‘Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’ Brings The Series To New HeightsFiled inside: Reviews
Monster Hunter and I have a very strong relationship.
I’m a longtime, hardcore gamer. The amount of time spent on my NES, SNES, and PS1 were truly staggering and yet, somehow, in my more advanced age with adult responsibilities, I’ve managed to spend more time playing the Monster Hunter series than any other…the figure is embarrassing.
That being said, I’m not some sort of crusader for all things Monster Hunter. I understand how the game can have limited appeal, and how it can be difficult to get in to. I spent tons of time in Freedom Unite, more than any other so far, but the game has come so far since then, and the newest release—Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for the 3DS—is far and away the greatest entry in the series that’s widely available today.
The premise of MH4U is simple enough. As a fledgling hunter, you hitch a ride on a sand skiff to Val Habar, a village that is regularly under threat from immensely dangerous creatures that roam the countryside. The villagers will task hunters with a variety of tasks to ensure the continued prosperity of the village. These can range from simple tasks like bringing some rare mushrooms or delivering wyvern eggs, to the real meat of the game: slaying giant beasts.
Monster Hunter hasn’t been widely known for its engaging narrative, but MH4U changes the formula a bit. The game has always had hilarious quirky characters in the form of the village’s inhabitants, but this recent release adds more locations with more to do, simplifies some of the obnoxious in-between-quests business that keeps you moving forward, and has you Caravaning around on a journey to identify the origins of a strange artifact.
The benefit of this is twofold: not only does the presence of a better narrative invest the player more in their actions, but it allows for a more natural flow as the game eases you into the mechanics of what is an admittedly complex and unforgiving action game. It’s long been one of the most limiting factors of Monster Hunter that the barrier of entry is immense. This entry has successfully enhanced the game’s accessibility without compromising its difficulty.
The game is a thinking gamer’s action RPG. It’s a game that rewards patience, preparation, and skill over button mashing and overt force. The game is inherently grindy, but does so for a particular reason: to focus on player growth. Can’t beat a monster? You don’t have the luxury of going out and killing some monsters for experience in order to level up—the game features no such system. Instead, player advancement is based solely on your equipment, which is crafted from pieces of the monsters you slay, and your inherent abilities which is like gaining real-life experience.
It’s an amazing way to reward the player for their effort. Things aren’t reduced to meaningless numbers. Your triumphs become wearable trophies that aid in your next goal. And there’s no dearth of equipment to be had, with hundreds of different weapons that fit into fourteen different categories, each with strengths and weaknesses to suit any play style. Fan of heavy hits? Use a great sword. Want to put up a tremendous defense with a huge shield? Use a lance or a gunlance. Like mobility? Use a sword and shield or dual blades. Like ranged combat? Use a bow or bowgun. The weapons are skillfully balanced and, for the most part, no one weapon type terribly outclasses any other.
This entry also adds two new weapon types: the insect glaive and the charge blade. Where the switch axe was the sort of hybrid weapon between great sword and hammer, the charge blade is a mid-mobility sword and shield that can be converted into a heavy-hitting axe. It’s a fun weapon still allows for good guarding ability and can pull some major hits when time allows. The insect glaive is the most unique addition, it’s a staff-life weapon that can change many hits together in long, twirling combos. It also features a large trained insect that rests on your arm and can be sent out to extract various essences from monsters to enhance your combat effectiveness. White essence increases your speed, orange your defense, and red (the most crucial) increases your attack power and alters your moveset to be even more impressive. The insect glaive is probably the best option for solo and new hunters, offering good mobility while drawn, and built in jumping attacks. This is tempered by a more complicated upgrade system compared to all other weapons.
You’ll bring these weapons in to what I can only describe as proto-Dark Souls combat scenarios. Monsters range from dragon-esque beasts with huge talons and wings to giant apes or giant spiders. You’ll have to spend your time assessing the your threat and determining when it’s best to start an attack or how to avoid taking damage. You can’t just attack without considering the consequences. Getting greedy with your damage or expending too much stamina can easily put you in a terrible position, and you can only have two faints in a quest without failing, a third will send you packing.
While this new version includes plenty of the expected additions to gameplay: new weapon attacks, new monsters (and new attacks for older monsters), and new environments, it also includes one big change that also makes the game feel a little quicker and more dynamic: verticality. It’s now easier to climb many of the surfaces in the game, and several areas have multiple tiers. This also adds a new set of aerial attacks to various weapons (the insect glaive and lance in particular now have attacks that launch you without the need for finding cliffs or ledges) that can deal high damage in limited situations.
Landing an aerial attack also has a chance for you to climb atop the monster and try to knock it down, giving a big opportunity to deal lots of damage with relatively little risk. It’s a real boon to solo hunters, who often have to spend more of their time avoiding hits than dishing them out.
Along the way you’ll have to make sure you’re bringing adequate supplies. Potions to heal, food to keep your stamina bar high, whetstones to keep your weapon’s edge, and bullets for your bowguns. There are plenty of utilitarian items to make your life easier, as well. Traps can lock a monster in place briefly and allow you to capture weakened monsters by putting them to sleep. Flash bombs to blind enemies, dung bombs to drive monsters out of a given area, or special drinks to protect against environmental hazards and buff stats.
This entry in the game does a much better job of making sure you know what kind of items to bring to a given encounter, and the inclusion of a new Item Set feature makes it easier than even to make sure you’re bringing everything you need to a quest by automatically maneuvering items from your box to your bag.
The other way the game makes a hunter’s life easier is with the much needed inclusion of online multiplayer. Multiplayer has always been a mainstay element of Monster Hunter, with most games allowing up to four players to undertake quests together. The mobile titles always required you to be nearby other players in order to get together, but now you can hop on some wi-fi and jump into searchable rooms to make your journey to higher rank missions easier, and help you to get those hard-to-find materials. It’s a simple addition that truly adds a new level of playability to a title that drastically needs more appeal in the Western market.
Monster Hunter has always been a heavily Japanese-style game. Those qualities are evident in the quirky characters, adorable cat partners, and hilariously oversized weaponry. It used to be all too easy to hit a wall that prevented you to progress any further. It was hard to know what items to bring, too hard to know how to handle the monsters, and how to put together a decent armor set that provides special skill bonuses.
The new environments are well-rendered and thought out. There’s not a lot that can be done on a simple system such as this in terms of improving visuals. There are new animations that can subtly add depth to the experience on the whole (your running animation will change as you move uphill and downhill, for instance), but the most stunning aspect of the game still remains the impressive monster design. Some of these creatures are truly awe inspiring, others are utterly terrifying. The game’s got a customizable UI on the touch screen and a simple system for displaying crucial information. The controls strongly favor the use of a Circle Pad Pro or getting a New 3DS with the extra nub for camera control. Otherwise you’ll have to use a clunky on-screen camera control, or move your thumb from the slider to the dpad, with your only solace coming from a target camera that allows you to easily focus the camera on a large monster in the area.
The sum of all these parts: a must-have game on the 3DS. It’s a solid game with a long pedigree that still knows how to constantly improve. It’s got everything you could possibly want: giant swords, dinosaurs, dragons, cute cats, and giant steaks. It’s a game that just works on every important level. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate truly deserves that “ultimate” word. It’s a game that absolutely belongs in your catalog if you haven’t picked it up already.