Monster Hunter Impressions

We try out Capcom's upcoming online multiplayer game at Tokyo Game Show 2003.

Capcom's 3D action adventure game Monster Hunter was on playable display during the Tokyo Game Show. The Tokyo Game Show demo allowed up to four players to play per session, and like with many of the online games on display at the show, the line of people waiting to try out the game was huge.

When you first start a game of Monster Hunter, you must first pick your character from three types of fighters, each of which has a male or female version. The standard character is a swordsman with a shield and a medium-sized sword; a well-balanced character that can guard while attacking. Advanced or power-hungry players can select the swordsman with the large sword, who is slower and has lower defenses than the normal swordsman but has extremely high attack power. For players that prefer to shoot rather than slash, there is the archer, who supposedly fights with a bow, although the game's graphics make this weapon look like more of a gun.

Monster Hunter uses all the buttons on the PS2 controller: The left analogue stick lets you walk or run, while the right analog stick controls your weapon. The X button controls the camera, while square lets you use items. Circle lets you check the area around you or climb, while triangle lets you open a chat window. L1 resets the camera behind you, while L2 opens you item window. R1 lets you defend yourself, while pressing and holding R2 toggles running (as opposed to walking) on and off. Start gets you to your menu screen, and select pulls up your map.

The list of controls may seem confusing, and it actually seems to be the first time we played. But the control setup actually affords you a decent amount of control over your character. For example, the right analog stick lets you deliver a number of different attacks depending on the direction you press, such as a rising slash, a rotating slash, or an attack you perform simultaneously while guarding. The archer has only two options on the stick, reloading and shooting. But archers have the option to go into sniper view mode, which lets them zoom in on enemies from a distance.

Monster Hunter doesn't seem to through many small enemies at you, but rather, presents only three or four in an area together (sometimes you'll find lone monsters too). But these monsters don't die off easily, so rushing headlong into a group of monsters, even with backup from multiple players, can sometimes be a good way to die horribly. The game seems to require some cooperation between different players to bring down tougher monsters. Once a monster is killed off, its body can be looted for skin or meat. The skin seems to improve certain weapons, while the meat can be cooked by selecting the meat cooker item from your inventory. You must then wait for the meat to be cooked in real time--and if you cancel your cooking too early, the meat may end up being too raw.

Another interesting feature in the game is that swordsmen must sharpen their swords after using them a while, similar to how the archer needs to reload after shooting a full round. There is an indicator in the shape of a knife at the top of the screen, which is golden at first, but begins to lose its shine after a while. You can still attack even if the knife indicator loses all of its glitter, but you'll barely deal any damage at all. You need to sharpen their weapon before continuing, which can be done anywhere and only takes about the same time as an archer's reloading animation.

Another of the game's interesting features is the way it lets players collect and craft items by picking flowers on the map or fishing at rivers and ponds. Once you catch a fish or obtain other items, you can combine them to create new items in a process that resembles mixing herbs in Capcom's Resident Evil series. Items play a vital role in Monster Hunter since there seems to be no magic to heal wounded characters like in most typical fantasy games. Even the inventory system is unique; you use the square and circle buttons to scroll through consumable items like potions, and the triangle and X buttons to choose equipment items.

Communication between players seems like an essential part of Monster Hunter. While the sample at the show only allowed chatting through a menu selection, Monster Hunter is compatible to the PlayStation 2 keyboard, so there should be no issues in chatting with other players with full text online.

As with a number of PlayStation 2 games on display at the show, one issue that Monster Hunter seemed to have was its loading times. The game required a three- to five-second load time whenever we moved from one area to another, which seemed like a bit of a hassle, since there were about a dozen sections available in the map on display. However, in the final game, it seems reasonable to expect that players won't move around quite as much--the demonstration on the show floor allowed players to play for sessions of only ten-minutes each, so many players on the show floor understandably tried to visit as many different areas as possible. No release date or price has been announced for Monster Hunter as yet.

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