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After 11 years since its original release, 10 years since its first portable outing, and 6 years since its move to Nintendo’s systems, Capcom brings the Monster Hunter franchise’s latest generation to Western shores. Along with 2 new weapon types, 24 new monsters, and the cutest minigame ever, the uniquely-titled “Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate” introduces three major elements of gameplay: Jump Attacks, the Frenzy, and Guild Quests. These additions, along with the tweaks, fixes, and nods to past installments one should expect from a sequel, make this game a worthy purchase for fans of the series. But, if you’re a newcomer, is this franchise worth finally jumping into 3 generations late?
As its title suggests, the biggest draw of Monster Hunter comes from the opportunity to hit giant beasts until they die. There are little diversions like gathering materials and sending an army of cats on a suicide mission paper cut-out adventure, but almost everything you do in this game revolves around killing giant monsters the way you want to: whether it’s by ending their lives as quickly as possible, cutting their tails and smashing their heads with the help of your friends, or anything in-between. While this is a fantastic world with superhumans who can (barely) withstand heated lasers to the face, the game does maintain one aspect of hunting accurate to the real thing: It takes preparation. You can’t just rush at an unknown monster with whatever’s lying around in your room and expect to win. A successful hunt, especially one in the higher levels, often consists of hours of preparation through resource maintenance, resource management, and number crunching, as well as the armor, weapons, and most importantly, the experience you have refined from your previous hunts. If this sentence intimidated you, then you can stop reading. Monster Hunter probably isn’t for you.
With the addition of Jumping, players can leap off of ledges, cliffs, and platforms to launch attacks on enemies. Bowguns also reload while using their jump attack. Use these moves enough times on a monster, and the player enters a quick mini-game to stab the monster with their carving knife while struggling to stay on. If the player succeeds, the monster’s back parts take damage and it is stunned for an extended length of time. Overall, the addition of the jumping mechanic opens up a can of fresh air for the series and gives 4 Ultimate a faster pace than any of the previous iterations. Be careful not to roll up or down a ledge while getting out of a monster’s line of fire, though. One of the new weapons, the Insect Glaive takes this feature one step further by allowing the player to jump anywhere, provided they have stamina.
Besides the ability to jump, The Insect Glaive also lends quick attacks and the ability to extract essence from monsters at range with its companion Kinsect, a bug that the player can raise and feed with various juices found in their hunts. While extract management and bug raising might take some getting used to, the ability to jump anywhere and everywhere is nothing to sneeze at, but please practice your mounts before going into multiplayer.
The other new weapon, the Charge Blade, has two modes that the player can switch between on a whim. Each mode is meant to complement the other. The first mode: Sword and Shield, lends quick attacks and a shield to charge up phials for the second mode: Axe, which can unload these phials to either stun and exhaust a monster or deal massive amounts of elemental damage. The player can also store phials into their shield to give buffs for both modes. In this boosted state, Sword and Shield can unload free phial bursts with certain attacks as well as a special automatic guard. Meanwhile, the Axe gets a hefty attack boost for all of its attacks and an ultra burst that unleashes all their phials and their charge for one massive attack. Though its learning curve might be a bit steep, those who take the time to learn the Charge Blade are rewarded with explosive results.
Partway through the game, a disease known as the Frenzy Virus breaks out, infecting monsters around the world. If a hunter gets hit by an attack from infected monsters, the virus seeps into their blood, and it’s only a matter of time before they get infected as well, crippling their body’s natural ability to heal and weakening them to frenzied attacks. To prevent this, hunters can eat Nulberries to delay the infection and keep hitting monsters to force it out of their body. When they force the virus out of their body, they become immune to the virus and receive a critical hit boost for a period of time. The virus also dies out when a hunter sleeps in their bed, somehow.
Hunters can also stifle a monster’s Frenzy, weakening them temporarily, by powering their weapons with special stones called Wystones. Besides the ability to suppress the monster’s infection, Wystones also temporarily increase the hunter’s offensive or defensive capabilities when fighting Frenzied monsters.
