Remember, if you will, the most preposterous contretemps with a final boss you ever had. Kicking Bowser right in the eyeball with your faeces-stained plumber shoes will not suffice, we’re talking strenuous, half an hour wars of attrition against aggressors that would make Godzilla look about as physically imposing as a one-legged kitten with a limp scrotum. The painstaking endeavours as you tortuously chip away at its vitality, until you emerge victorious (with excitement-urine and sweat dribbling down your legs. Legs of SWEET, SWEET WINNING!). The Monster Hunter franchise has crafted an entire game from these theatrical confrontations.
Which, I’d venture, warrants worldwide acclaim as ludicrous as the series’ success in its native Japan. In the Orient, you’ll see commuters, schoolchildren and pensioners alike all indulging in some dragon slaying. Each Monster Hunter release has become a veritable national holiday, with canny employees adopting their stricken ‘pinched nose for nasal voice and melodramatic false cough’ routines on the telephone to the boss so as to spend every daylight hour with the new title. (“I can’t come into the office today, I’ve… got the plague. On… my testicles.”)
Lamentably, though, this remarkable franchise remains an obscurity in Europe and the U.S. Since the inaugural outing on PlayStation 2 in 2004, these have been largely unheard of PSP releases. The most recent Monster Hunter frolics, the Wii-exclusive Monster Hunter Tri, was a tenuous success in these territories in 2010. Y’know, modestly. If you squint a bit. As such, Capcom are striving to expand on the series’ less-than-meteoric rise to world domination (unless said meteor was being transported by an elderly mule with arthritis and/or no legs in a wheelbarrow across a minefield) with the impending March 22 appearance of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for Wii U and 3DS.
What you’re asking right now, though, is “JUST WHAT IN THE NAME OF SATAN’S SWEATY SCROTUM IS THIS ‘MONSTER STABBER’ YOU SPEAK OF?” (Don’t deny that this is precisely your question. ‘Tis folly.) What we need just now, then, is a brief synopsis for the uninitiated. Monster Hunter is an action RPG, loosely defined (loosely enough to drop right off, I’ll concede, but let’s not be pernickety). You create your hunter via a reasonably meticulous, The Sims-esque editor, and are thrust groin-first into life as a fledgling village’s resident exterminator.
In Monster Hunter Tri, your tiny coastal village was beset by a abominable beast dubbed Lagiacrus, and your initial object was, as the chief proclaims, to “Stab this mother RIGHT IN THE ANUS. SEVERAL TIMES.” (Except he didn’t.) You had no hope of dispatching this behemoth from the off, so it was incumbent upon you to ‘train up’ for that encounter. This you do by bolstering your weaponry, armour and abilities by embarking on a series of tiered quests, given to you by the village’s clerks. You will begin by hunting innocuous, piteous wildlife to harvest materials from them, and gathering herbs and ore to fashion into items.
You will ascend from these humble heights to casually dispatching the largest, ghastliest, groin-punchiest and hallitosis-est wyverns in the Monster Hunter menagerie. The all-pervading sense of progress is quite a wonder, particularly when finally killing a beast that defeated you in several prior instances. This is, most pertinently, because your triumphs are solely skill-based. You can, I’ll concede, bolster your defensive and offensive capacities with upgrades to your equipment, but even the most formidable blade will be as ineffectual as stabbing a knight in his steely codpiece with a broken matchstick if not wielded well.
There is an array of weaponry to utilise, and the disparate playstyles each one demands will render it your de facto ‘class.’ A user of the preposterously large hammers, for instance, has the ability to knock out a monster (making it immobile and vulnerable to mass stabbing with a side order of stabbing and extra stabbing sauce for a fleeting moment). The elegant, katana-esque longsword, meanwhile, has neither the brute strength or cumbersome, slow attacks of the hammer, but dispenses swift, precise attacks, wonderful for cutting off a beast’s tail (thus giving you extra items and other rewards for crafting equipment). The sword and shield bestows upon you the ability to block, as opposed to the ungainly desperate haul ass roll away when some big ol’ dragon targets your buttocks with a fireball you must often employ. You are also very mobile with this armament, the shortcoming being that its hasty flurry of attacks are, comparatively, somewhat feeble.
Monster Hunter is, as the tedious old sports presenter’s adage proclaims, ‘a game of two halves.’ While the deftly-tuned combat (hunting) is your primary pursuit, there’s an obscenely compulsive ‘collection’ aspect that is its catalyst. Each monster you defeat can be captured or killed, the latter of which allows you to carve its corpse for items. It is these that are fashioned into an upgraded weapon or armour piece, created by the craftsmen of the village. It will adopt characteristics pertaining to the foe they were gathered from (materials from the venomous abomination Gigginox will result in lances, blades, bows and so forth that can inflict the poison status on opponents, for instance). Setting one’s sights on a new armour set or weapon is the very notion that brings average save files of Monster Hunter titles into several hundred hours.
In summation, this franchise is a remarkably tough sell. It has such nuanced and varied combat that a simple decision to try to master another of the twelve weapon classes can eke weeks of new gameplay from any one installment. The online play (hunting in a party of up to four) is some of the most compelling co-operative gaming I’ve ever experienced, when you gather an effective team together. Nonetheless, this very ponderous, tactical combat has contributed to the niche worldwide nature of Monster Hunter. Frequently, you are deftly timing very slow attacks, with the deliberate, slow animations you’d associate with such. Hack and slash sensibilities will only lead to the monster trampling your gonads into the dirt, perhaps pausing to give your dessicated, blood-bleeding corpse the middle finger as it does so before galumphing back to its cave to take a triumphant crap.
As newcomers to the Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate demo currently residing on the eShop will attest, it does not pander to beginners. The remarkable immersive quality of the games is also a shortcoming, in that it DEMANDS such a commitment. Farming is the name of the game, and it is for the player to decide is this is an appealing trait. This is perhaps the very epitome of the love it or hate it concept.