Game: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Release Date: February 13th, 2015
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Monster Hunter is one of my favorite series and I have been a fan since the original back on the PS2. Both the series and myself have grown and changed since those days, and I think in this case it is one of those games whose changes have been almost exclusively for the better; not that the series didn’t start out in a fantastic way. For me, Monster Hunter was never really about the never-ending quest for stuff– it was always about the fun of fighting giant fantasy creatures in a beautiful world. Oh, and let’s not forget the fun of playing with your friends! That certainly has its draw, too. With so much time and love invested in the series, I have to admit my review may be a little biased, as was the case for Pokémon and Super Smash Bros. when I covered those series (together these titles make up my three all-time favorite game franchises), but I promise that despite my enthusiasm for the title I can come up with some accurate critiques of its flaws as well.
Monster Hunter, at its core, has always really been about two things: hunting monsters (surprise!) and grinding gear eternally until the day you die. Now, that second part might sound pretty awful to some people. It can be, no doubt, and we will get to that. However, the grinding of gear for all time really falls back to the first aspect, and that is the combat and tracking of the game, and this is the true gem that shines through your portable backlight.
Combat in Monster Hunter is difficult and dynamic at the same time. Experienced players can dance around a monster’s attacks and make the game look easy, but the game has a steep learning curve that fans of games like Dark Souls will appreciate. Much of the fight is a struggle between the players and the monsters over strategic positioning. Monsters will run you down but are often slow to turn and telegraph many of their movements ahead of time, but they do significant damage. Players using different weapons will learn that they want to be positioned in different places because of their weapons’ style, which can vary greatly.
There are fourteen different weapon classes and, much like different classes in other RPGs, these classes play very differently and have different strengths and weaknesses that balance each other out. However, they play so differently at times that it almost feels like you are learning a new game when you try a new class. Every class has different features that others don’t get such as blocking (which improves survivability), special boosts that generally improve attack or deflection rates, or different attack modes (which lends extra versatility). Weapons also attack at different speeds and, to one degree or another, impact the player’s speed while they are draw. I could write an entire paper of the different weapon classes and their strengths and weaknesses, but that would take forever and someone casually looking to see if this is worth their buy isn’t interested in my deep analysis of each weapon type (though maybe one day I’ll do just that). My point is that each weapon class has a very different feel, even ones that are closely related, and you may end up discovering that you like using specific weapons against specific monsters rather than just a single main kind of weapon.
A nice touch, by the way, is that your character is not locked into a weapon class at character creation. In fact, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from changing weapon classes between missions though once you start a quest your gear is locked in. However, because you can just change your weapon and armor to that of another class at any time, you don’t have to start from scratch whenever you want to try a new class, which makes the game more enjoyable. The game provides the player with a basic weapon from every class out the start of the game so players can try whatever style they want and see what works for them, and there is nothing stopping an industrious player from acquiring weapons from all the different classes if they choose.
Armor acquisition works in much the same way. There are three types of armor available: Gunner, Blademaster, and armor that works for either. Gunner armor can only be used by characters using ranged weapons (Light and Heavy Bowguns and Bows), whereas all the melee weapons use the Blademaster armor. Blademaster armor has more defense than Gunner armor, but Gunners enjoy a higher elemental resistance. Armor sets determine the skills that a player gets, and each piece of armor gives skill points in several areas. Skills take 10 points to activate, with many having different tiers for players who get 15 or more points into a single skill. Some skills also have negative equivalents, such as attack down as opposed to attack up, which are activated by having 10 or more negative points in that skill. Skills can be further developed through the use of Decorations and Charms, which add points to skills in the same way that armor does. Decorations can be added to weapons and armor to augment their points, and Charms are like a bonus equipment slot that generally only add skill points to help finish out your set. Players can get really deep into the system by creating sets of mixed armor pieces to try to get the exact skills they want.
Both weapons and armor are obtained by forging them from materials you gather while out of quests. Sometimes these materials are easy to come by, other times they require rare drops that appear only a small amount of the time. Most materials are gained by killing monsters and harvesting their parts, but sometimes the player will have to mine or gather bugs or other items that appear on the map. Generally boss monsters also have body parts that break if that area takes enough damage and give bonus rewards at the end of the quest, or possibly even harvested on the map as in the case of severed tails. In this way, Monster Hunter follows a sort of MMO formula because it is based entirely on pre-programmed instances in a large dungeon-like map.
The best part of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, or any Monster Hunter really, is the multiplayer. My friends and I love to get together for entire days of nothing but hunting monsters, and we have a great time doing it. Playing this game with friends is just really, really fun. The MMO feeling is heightened when you join other players on quests because teamwork is a big part of the online component. Players need to position themselves well not only to avoid enemy attacks but to avoid their teammates attacks as well, because even though players don’t directly damage each other they can interrupt each other’s actions with their attacks. At the same time, certain weapon classes can also benefit other players in the form of boosting effects and healing, like Hunting Horns and bowguns that use boosting or healing shots. Players can also use certain area of affect healing and boosting items or add AoE effects to some items from certain armor skills. Effective teams can quickly dispatch the hardest monsters in a matter of minutes by keeping their target incapacitated through the use of items, statuses, and knocking them over through sheer damage or a successful mount.