Finally, there are Guild Quests. To unlock these quests, Hunters must embark on Expeditions to hunt monsters in a regularly changing environment known as the Everwood. Guild Quests level up with each success, making the monster stronger and even introducing additional monsters in response. The highest Level Guild Quests pose a daunting challenge even for a group of four experienced and well-equipped hunters, but reward success with the best possible equipment in the game. Just be sure that the quest features the weapon you like.
Moving and attacking feels remarkably natural. The game reads inputs with little to no delay. The animations for each weapon’s attacks have weight to them that reflects how much damage they deal. Compare the long windup of the gunlance’s Wyvern Fire to the swift swipes and bashes of the basic sword and shield. The inputs for the attacks feel intuitive as well, even if they may take a bit of getting used to first. To be specific, the inputs used for non-standard attacks seem to emulate the motions their hunter goes through. A few notable examples that come to mind are restraining the power of a powered-up Charge Blade’s finishing Burst by holding back and mashing X and charging and firing the bow by holding the right trigger down and releasing it respectively. For anybody trying to figure out a weapon type for the first time, the game provides tutorials for each, with a free space to experiment with every button input and a beginner-level monster to put their newly gained knowledge to the test.
A key rule to follow while hunting is to keep your eyes on the monster. To help with that, the game provides a target cam to snap the player’s camera to focus on a specified monster with the press of a button. Alternatively, players can use a virtual D-Pad on the touchscreen or the Circle Pad Pro to adjust the camera to their liking. Unlike 3 Ultimate’s tiers of vertical angles, 4 Ultimate gives players full control over both X and Y axes, which helps contribute to the more fluid atmosphere of this new generation.
The monsters a player faces as the game progresses gradually get more dangerous. After running errands for an NPC, players start off by killing several armored pillbugs and the same monster they had to face in the weapon tutorials. As they continue through the campaign, both online and offline, the scale of the monsters escalate from inflating sharks to electric wolves, leading up to a plague-spitting demon spreading disease throughout the land.
The level of detail put into the monsters’ behaviors and designs is somewhere between a fighting game character and a giant boss. Along with an array of moves with varied wind-ups and cooldowns, each monster has multiple zones to take damage, and each zone takes a different amount of damage. Many parts show wear and tear after taking enough damage, and often times, the parts that take the most damage are the riskiest to hit. Of course, the best weapon to use varies from monster to monster.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s story is simple and unobtrusive. You are a hunter looking for work and run into a caravaneer who happens to be looking for a hunter. After proving your mettle, he takes you with him and his gang on his journey to discover the origins of a mysterious glowing shard he found during his travels. Along the way, you run into several archetypical characters, including the prudent Ace Commander, his bright-eyed but unfortunate Cadet, the optimistic orphan Lil’ Miss Forge, and the unassuming local who gives you your biggest mission as a Hunter.
Story is not the main priority of Monster Hunter, to the point where you can just skip through all the dialogue in this game and still have a full experience. The writing won’t win any awards, but it does its job: Present a clear motivation for the player’s actions and help push the game along at a reasonable pace by taking them to fresh locales, at least for the main campaign.
The post-game’s story, on the other hand, keeps the player in one city and pushes things forward a little too fast. Without getting into spoilers, the NPCs are preparing this city for a giant monster attack and ask the hunter to help them prepare by hunting things. After the player finishes up their requests, NPCs often tell the player that preparations will take time to complete, only to celebrate their completion immediately afterward. While this has no impact on the game’s pacing, this minor gripe could have been easily remedied by making the player do another mission while they wait. However, as I mentioned before, you can just skip through all of this with no issues.
