Right back at the beginning of this blog, I wrote about Magic: The Gathering. The reason I was prompted to say something on the subject was the way that people take to the game so quickly, and enthusiastically, with so little exposure. Now I can relate even more stories of people who have needed only a game or two to start their card-purchasing career and become enthusiasts within a week.
The Monster Hunter series has a similar effect, although it is less accessible (requiring a console and a certain degree of skill to start off with). I recently bought a second-hand PSP, and I bought it just to play Monster Hunter. Initially I was content to play a character on my partner’s console, but the multi-player was just too appealing to pass up, even for the cost of the hardware.
Let me tell you about my experiences with Monster Hunter, and why you should play it too.
Picture this: four people clustered in a hallway, each with a PSP, eyes glued to their screens while they speak in incomprehensible jargon to each other. There are three young males, one young female, and another female, me, watching from the side. Two of the males are new at this, and their charaters sport relatively basic armour and weaponry. The other two are old hands, dramatic in their high-rank gear. There is discussion of what weapons each team member should bring for today’s excursion, a bold mission to take down a Lao Shan Lung.
For those who aren’t familiar with the game, as I wasn’t, let me give you an idea of what this beast is:
The two newbies have never seen one of these before; it’s WAY outside their abilities by themselves. Luckily, taking low-level players along isn’t an unreasonable liability – as long as they don’t get hit, because one thump from this guy will probably destroy them.
As the more experienced players bark out orders and advice, along with praise for lucky shots or useful deployment of bombs and other items, the newbies stand in front of the monster’s head and shoot arrows like mad. The Lao Shan Lung doesn’t make any effort to attack them at this point, it just creeps relentlessly forward, shaking the ground with every step. Above, the experienced female leaps from a ledge on the side of the canyon and whoops with excitement – “I’m on its back!” She manages to carve the living monster a couple of times (taking resources from its hide for later use) before it deigns to shake her off. The team is making excellent progress, despite the inclusion of the low-levels, because this fight was designed for four players.
Finally the beast is headed to the fortress which the players need to protect. Everyone rushes around to find their places, manning ballistae, watching for the massive head to emerge through the mist. It arrives, the players let loose – and the Lao Shan Lung falls. It’s dead! The mission only requires survival until the time limit, but together they have taken it down instead. After a moment of shock the team leap and climb down to frantically carve the carcass as much as time will allow, adding to their rewards and gloating over their co-operative victory. Without all of them, even the newbies, they could never have done it so easily and effectively.
I watched this epic battle, and I watched the faces of the players, especially the newer young men who had never participated in a fight like this. Everyone there was fizzing for long minutes afterwards, including me, and I thought, this may be the best multi-player I have ever seen. And I still think that it is.
At heart, Monster Hunter is what it sounds like. You are a monster hunter; you hunt monsters. The game has no level-up system, attributes or special abilities – just a range of weapons with very different play styles, and upgradable equipment. Although it’s important to gather ores and other resources to help you craft gear, the most important progression is this: kill monster; craft armour/weapons out of what you can salvage from the carcass; use this gear to kill a bigger, nastier monster; craft even better armour/weapons. Having enough armour to withstand the occasional hit is important, and more damage will finish a fight faster, but to get better at the game you can’t just plug points into stats, you have to get better. Once you learn a monster’s techniques, habits and idiosyncrasies, you’ll find yourself able to apply that knowledge to a number of fights.
As a single-player game, Monster Hunter is fun, and a little compulsive. It’s a mostly aimless game which can dissolve into the grind to attain the next object of your desire, even if it means killing the same monster twenty times until you get the rare reward that you need. Overall, it’s fun, and plesantly challenging. I quickly found a weapon that I liked and stuck with it, although the game will force you to branch out eventually because of the different kinds of monster.
Multi-player is really the game’s strength. A group will benefit from having a few different weapon styles available (a hammer to crack a crab-like shell, a sword to slice off a tail, a bow to shatter head or horns without being in range of deadly attacks), and the game both requires and breeds co-operation like few games can. Don’t be surprised to find yourself getting swept up in it – the game produces a remarkable about of adrenalin and excitement, even on the small PSP screen. One of the greatest things about playing Monster Hunter is the real sense of achievement you feel when you finally take down the latest challenge. That’s what I saw when my friends slew their Lao Shan Lung: shining eyes, high fives all around, constant exclamations and expressions of awe. They were proud of themselves, they had done something great. Monster Hunter encourages this awe with sheer scale.
So I unreservedly recommend the Monster Hunter series to all of you, especially if you’ve got a friend you can play it with. Here in NZ, you can buy Freedom Unite for $25. Think you’re no good at games? Fight low-level monsters until you understand a single favourite weapon, and you’ll be fine. Bored by grind? You won’t have to do much of it unless you decide to strive for an annoying armour set, trust me. The occasional very rare component is what will get you. Need a challenge? Trust me. This game has it.
This is multi-player like it should be: co-operative, exciting, satisfying, challenging.