You know, just once I’d like to let a fandom walk past me without getting into it. Just once I’d like to be able to claim complete and total ignorance on something.
If you’re wondering what I’m going on about there is a franchise called Monster Hunter from Capcom. It is a series of games that has existed since about 2004 and has several infamous reputations about it. In it you play the titular monster hunter. You complete quests to hunt monsters. Sounds simple right?
Well, let me put it this way, in Monster Hunter having less than a hundred hours makes you a complete novice.
A COMPLETE novice.
I want you to think about that and the fact that most games we play now say that at a hundred hours you’ve played the entire game franchise fully to a point of obsession.
Make’s Skyrim look like child’s play huh?
Despite many people erroneously comparing it to a traditional RPG in Monster Hunter one does not level up their personal stats. Your character is always as fast and as strong as he is at the beginning of the game. Instead you acquire weapons and armour throughout the game as well as various enchantment items. The player will find items by refining metals from iron ore, capturing bugs and fishing but the best parts come from the bodies of monsters. Which you hunt. Whatever growth that is brought of your character is born by your own skill. Which is different to say the least.
Now Monster Hunter is a game franchise that is mostly praised and promoted by a very dedicated fan base consisting of a significant amount of video game reviewers (at least as far as I can tell) which you would think is strange given just how many steps there are in simply beginning a game. Let alone the time it takes to continually find materials, bugs, fish, craft items, refine armour and weapons.
This is long before you are set to the task of researching monsters (which can be done in or out of game) travelling to where they live and then stealthily making it to their lair (as most hunting maps consist of multiple areas). Then you have to hunt the sucker. This isn’t even accounting for environmental hazards, smaller monsters that harass you, and ensuring you don’t waste your inventory by accidentally pressing square because normally that’s an attack button and here they make it an item button so what the hell!
To say that it’s a complex procedure is an understatement and there is very little that can be done to simplify the process without detracting from the experience.
Now, you might think, as well as I did, that such a thing is arbitrarily lengthening at best. At worst it is bad design and logistics.
And that’s what I thought, especially after playing the demo for Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. However, I had a chance to speak with one of these diehard fans of the franchise at a convention and he was kind enough to offer a quick tutorial (After explaining he’d made several of his own to help people get into the franchise). And then, after listening to several of the tutorials on how to use the weapons I gave one I liked a try.
And I was hosed.
Anyone who recalls my earlier article about lessening gaming difficulty will note my admission about fearing that my skills were deteriorating with age as a gamer rather than improving. Unexpectedly the reverse was the case.
Still I’ve always felt that I am a gamer that rushes in, exploring like a mack truck without subtlety or grace.
But I must possess the ability to be tactical and restrained or else the Megaman X franchise would be as impenetrable to me as the Playboy mansion. I think that’s where this franchise succeeds. Much in the same way Minecraft’s survival mode makes a player work for every scrap of gold and diamond Monster Hunter makes every combat feel like a learning experience and skills are acquired as a player learns to move and dodge while delivering precise assaults.
Killing my first “major” monster involved reading pages upon pages of advice documents from the tutorial and yet, I felt oddly rewarded by the process when I was able to swiftly use those tricks and techniques taught in the tutorial. Even now that I’ve done about eighteen tutorial missions I know I must go out, make metal armour, capture herbs for potions and hot drinks, upgrade my bone lance (my weapon of choice) and learn how to cross compare different items to get the best chance in a trembling first step that leads towards hunting giant monster who’s spit is bigger than me.
With each step I can stitch and craft armour and weapons to my character as badges of honour. I can continually upgrade a single lance that I’ll carry forward forever (until I think it’s better to switch it out) as a testament of a lineage of combat.
And then when I get a 3DS I can start all over again. Only this time, I’ll know better and I’ll be sharper and smarter.
And so too does this work exist.