E3 2014: A Novice's Take on the Fantastic World of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

Who is really the monster?

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I've never before played Monster Hunter. It's a strange oversight considering the inherent appeal of not only discovering majestic animals, but slaying them with a sword big enough to double as a pole vault. Thankfully, that dinosaur-shaped hole in my gaming heart has finally been filled. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has introduced me to a wild world in which creatures great and small bow to my manly might, and I raise my first in celebration when the last beast falls to my wrath. Or at least, I would have raised my hand (and shouted a cheerful expletive) had I been the victor. Monster Hunter is a harsh enemy, though, one so thoughtless, so remorseless, that it dared not take it easy on me. Instead, I got the full Monster Hunter experience, and have the scars to prove it.

Not every animal in this land is a monster, or at least not what I would classify as such. If we're using Jurassic Park as a comparison (and that's my go-to reference point for all things dinosaur- and chaos-related), then there are bite-size pests similar to compsognathus (or compys, if you're feeling sassy) traveling in cautious herds. Now, don't be too lax around these little guys. John Hammond (in the book) found his sad end in their ravenous ways, after all, which reminds us that anything can be strong if it has enough friends to back it up. That's life advice directly from Jurassic Park.

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Although those popcorn shrimp aren't fierce enough to warrant being called “monsters,” there are far scarier beasts about. Larger creatures that resembled a dilophosaurus roamed with an authoritative air, daring me to come close to them. And because I'm not one to back down from a fight no matter how unfair the odds against me may seem, I ran headlong into battle to show why their kind is extinct while my kind rules the world. I was fighting for human pride so I couldn't let giant jaws get in the way of my victory. And it's in that encounter that I realized it's wise to be humble

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Monster Hunter does not care about making friends. And though it's an action role-playing game, there's enough nuance in the combat that rushing in without a proper strategy is a recipe for death. As I thrust blindly toward the dilophosaurus (which was much quicker than I had anticipated), I ended up stabbing air more often than not, and then found a pair of teeth in my backside for my effort. It was then that I realized the importance of health. I often take my health for granted, rarely realizing how blessed I am to be alive, and it's only when I'm struck by a debilitating cold that I understand how much I enjoy breathing. So once my health was depleted in Monster Hunter, I scurried away like a scared jackal, desperately searching my inventory for a lifestone that would restore my strength.

Luckily, my cowardice put me in an advantageous position. That dilophosaurus thing rushed toward me (always looking for a fight), but couldn't reach me. I had wisely climbed to higher ground while I drank my precious potion, so he was snorting and woofing right below me. What a maroon. So I did what any hunter who's more concerned with victory than honor would do: I leaped upon its head and cut into its delicious skin while he screamed and whined and tried to buck me off. Oh, how satisfying it was to turn the tables on my once-proud foe. It was too preoccupied with getting me off to attack (not that his teeth could have reached me anyway), so I flayed away without breaking stride. The majestic beast was cut down before he even knew what was coming.

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Of course, all great things must end, so I was unceremoniously thrown to the dirt when my stamina was depleted. Once we were both on solid ground, the real fighting played out in earnest. It would gallop toward me, and I would roll out of the way and hack its backside. It would slam its surprisingly muscular tail into my midsection, and I would writhe on the ground gasping for breath. We danced and stabbed and growled and bled. It was the beautiful essence of man versus beast on a digital screen. Once I came to grips with the controls, I could adjust my gaze right toward the beast without hesitation, and dodge its many thrusts with acrobatic vigor. It was soon to be mincemeat, and I would be roasting its meat over a fire (I think that's a thing you can do) and wearing its pelt when the temperature dropped.

And then it did what all weaklings who can see their end coming eventually do: it fled. It rushed toward a cave that I couldn't enter, and it took me so long to realize the dilophosaurus had materialized on the other side of the map, I ran out of time before I could finish what I had started. So disappointing. Now that I have tasted Monster Hunter, my curiosity is piqued, though I doubt I will return once the game comes out early next year, at least not on a handheld. The pleasure I drew from the game stemmed from getting an up-close look at fantastical creatures, but the limited hardware and screen size diluted that impact. It's a superficial reason, I know, but honesty is important. At least I finally understand why so many love this series, and can wonder what could have been if I were victorious.

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