I’ve been playing Monster Hunter for just over four years now. I started with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the WiiU, and have since played every new game in the series. I’ve even gone back to play the PSP entries that came before I discovered the series. Every time we are shown a new Monster Hunter game, I’m ecstatic. I love the series to death. Despite this, when Monster Hunter World was shown off at Sony’s E3 conference my first words weren’t “Yes! It’s Monster Hunter!”, but instead “Oh no, that’s Monster Hunter”. A similar feeling of dread was felt by many that day, and the Monster Hunter fandom was split on the issue of World. Some were ecstatic for the game, while others like me couldn’t help but worry.
Most people in the west have probably only heard of Monster Hunter in passing, or seen a poster or trailer here or there. The series is very much Japanese, and until recently hasn’t found much success outside its home market. In Japan though, the series is a juggernaut. It can’t match the likes of Smash Bros and other bigger franchises, but the games easily rack up over 2 million sales each, with no sign of deterioration in sight. If anything, recent years have been great for Monster Hunter, thanks in part to Nintendo’s assistance in advertising and localizing the games in the west. For many fans, the series was in a good place, so the reveal of World came as a shock to many.
Not only did World abandon the Nintendo consoles that its recent predecessors had enjoyed so much success on so it could release on PS4, but it was placed on both Xbox One and PC as well. Considering the almost non-existent presence of the Xbox systems in Japan, this (and news of a simultaneous worldwide release for the first time in series history) told fans that World would be a game made with the West in mind. This news had some fans understandably concerned. When it comes to Japanese and Western games, it is often thought that the latter tend to be more “casual” and “superficial”. Almost perfectly on cue, MH World was shown to have changed many series staples (such as removing the flexing motion players must do after consuming items) and incorporated new mechanics like a grappling hook. At first, this seemed like the game was stripping itself down to please a new western audience, who might be averse to the slower, more methodical gameplay Monster Hunter has long adopted.
A few weeks on from E3, however, things have changed. I see a lot less doom and gloom in MH circles, and many more people are visibly hyped for the game, myself included. While some of the changes being made are questionable, many are welcome improvements. The weapon sharpness system has seen a great touch up, and monster interaction has now become an actual game mechanic as opposed to something the player had to force by using monsters as awkward meat shields. Damage values are now clearly visible, making judging your damage output much easier, and several weapons have received new moves to fit the new gameplay flow more. When many watched a recent Japanese stream of the game, what they saw was a game that was different to what they were used to but still undeniably Monster Hunter. Bigger than they’d ever seen it before.
I still have my worries though. Capcom has a habit of releasing new Monster Hunter games without ‘G-rank’, the hardest section of the game and the source of the best challenges the games have to offer. If World ships without G-rank, it may feel to many like a full priced game with less content than some portable titles. That’s a hard sell. Some have even speculated that G-rank might be sold separately as DLC. It’s also unknown how the new drop-in multiplayer system will work out in practice. Will it be a convenient system that lets players help each other out on quests they may realize they can’t handle? Or will it just be an exploitable system allowing groups to leech off others by joining hunts that are already almost over and reaping the fruits of others’ effort? And graphically, will the new look of the game hurt it? It may sound crazy to think state of the art graphics would hurt a game, but for a series that’s so fundamentally different to most mainstream games, I wonder if adopting the same photo-realistic look of most games will be to its detriment. The designs we’ve seen so far are still up to Monster Hunter standards (excluding the plain-looking Anjanath from the reveal trailer), but I can’t help but wish World had done something more unique with its art style.
It’s still unclear what effect World will have on the Monster Hunter series. It may be the thing that finally helps the series reach mainstream success in the West, or it might end up being a failed experiment that further hurts the state of Monster Hunter’s Western audience. Developer interviews suggest that the game’s new direction comes from a place of artistic experimentation, but with supposed leaks suggesting a more corporate origin, it’s hard to know what to believe. I choose to stay optimistic, but I can’t help but fear for the future game series I care so much about.