Demystifying Monster Hunter: My First 20 Hours

No Caption Provided
You never forget your first
You never forget your first

I used to be one of those people who didn’t understand the appeal of Monster Hunter. I tried playing the game for the first time a handful of years ago with Monster Hunter Freedom on my PSP. I bought it thinking it seemed like a cool concept. The cover art looked awesome with a big, intimidating dragon squaring off against a knight wielding a sword that is almost comically oversized. I’m sure I went and looked up coverage of the game via Gamespot and IGN, as I was wont to do at this time in my life. I ended up purchasing the game and giving it a legitimate shot, though it just never came together for me. I remember my first weapon being the sword and shield, and I struggled with the animation priority, as it seems a lot of people do. I tried the great sword, which I now know requires even more patience and strategy, and of course that simply magnified my issues. I played Freedom for probably a dozen or so hours if I had to guess, but I left it with only a minute understanding of what the game was trying to accomplish, and little desire to ever come back.

Fast forward to 2015 and here I am enjoying a Monster Hunter game. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, specifically. I bought a “New” 3DS just last Wednesday with the initial intention of playing the Majora’s Mask remake, which I have done, but puzzle dungeons and time travel have largely fallen by the wayside in favor of hunting an endless string of ferocious beasts. Several fellow Giant Bomb users coming together in hopes of hunting together was a big part of my willingness to come back to the series. Though I haven’t yet played with that group, I very much intend to soon. I just didn’t want to jump in with a bunch of seasoned pros and flail around like a beached pin tuna, contributing nothing. After 20 hours of flailing in the privacy of solo quests, I feel I’ve learned a lot and gained an appreciation for this series I’d once written off. Knowing I’ve just scratched the surface of what Monster Hunter offers, I’m looking forward to a scary amount of hours exploring the plethora of content this game seems to offer.

So how did I get to this point? How did I make the transition from cautiously curious to feeling confident and craving more? It’s tough to say for sure, but I think at a base level the key was simply accepting the game for what it is.

Immediately the game starts with an exciting set piece involving defending the vehicle you’re a passenger on from a gigantic sand creature. It definitely did well getting me excited to jump into some real hunting. I feel like this game does a lot better job of giving your hunting some context this time around. From what I can remember about Freedom, it felt more like a shallow MMO in regards to the way you’d pick up quests, and in some other areas as well. 4U feels like it has a legitimate throughline, which I really appreciate. It’s kind of a stupid story in all honesty, but it serves to give me some sort of context for why I’m going on hunts, and having a loose plot to follow, to me, makes a big difference.

Having heard a couple of anecdotal claims before starting the game that the new Insect Glaive weapon is an exciting one in addition to being good for beginners, I chose it right out of the gate to be my main weapon of monster destruction. Some people seem to recommend against only playing with one weapon and instead branching out to weapons best suitable to the monster you’re currently hunting, but for me, I’m glad to be sticking to just one weapon right now. It’s tough enough learning the ins and outs of one weapon alongside trying to learn the entire general game. I couldn’t imagine being able to effectively learn multiple weapons so soon into my monster hunting tenure. I’d personally recommend any newcomers stick to one weapon until you feel like your grasp of the rest of the game is to a point where you feel comfortable branching out.

The Insect Glaive is so much fun. For maybe the first five or so hours I only half understood how to properly use it, and I found myself avoiding its intricacies (namely the insect part) and simply whacking away at monsters. This was fine, but it’s when I finally became comfortable enough with the controls that I started using the essence system to power myself up. This involves shooting a bug creature that you have attached to your arm out at the opposing monster, and based on where you hit the monster you’ll acquire one of several different types of essence. Bonuses are achieved for combining two, but combining three different types (white, red, and orange) is the real goal. If you can successfully do that, you become faster, are more durable, and attacks actually lace in additional animations, making them more devastating. A lot of the fun of the Insect Glaive comes from its ability to be used as a pole vault, making it easy to get on top of a monster, mount it, and bring it down. Mounting is apparently new to MH4, and I’m glad they incorporated it, because I love doing it.

A lot of what’s difficult about MH, even still for myself, is knowing how, when, and why to upgrade armor and weapons. The Insect Glaive is particularly difficult because it involves feeding your little bug buddy a sufficient amount before you can even touch the glaive itself for a traditional upgrade. There are a seemingly endless number of different armor sets that all provide slightly different benefits, though commonly are only granted when you acquire an entire set. It’s just tough to know what you should even be aiming for a lot of the time, and with the time-consuming gathering of materials required to craft them, you want to be sure. The internet comes in handy here, which isn’t ideal, but it’ll get you going. I quickly found some recommendations to aim for a set of Jaggi armor as a first upgrade, and so I did that. From there I read that there was an armor set called Tetsucabra, which is apparently pretty good, and so I hunted Tetsucabras until I had the materials necessary to acquire it. The Jaggi armor, while fairly effective, left some to be desired in the looks department. The Tetsucabra armor on the other hand, I think looks pretty dang cool. Here’s my character currently:

No Caption Provided

As you can see, I’m also accompanied on my monster hunts by none other than Mario himself! Or at least a kitty cat dressed to resemble him. Apparently there is going to be a DLC quest at some point that will give you Link’s outfit, as well as his hylian shield and master sword. That’s pretty cool. This game’s so weird, and I fully support it.

The story has really been moving along now that I’m a little bit in and past all of the introductory quests. It’s been really enjoyable seeing the different environments and learning the details of each map. Once you know which zones of a map are filled with nasty spider webs, for example, it’s easy to guess which zones you should check first when hunting down the terrifyingly arachnid-esque Nerscylla. (I have a spider phobia, if you can’t tell.) Some environments are even starting to introduce extreme weather conditions now, which means yet another aspect to manage and overcome. Luckily a single hot drink will keep your body warm for a good while in the frozen tundra, but if you find yourself without the necessary equipment, it seems like something that could turn real ugly for you.

This game’s loot grind takes more patience than the likes of Diablo or Borderlands, but if you have that patience, it’s one of the more satisfying gather-and-craft experiences out there. You’re constantly taking down these big, ridiculous monsters, and when you’re successful you bring the skin or other various pieces of it back to a fellow known as “The Man,” and he often delightfully surprises you by offering to turn those monster pieces into an awesome set of armor vaguely resembling that monster’s style. The whole process is just cool, and I think the progression of hunting these amazing monsters as a direct means of bettering yourself is directly responsible for a lot of the game’s appeal. It just takes so damn long for all of the pieces to come together and for this satisfying loop to begin proper. Maybe a step they could take to further ease players in when MH5 comes along would be to make the initial armor and weapon progression more immediate, obvious, and impactful. They just need to get the hooks in earlier, and I think a lot more people could potentially be willing to spend the time required to really get into this series.

Monster Hunter is a series not quite like anything else. It simply can’t be held to expectations we’ve perhaps come to demand in third person action games, because its goal is simply quite different. I feel like once I realized that, things took off and I was really able to start learning the game. And with that has come some serious enjoyment.

With that, I’m off to say hello to—and quickly dismantle—some menacing monsters. Hopefully I’ll be able to craft some more sweet lookin’ armor soon! If anyone else is just getting into this series, I’d love to hear about how you’re liking it.