Where do I begin?
Once upon a time when I was young(er), I had a PlayStation Portable (PSP), and on that wonderful little device, for reasons I cannot fully remember even now, I got myself this cool-looking game I had been told was an awesome Action RPG, and it was called… ‘Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite’. I later learned that I had come in relatively late to the game franchise, and there had been a number of Monster Hunter titles and expansions released prior, some not having left Japan.
I was (and still am) a sucker for Role Playing Games, especially those that come out of Japan, so at the time, I believed I was getting a game to scratch my Final Fantasy/Kingdom Hearts itch. Wielding over-sized weapons against massive monsters? Familiar territory – This game was going to be a cinch to get into, and I would love it.
…I sucked at it. Badly.
The first thing I looked for was signs of a storyline I could follow, and there was next to none. The user interface was confusing to me at the time, the camera controls left much to be desired, and my attacks when I fought monsters were just. So. Slow. There was no HP indicator! I had no idea how to tell I was causing damage to the monsters I fought, no immediately obvious way to gauge the effectiveness of my attacks, not to mention traps, weapon sharpness, fatigue, chasing wounded hunts across various areas… All these concepts were unfamiliar to me, and I floundered in this game that for the brief time I played, caused me a substantial amount of stress and probably contributed to at least a few of the grey hairs currently on my head.
I didn’t understand Monster Hunter, and so it crushed me without mercy.
As the years passed, I would see more iterations of Monster Hunter games come and go, and what surprised me was how mindblowingly popular it is in Japan – It’s in the same ballpark as Pokemon and one of the main sellers Nintendo handhelds. Somehow, I had missed something that millions of others hadn’t. There was a fever, an addiction to this game, for that was the only thing that could explain the hundreds, and often, thousands of hours these passionate players spent hunting monsters.
The Monster Hunter series, broken down to it’s most fundamental concept is this: Take big weapon. Smack big monster with your big weapon till it dies. Harvest dead monster for parts. Use those parts to make your big weapon even bigger. Use that bigger weapon to smack even bigger monster. Rinse and repeat.
I didn’t like Monster hunter enough to buy a console or handheld to play it. But I kept an eye on it. Looking for what I could have missed, my first time around… and slowly I started to understand. I should have waited. I should have planned. I should have kept my eye on my weapon’s sharpness. I should have cut off the monster’s tail, so it’s attacks had less reach. I should have sheathed my weapon while running away to move faster and conserve stamina. I should have studied each monster’s attack patterns, to learn when to dodge, and when to strike. I should have put proper spacing between myself and the monster to maximize weapon effectiveness. I should have realized that skill was more important than gear.
Monster hunter is a manual monster (heh) truck and I was trying to drive it like a speedboat.
When I realized this, and I understood what the game was really about, I started to feel drawn to it, just a little. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was the one that nearly made me give in, especially as I already had the Nintendo 3DS required to play it… but for some reason I held off. Eventually, halfway through 2017, an announcement trailer for the next Monster Hunter game was released: Monster Hunter World. And it looked good. Really good. Over the next few months, more information would be released about the new features in the game, to make it more accessible to newcomers, but still hardcore enough to keep the longtime fans satisfied, better controls, more streamlined menus for ease of questing, an actual storyline and tons more… and then the cherry on top was that PS4 players get a cosmetic skin that allows them to play as ‘Aloy’ from Horizon: Zero Dawn (one of my top games of all time).
Eventually, the Beta got released for PS4 plus subscribers, so I definitely took the chance to give the game a spin… and it was a little overwhelming, in a good way. The environments are rich and full of natural traps and surprises, the wildlife is so varied, and they interact with each other in brilliant ways, and it was just a visual treat. I spent the first hour of my Beta just walking around and exploring the area, not bothering to go after the assigned hunts, not caring that my time kept running out. I also had fun trying a few weapons, but my favourite is definitely the Charge Blade. It’s a weapon that stores elemental charge (lightning, in this case), that can switch from being an absurdly massive axe into a sword and shield set. Needless to say, it was absolutely badass figuring out how it worked.
I eventually started the hunts properly, and then something happened – the reason I wrote this article.
*At this point I strongly suggest you listen to this while you read these final words*
I had this small… moment. I was in the middle of a hunt, in battle against the monster Barroth, with my Palico companion beside me and my Charge Blade in my hands. For a moment I felt the heat of the wasteland, and the dryness of it. I had studied Barroth’s movement patterns. I knew it would see me and charge straight towards me, and I positioned myself right in front of a natural rock formation. It charged towards me. I was patient. At the last possible split second, I moved out of its path, letting it crash into the rock behind me and fall to the sands, stunned. In that moment, as Barroth lay helpless before me, I saw the high rocks, the deep sands, the endless sky and the sunlight that burned across the steel and lightning of my fully powered charge blade as I swung it down at the beast with all my strength – For in that moment the Hunter on the television screen and I, the man on his couch, had become one. In the fury and freedom of battle we had united and it was epic. It was glorious and I want to feel that again.
I’m ready to try again.
I’m ready to hunt again.
Monster Hunter World will be released worldwide for Playstation 4 and Xbox One on the 26th of January 2018.