It’s tough to say whether or not this is really my first Monster Hunter game. I bought Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii back when it first came out, and struggled with it. After a few hours of playing it, I found that the tutorials weren’t helpful and felt that the game was throwing me in the deep end. Not only that, but after several hours of playing, I hadn’t killed a single hulking monstrosity. A friend of mine convinced me to buy this game, though, and after sixty five hours with it, I think it’s safe to say the Monster Hunter life has hooked me.
Part of the reason for this is that the game eases you into everything. Like I said before, the previous game in the series I’d tried threw you into the deep end with walls of explanatory text that didn’t feel helpful at all. As a greenhorn to the series, it was claustrophobic. Thankfully, MH4U manages to ease that feeling of being overwhelmed by spreading important aspects of the game out over the story. After an exciting and breathtaking opening battle against a giant water dragon, your custom made avatar is brought to the village of Val Habar, where they are recruited by a Caraveener to travel the world and hunt monsters.
Whereas the previous game opened up with some dull collection quests that did little to excite me, this game gives you access to a monster almost right away. Within an hour or two of booting up the game, you will be facing the Great Jaggi, a Velociraptor- esque monster that is quick but weak, making it perfect for newcomers. From there, the story continues and as I understand it, it’s a bit more involved than previous games, but to me, it wasn’t anything special. It serves its purpose, but is little more than a vehicle to present the player with fantastic confrontations with creatures twice their size.
As said above, the game gradually opens up new systems to the player as the story goes on. For instance, after a certain point in the game, you can create armor for your sentient cat side kick (referred to as a Palicoe) by sending other recruited Palicoes on expeditions to bring back Scrap. This is on top of the fact that you can place orders with the Trader to multiply your items, recruit otherplayers you’ve met via Streetpass to go on quests and bring back materials for you, use ore you’ve gathered to make Decorations that enhance Armor and Weapon Skills and much more. Needless to say, there’s a lot of depth outside the hunting missions and lots of aspects for the player to consider, but by the point you’ve unlocked them all, you’ll already be familiar with the others, which means you can perform this juggling act pretty easily.
That being said, for all the tutorials and solid pacing that the game has, there are still some very confusing aspects of the game that are poorly explained. Take, for instance, the aforementioned Skills. Most armor sets give the player certain Skills to work with. For instance, one of them allows the player to eat raw meat and regain stamina. What the game doesn’t do a terrific job of telling you is that each Skill has a point value and needs to be at at least ten (or negative ten if it’s a detrimental skill) in order to activate. What it further does little to explain is that the Decorations can be used to increase the numerical value of a Skill. So, say there’s an armor set you have that has a Skill that makes monsters more attracted to you. There’s a certain kind of Decoration you can make that will increase the skill by one, so instead of it being -10 and activated, it will be -9 and deactivated. If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is at first. Only after talking it over with more experienced players will the system become easy to understand.
There are other small annoyances here and there; for instance, when you consume a healing item, the avatar will flex their muscles with joy, which leaves you wide open for attack. When you attack with a weapon, especially a heavy one like a hammer or great sword, the character will stand in place, wind up their attack, then swing. Rolling with certain weapons can be challenging, especially with how much certain monsters move around. But here’s the amazing trick that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate pulls off: when you’re in the wild, fighting a monster that’s many times your size and you’re down to your last potion, near death, and you throw caution to the wind and swing your lightning based switch axe at the monster in a last ditch effort, not knowing whether or not you’ll succeed, well… there’s very little else like it in gaming.
Indeed, the monsters are the real star of the show and going up against one requires careful planning. You’ll want to make sure you’re stocked up on healing items, antidotes, and whetstones (or ammo, if you’re using a gunner weapon) as well as stamina replenishers and paintballs for marking the beast with if you want to succeed. While the earlier monsters are definitely much easier than the foes you’ll encounter later, they can still take down an unprepared player, which is a lesson I learned the hard way more than once. This is because of their smart AI programming; if, for instance, if you heal and the monster is facing you, they can and will use that opportunity to attack you. This is true for everything I’ve fought thus far. Emerging victorious from a fight means the player must combine brains and brawn and carefully assess their loadout and the behavior of the monster. It’s extremely common for players to have certain loadouts for different creatures simply because each one is so different. It’s very rare that brute force alone will win the day, unless you have high level equipment and go back to fight early monsters.
The visceral challenge and careful strategizing help keep monster fights exciting, but another thing that does that is the fact that each monster just looks great. There is a huge variety, from fire dragons to four legged sharks, from gigantic spiders to enormous snakes and a lot more than that. Each monster is much larger than the player character, and each one is animated in jaw dropping ways. It’s clear that most of the technological resources for the game went into animating the monsters, simply because each one moves and behaves exactly like one would expect if such fantastical things existed in real life. That isn’t to say the rest of the game looks bad, though. On the contrary, the game runs incredibly smooth and the art design of the various pieces of armor you can acquire is simply stunning. Most sets of armor have two versions, one for melee fighters and one for gunners and both usually look great. On top of that, weapons are imposing and the environments you traverse are large, although it is worth noting that each map is segmented into different areas that are separated by loading screens, rather than being one gigantic map. It’s not a huge deal though, because on the New 3DS, the loading times last little more than a half second (speaking of N3DS, the C stick works wonders for controlling the camera).
