The bell rings, the warriors gather, and the horn blows. It’s time for The Hunt.
These three have been tasked--nay, chosen--with tracking down a deadly Qurupeco. This bird-like beast doesn’t look all that dangerous, but when it puffs its chest and streaks of fire emerge from its feet before it sets off on a sprint, even the most seasoned swordsman (or axeman or hornsman) runs the other way.
And that’s to say nothing about when it calls for help. Whatever you do, don’t let it call for help.
Each heads in a different direction. It’s not clear where the Qurupeco might be hiding. If you’re (un)fortunate enough to stumble upon the beast, it’s easy to signal the others. Minutes go by. The Qurupeco is nowhere to be found. Every location has been searched, and it’s nothing but jaggis. An uneasy quiet falls over the group, a mixture of tension, frustration, and anxiety.
“Soon,” the leader assures the group.
Like clockwork, the Qurupeco swoops from the sky, and it has begun. The Hunt is on. A seasoned warrior is instructing the two relative newcomers, mercenaries ready to prove themselves. One of them is me. The Hunt is not to be taken lightly, as death--okay, fainting--is around every corner. Unfortunately, even this seasoned warrior has aged, and the Qurupeco quickly seizes control of the battle. In a critical daze, the Qurupeco begins to scream. The group rushes towards the creature, weapons drawn--but it is too late.
The wyvern has been called. It has no business being here, and it does not care. The wyvern’s only interested is charring the flesh of those who’ve invaded the territory of the monsters, and he makes the job that much harder. Attack, block, dodge, heal, run, run, run, scream into microphone, die, respawn, run.
The Qurupeco eventually shows exhaustion. It drools, it breathes deep, it limps, and soon leaves the field of battle. We have, as newcomers often do, forgotten to tag the creature, which would allow us to track it. It disappears into the blue. A frantic chase ensues, the brave warriors seeking their golden prize, the wyvern snapping and swooping whenever it chooses. An hour into the struggle, and the conflict seems lost. In this case, beast would triumph over man. Whenever the Qurupeco was near death, it would find a way to escape, nurture its wounds, and recover. And still, that damn wyvern would not leave us alone.
Then, we caught it by surprise. One of us did, anyway. Our leader. All items exhausted, with no more deaths at our disposal, a well-timed strike had killed the Qurupeco. The beast was slain. We had won.
That’s just one of the early battles in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Your story will vary.
There’s a little truth to every myth, but it doesn’t mean those myths aren't still full of lies.
So goes the belief that Capcom’s Monster Hunter is an impenetrable game, a series that often invokes eyerolls, sighs, and a quick utterance of “oh, Japan.” I was part of that chorus, one of the players perpetuating the myth. When early copies of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for Wii U and 3DS showed up at the Giant Bomb offices, Brad tossed them in my direction. I purposely left them there, and let it stare back at me. Ever since XCOM: Enemy Unknown and ZombiU opened my eyes to gameplay experiences that I'd previously shied away from, I've gone down a windy road of games outside of my comfort zone.
Monster Hunter had become my Moby Dick.
So goes the belief that Capcom’s Monster Hunter is an impenetrable game, a series that often invokes eyerolls, sighs, and a quick utterance of “oh, Japan.”
If I can conquer Monster Hunter--and by conquer, I mean understand--I can do anything. Maybe even Dark Souls.
The endgame of putting Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate into my Nintendo devices wasn’t to fall in love with Capcom’s creation, but to like or dislike it on my own terms. I didn't like Etrian Odyssen IV, after all, but I could rattle of why it's interesting. Rather than make broad assumptions about why people may or may not find themselves spending hundreds of hours hunting seemingly harmless animals, I wanted to know for myself, and come back with a report. That report might disappoint the very real number of Monster Hunter aficionados in Giant Bomb’s community, but I could come back and articulate a list of reasons why it didn't click.
That didn’t happen.
15 hours with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate later, I’ve been to the mountaintop. It’s pretty amazing.