Monsters, for their part, behave differently based on the species. Much like weapon classes, monsters come in many forms and sizes and each has different styles of movement and attacking. Learning how a monster acts- such as how it moves, where it goes, and how to avoid its more powerful attacks- is critical to becoming good at the game, so learning blind spots and where you can set up powerful attacks or combos is typically the first thing you do when you encounter a new monster. As you progress through the game, more monsters become available to hunt and old monsters will learn new tricks when fought on higher difficulties.
The environments in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate are simply beautiful and well-developed. The backgrounds of many areas include fantastically rendered scenes, sometimes with moving creatures or background pieces, and really tie the world together. The various monsters make up an ecosystem and this plays out by monsters occasionally hunting each other. Many monsters have their ecological niche in mind when they are designed and so you can see how they interact with their world. The Nercylla (a giant spider), for example, preys on Gypceros (a large, poisonous wyvern) and uses its prey’s skin as protective armor. In the Sunken Hollow and Volcanic Hollow, you can even see the webs it spins and the dead prey hanging from sticky threads. Other monsters have similar relationships with predator and prey relationships.
The environments have beautiful, atmospheric music that is often really relaxing when boss monsters are not present. The boss monster music is also great, providing music that fits in great with the primal feeling of smashing giant monster faces in. Several tracks return from previous games with a little re-mixing for those seeking nostalgia.
Now, up until this point, nearly all of what I have said could be applied to any Monster Hunter title, but I wanted people who never played the game to understand the basics before I got into what sets this title apart from the others in the series. In this case, it is the new weapons classes, refined platforming, and the new “mounting” feature. We will start with mounting.
Mounting is done by using an aerial attack against a monster. Aerial attacks are also new to the series and are done by pressing the attack button when jumping off one of the very plentiful ledges or climbable surfaces found throughout the game. If you manage to knock the monster down with your aerial attack, it initiates a minigame of sorts where you stab at the monster’s back while trying to rodeo it down to the ground. If you are successful, the monster will fall over for a few seconds for you and your team to wail on it. The monster might even drop a “shiny”, a bonus item drop that usually has either an item sold automatically for money or a random monster part. In my experience, this has made the game much easier by setting up opportunities to do large amounts of damage and break parts. However, monsters can initiate their own grapples on the player as well, doing a ton of damage in the process of the player is unable to break free. For some monsters, a grapple can mean almost certain death for an unprepared player.
As I mentioned before, platforming has been greatly improved in this title. The player’s avatar moves far more smoothly in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate than any other game in the series. The player is also given more freedom of movement in climbing which, combined with mounting, is a big part of this game. Players can now move freely while climbing, even able to dodge and attack while they are moving on walls or clinging to stalactites on the ceiling. The player also climbs much faster than ever before, making climbing cliffs and similar obstacles less tedious than before. It doesn’t hurt that you can launch yourself from walls to attack enemies (potentially mounting them). All this new freedom adds loads to the tactical side to the game and opens up new avenues for players to take advantage of in a quest.
The new weapon classes are pretty fun, but I haven’t mastered them yet. Insect Glaive is an interesting new class that combines ranged attacks with a semi-controlable insect monster and quick attacks from your staff. The insect deals surprising amounts of damage and provides its master with buffs depending on what area it struck when it hits a monster. The staff is also unique in that you can vault up into the air without a ledge to jump from, allowing you to mount a monster anywhere.
The Charge Blade, on the other hand, plays much like the Switch Axe from Tri and 3U. The Charge Blade begins in a Sword and Shield style mode that charges up its power, but that buff can be transferred to the shield in exchange for better blocking. In this mode, the weapon is slower but typically a little stronger than sword and shield but unlike its counterpart lacks the ability to use items while the weapon is drawn. The other mode of the weapon behaves much like the Axe mode of the Switch Axe, except that it is once again a little slower and can use a discharge attack for massive damage.
As is the case in most new Monster Hunter games, old weapon classes were not neglected. Old classes have some new attacks and tricks to use as well. Greatsword, for example, has a new attack that follows up the stronger charge attack that can deal tons of damage but leaves you open, and also has a few new ways to combo its other moves as well. There are also new types of ammo for gunners to try out for those who like to attack from a distance. I would go into all the new weapon attacks and mechanics, but I can’t say I have tried them all yet.