Those acquainted with Capcom’s music should expect Monster Hunter’s music to be good, and they would not be disappointed. Miwako Chinone, as well as the other composers of the game struck a good balance in regards to the variety of sounds in each piece. While I could hear many different instruments in the background music, I never felt overwhelmed by what I was listening to, even while a thunder-spewing ape minotaur chased me down. There are even unlockable songs in the post game that are more than worth the time you spend killing monsters to get them. On that note (mind the pun), the sounds in the game tell the player what they need to know about which attack the monster is winding up next and reward the player when they land a clean hit. Listening to Monster Hunter gameplay is a treat for the ears.
In spite of the 3DS’s lower end graphics compared to the rest of the generation, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is still a sight to behold, especially when it’s in motion. The rugged aesthetic of the monsters helps disguise most of the blatantly jagged edges. They’re still there, but it’s hard to tell at a glance, and even harder to tell when you’re fighting it. Since a hunter’s armor is often based on these monsters, this aesthetic carries over to the hunter models as well. Monster and Hunter animations are fluid and natural, which makes the in-engine cutscenes look that much better. There are some little touches that I particularly love, like how the hunters’ running animations change when they run up a hill and how they don’t get up from the carving animation when you’re already crouching. For those looking for a “Cinematic Experience,” 4 Ultimate also features several CG cut scenes on par with those found in Blizzard commercials. All of this at a consistent frame rate for both versions. Do note that 3DS runs at a lower frame rate for multiplayer and suffers from rare drops, like when a new monster enters the map. All in all, a beautiful experience that doesn’t sacrifice performance for aesthetics.
Can you spot all the things this CG gets right?
The allure of fighting big monsters with friends is too much to pass up, and Capcom understands this. In response, they have provided one of the most stable netcodes possible for a 3DS game. Even from the middle of nowhere Hawaii, I have played with hunters in Brazil, France, and the Eastern States and suffered barely any lag and a few disconnects. Of course, this means that you can’t just blame lag when you cart 3 times with your distant friends or trip up the Lance user 20 times in a single hunt.
The online community is as lively as ever, with helpful hunters all around. Pick a site that talks about gaming and you’re sure to find someone to hunt with. You don’t even have to ask them for their friend codes; just set up a room and post its ID and password.
Even in single-player, Hunters don’t have to hunt alone. When hunting solo, Hunters have the option to let Felyne Palicos accompany them during their missions. Besides the starting companion, players can recruit more Palicos of varying specialties and abilities during their hunts. These helpful cats can heal the hunter, distract the monster, and even blind the monster temporarily. They get their own sets of gear that can be forged with scraps, special materials found by playing a special mini-game called Meownster Hunters. Veterans would suggest not relying on the Felynes for anything more than a momentary distraction, though.
Speaking of momentary distractions, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate offers a slew of Downloadable Missions for Players to enjoy. These are all free, released in monthly chunks, and provide bonus content like exclusive equipment, monsters impossible or otherwise hard to access at a certain tier, extra challenge, side stories, or some combination of the above. At the time of writing this review, there are still some quests scheduled for future release.
While it’s nice that all this DLC is free and I like a lot of the equipment they offer, I still have gripes about 4 Ultimate’s DLC. As mentioned earlier, several monsters are impossible to access without this DLC, which blocks hunters off from their weapons and armor until later notice. Notably, Gold Rathian at G-Rank was unavailable until recently, meaning my Charge Blade had to wait for her release to get its full upgrade. Another friend of mine complained about not being able to fight a certain giant boss monster because it was locked behind unreleased DLC. This method of DLC, while it doesn’t demand extra payment, still locks players out of the full experience of 4 Ultimate, at least until further notice.
While you may not be able to get all of what Monster 4 Ultimate right now, what is available is still worth the time and money invested in this game. Veterans get 2 new weapon types, a slew of new monsters, and hunts that justify 4-player teams alongside a faster-paced version of the action they’re used to while newcomers have tutorials and an active community to help them rise in the ranks. Just don’t go too fast, or you might find yourself running out of content a bit early.
Review written after 500 hours of play time