Monster Hunter is best thought of as Boss Battle: The Video Game. About eight hours into my Monster Hunter vision quest, I hopped online with 8-4’s Mark MacDonald and Polygon’s Phil Kollar. At that point, I was still playing the game as an intellectual curiosity, and was fast approaching a moment where I’d have to resign myself to moving on. Instead, what occurred over the next hour may as well have been a perfectly orchestrated viral campaign to showcase one's ideal first experience playing Monster Hunter. We spent 60 minutes in a tug-of-war with the aforementioned Qurupeco. It ended with fist pumping.
Everything that happens in Monster Hunter that doesn't involve actually fighting monsters--trapping, farming, forging, upgrading, gardening, sailing, etc.--is in service of the next boss battle. Monster Hunter’s downtime is better described as preparation. What looks like (and, let's be honest, is) hours of busywork also acts as the calm before the storm, much needed quiet time before the rush of adrenaline sure to course through one’s veins during The Hunt. If every moment of Monster Hunter moved at the same pace as fighting a Great Jaggi or a Qurupeco (both early major monster encounters), it would be too much.
The stories that come out of these battles are not scripted, it’s experiential. It changes based who you’re playing with, the weapons equipped, and the many, many things that can and do go wrong. You know, like a wyvern suddenly showing up. It’s wildly different than how most games safely guide us through the big moments, and make sure we all enjoy them. Monster Hunter is full of frustrating escapades and extreme disappointment. The reason it’s a thrill to win is because you’re more likely to lose.
It’s easy to make a statement like that when I’ve made it over the hump, though. It’s not an easy hump. Monster Hunter is, years later, still full of dumb bullshit. I’m not sure if Capcom Japan gave up on the West, Capcom USA realized it lost the fight, or everyone’s just moved on and hopes Dragon's Dogma makes it all work. Whatever the case, despite being the millionth entry in the franchise, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does itself no favors. The game never explains itself in a satisfactory manner, and I spent most of my early hours with FAQs and video guides open on an iPad. The common advice from any experienced Monster Hunter player is to team up with a mentor to guide one through the early hours, solely because the game is lazily obtuse. It makes me inclined to laugh at how Capcom pretends each new Monster Hunter is going to be the one that breaks through to the Western audience because “well, golly, we’ve really tried this time.” No, you haven’t. Functional multiplayer is not the reason Monster Hunter hasn’t taken off here, it’s because each new entry in the series pretends you’ve been playing since the start.
That said, there are some basic tips I'd give to newcomers:
- Find a mentor, somehow who will play with you through the opening quests. It won't take you 10 hours with someone who knows what they're doing.
- Stick with the sword and shield, especially if you're new to games with animation priority.
- Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is built upon Monster Hunter Tri, a game that's been mined by its fans. Don't feel bad looking at a FAQ, especially if you forget what a monster looks like.
- This guide for newcomers is actually completely worth paying money for.
- No, you're not stupid for not being able to figure out how to trap your first monster.
- When in doubt, remember it's a multiplayer game. Play online with friends and strangers.
Maybe Monster Hunter 4 will be different. That it’s only been announced for 3DS is discouraging, as these games deserve to be experienced on the big screen. Knowing Capcom and Monster Hunter, the Wii U version is in development, and it’ll roll out for diehard fans, who will buy yet another copy that has just enough additions to make it seem worth it. That’s meant mostly in jest. I poke fun because it seems pretty true, and I say this as someone that now knowingly enjoys a Monster Hunter game, and looks forward to spending dozens of hours digging deeper into the monster catalog. Having done that, I can now comprehend some of Capcom's own lack of respect for its audience. At the very least, it's knowingly exploitative of its biggest fans.
My aggravation stems from trying to recommend Monster Hunter to people with preconceived notions about it, much of it fully justified. Asking someone to sacrifice ten hours of their life with a frustrating learning curve that might not pay off, especially if their job doesn’t involve playing games for a living, is much to ask. Monster Hunter asks too much of its newcomers, even if the reward is great. I hope Capcom recognizes this gap. Monster Hunter could be really big over here. Capcom has to actually try next time, though.
As for me, as soon as I’ve seen the story of Columbia to its end, it’s back to The Hunt. Join me?