The new monsters have cool designs that I really enjoy. The previously mentioned Nerscylla is a gruesome looking critter with a variety of cool and deadly attacks that incapacitate players with a variety of statuses, while the Narjaralla is beautiful giant snake-like monster that has a variety of quick and frustrating movements that can really trip up a solitary player, especially if it manages to get its coils around the player. Kecha Wacha is a strange combination of a flying squirrel and a monkey or lemur, and despite is weird-looking face, I like how it looks, especially the ears which fold down to make an intimidating mask. There are other new creatures, too, but I don’t want to give too much away in this review, as discovering the new monsters is part of the fun. Many monsters from old games return, and just like old weapon classes, they have new tricks as well to trip up experienced players who have hunted them before. There are a ton of boss monsters to fight in this game: a total of 75! That is a lot of bosses. A. Lot. But then, some of those bosses are recolored or others with only slight changes in attacks and behavior, but still.
Like any Monster Hunter game, new players will face a steep learning curve, especially if they try to tackle the game by themselves before learning from experienced players online. I personally know people who have given up on earlier games in the series because they were too hard, but fortunately the difficulty curve seems to have gotten easier as the series progressed (but maybe I am just used to it) so this title shouldn’t be inducing too many rage-quits and thrown 3DSs. That said, if you do like games like Dark Souls with big leaps in combat difficulty then this may be a plus for you.
Adding to the difficulty is the game is camera, which is pretty unwieldy. While you can move your camera with the d-pad, it is hard to adjust the camera while moving because of the d-pad’s placement. You can also set a virtual d-pad to the touchscreen, which is what I usually use while on the move, but I have found that notoriously frustrating to use at times. You can center the camera directly in front of you or onto the boss monster with the “L” button, depending on which you have set, but it still doesn’t lock the camera onto the monster as you and the boss move around. However, if you play on the New Nintendo 3DS or you have the Circle Pad Pro attachment then you can use the C-Stick to move the camera, which is far better than the other options mentioned above.
Farming materials, which is quite frankly what most of the game and especially endgame centers on, can get extremely tedious. Be prepared to fight the same monster anywhere between 4-15 times in a row to get the rare parts you need for forging equipment. It is common to find entire rooms devoted to nothing but farming a single monster for hours on end. If you don’t like farming instances in MMOs, then you probably won’t enjoy playing this game all the way until the end.
Quests can take a long time when you are by yourself and occasionally even playing online. Monsters have a lot of health and no indicator on their remaining HP, except for behavioral cues like limping which the player will have to learn to read. This, to some degree, factors into the difficulty level of Monster Hunter, and when you play online you should expect to commit at least ten minutes to a quest online and up to thirty minutes by yourself depending on your skill and the monster you are fighting.
Speaking of long quests, do not expect this game to be short. There are tons of different boss monsters in the game, and you can easily break 100 hours and not even reach the endgame. On any given Monster Hunter title I have spent anywhere between 300 to over 1,000 hours on a single file. That is a lot of gameplay, and not a commitment many people are willing to make. On the other hand, for people like me, thats exactly what I like to see, and I think it is a great investment if I can get that much enjoyment out of a single title.
Finally, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, as the ones before it, is very light on plot. While there is certainly more plot to this title than any other in the series, a fact I greatly appreciate, this is not a game where the plot is going to take the player upon some great journey to save the planet like Final Fantasy. You don’t play Monster Hunter for plot, you play it for the gameplay. To be honest, the plot of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is really just there to flavor the game and move you along from area to area, but it never pretends that the plot is the focus. So, if you’re not usually one to play RPGs that lack a big plot (or even a little one, honestly), then this might not be your title.
I have to say that this may be the best Monster Hunter I have played yet, and that is saying something because of the cherished position this series has for me. The new platforming mechanics really set a new bar for the series, even though on the surface they seem like small changes. And they are, really, but it makes such a huge difference in the freedom of movement and options you have as a player. It just makes to game that much more fun to play. Even without the addition of mounting, the new platforming is just fantastic and a great addition to an already great franchise, and one that I hope will spill over into the subsequent games.
I am really enjoying learning about the new monsters as I fight them and playing with my friends, plus the full online function of the game makes it easier than ever to play with my friends, even those that have moved far away, unlike the previous title which was only online if you played on or through a Wii U. Although I wouldn’t mind a port to the Wii U at all and I would love to play this game in HD on a big screen!
If you like MMOs but don’t want to get sucked into the commitment and monthly payments of a subscription to WoW or Final Fantasy XIV, then this is a great alternative because it takes many features of MMORPGs and boils them down to the basics while still being very enjoyable. Plus the fact that it is portable means you can bust it out on the train ride to work or on your lunch break (maybe even with some friends!).
My final verdict on this title is this: I give it a 8.5 out of 10 if you are only playing it by yourself, but a 9.5 if you have some friends to play it with. Personally, I would give it 10/10 all day every day forever, but I know that objectively not everyone is going to like the style of this game nor its difficulty, but if you can conquer the learning curve and don’t mind grinding you will discover one of the best multiplayer games out there.
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