One of the most addicting parts of the game is creating new gear from the pieces of fallen monsters you slay. As mentioned above, most armor sets look awesome, but each one also bring different Skills that can change the way you play. On top of that, each set has a certain set of Resistances and Weaknesses that should be considered before bringing them on a hunt. Even though acquiring a full armor set almost always means fighting a monster several times over, it rarely gets old simply because fights are unpredictable and exciting. On the flip side of armor are the weapons you can create. There are 14 weapon varieties in this game and each one has specific strengths and weaknesses. My personal favorites are the switch axe and insect glaive. The former is a slow axe that can be morphed into a gigantic sword when a meter fills up; when the sword is out, you attack much more quickly, allowing for massive damage to a monster. The downside is that, because the weapon is so huge, the character moves very slowly with it. The other weapon I mentioned, the insect glaive, is new to this game, but will likely be a mainstay for the series. It’s a staff that can be used to bring the pain quickly to a monster. However, you also have access to a robotic bug that, when launched at enemies, can steal their essence and provide you with different buffs depending on a number of factors. Not only that, but you can vault at will with it, which means mounting a monster and potentially bringing them to their knees and opening them up to a flurry of free attacks.
That being said, most of the weapon types are fun to use because they are so distinctly different from each other. With such a large variety on hand, every kind of player is likely to find a weapon type that matches their play style, whether it’s the lightning fast Dual Blades or the defensively based Gunlance. The brilliance of this system, though, is that buffs and abilities are entirely based on your armor and weapon, so if a player is curious about a different weapon type, they can just switch and try it out (there are even beginner quests that walk you through how to use each weapon, which is extremely helpful). It’s a smart set up that requires no grinding on the part of the player (apart from obtaining the necessary parts for making the weapon).
I said earlier that many weapons have a windup time frame that can make them feel clunky, but the truth is that the combat system of MH4U is all about positioning and timing. It’s important to know the ins and outs of your weapon so you know when the best time to attack is and when the best time to retreat is. This is doubly important for maps that have a strong verticality to them, in order to show off the new mounting system. While jumping from a ledge, you can wing your weapon in hopes of hitting a monster. If your strike lands, there’s a good chance you will mount them, where you alternate between slashing away at their back to weaken them and hanging on for dear life as they thrash in an attempt to throw you off (although I think there’s a hidden cooldown to the ability to do this, because you can almost never do it twice in a row). As mentioned earlier, successfully mounting a monster and bringing them down will temporarily stun them and let you get in some free hits or retreat and heal up.
The main game is very fun on its own, but it’s even more fun when you bring a friend or three on the hunt with you. There are separate multiplayer quests that are available for up to four players and they are arguably better than the main game. This is because with more players comes more rules; it’s a good idea to bring a variety of weapons to take advantage of different Skills, because the more players you have, the tougher a monster is to bring down. There’s a lot to consider even with just one other player. Not only that, but if you have a friend who is more experienced than you, they can help you learn the basics of the game, which is what happened with me. In fact, I was only in the second story area when my friend and I were on the third tier of multiplayer quests; of the sixty five hours I’ve played so far, about thirty five of them are doing multiplayer. Plus, there’s nothing better than being cornered by a monster, fighting for dear life, low on health, and just when you think it’s the end for you, a friend sweeps in and mounts the monster, giving you time to retreat and heal up, then return to deliver a pounding to said creature.
With these sixty five hours, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the game has to offer. I’ve already completed several sets or armor, but there are so many more out there waiting for me to make them. I’ve already hunted over twenty species of monsters, and there are even more to discover because I’ve only just finished the story and am working my way up to High rank quests and eventually G rank ones. I’ve already made different versions of my favorite weapon types, but I have yet to fully take each type for a test drive to see what they can really do. In short, MH4U is a game with a staggering amount of depth and content to uncover.
Even though there are some flaws with the game (poorly explained mechanics, occasionally annoying fetch quest missions that have nothing to do with hunting monsters that grow old after the first time doing them), at the end of the day, it offers a huge amount of fun content that manages to feel unlike anything else in gaming despite its ARPG roots. Finally getting that last piece of monster you need to complete a sweet looking armor set, slaying a beast that once seemed impossible, smart combat, and teaming up with friends manages to never stop entertaining. This game isn’t for people who are looking or a pure power fantasy or well executed story. It’s for people who like deep gameplay systems and rewarding, intense combat against a huge roster of well-designed monsters. As I understand it, it’s the most accessible game in the series and it certainly feels like an improvement over the overwhelming beginning of the previous game. It may not be for you, but if it is, it’s likely to sink its jaws in your arm and refuse to let go.
+ Tons of content to uncover
+ Lots of great looking monsters that never stop being exciting to fight
+ Crafting new armor is addicting
+ Stellar production values
+ Large variety of weapons that bring radically different play styles to the table
+ Hunting with friends is an absolute blast
+ Hidden depth in just about every facet of the game, from combat to armor decoration
+Does a good job of spreading out tutorials so that the player isn’t overwhelmed, but…
- … some mechanics are still poorly explained and difficult to understand without online guides or experienced players to help the new ones along
- Some annoyances like fetch quests that keep rearing their ugly heads