re thinking it’s going to be a short-lived thing, a flash in the pan. Why bother with the localisation costs?
Of course, the other Popodrome in the room is Monster Hunter: World. The game is set to arrive on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, taking the series back to both the home console arena, and it admittedly looks stunning. It’s also been tailored for Western audiences, with Capcom clearly hoping that this time the series will conquer the world and not just Japan.
Right there though is the problem; “tailored for Western audiences”. Monster Hunter is unequivocally a Japanese series. It’s developed there, nurtured there, and built on the country’s aspirations and influenced by its culture. For all of the serious business of taking down huge fantasy beasts, part of the way it sinks its hooks into you is through its idiosyncrasies. This is a series you have to work at, and World seems to be changing that in the name of accessibility. Not just that, but there’s also a wonderful vein of humour and silliness that would be a huge shame to see toned down in any way.
Sure, graphically World looks like it’s the way to go, offering a current gen sheen that the series has never had, but the Nintendo Switch is Monster Hunter’s spiritual home. The series’ portable legacy shouldn’t just be put out to pasture – and let’s be clear, Capcom haven’t explicitly said that’s the case – but by limiting XX’s release to Japan, it’s not really giving it a chance to flourish.
The Switch’s ability to hook up with other players around you while on the go, before placing it in its dock at home for some big screen hunting, both on and offline, is the perfect mix. Retaining the art style and tone of the previous numbered editions looks to save the legacy of a series that could so easily be lost in the name of progress. Its tough learning curve has been tempered somewhat over the years, but Monster Hunter is still a game that asks you to master many elements in order to succeed. To lose that is to lose the series’ very essence.
If you’re a Western Switch owner, you can still support the future of the franchise where it should be. In many ways, having to tackle the game in Japanese embodies the challenge that Monster Hunter traditionally offers (my tip is to use Goggle Translate with your smartphone’s camera for on the fly translation). The demo alone allows you to tackle well-known monsters and return to previous hunting grounds, including the Arctic Ridge/Snowy Mountain area that, having first experienced on the PSP, feel as though their arrival on the Switch is simply the next obvious evolution.
As a ‘best of’ compilation of gameplay, XX is the perfect stepping off point for the next chapter in the Monster Hunter franchise, and if World is heading for the home, we can only only hope that Monster Hunter 5 is simply heading everywhere. As Nintendo have so often proved before, power isn’t everything.