Written by Stephen Patterson
Monster Hunter is huge in Japan, but you may have never heard of it if you stick to franchises that are popular in the West. According to Capcom’s own website, the series has sold 38 million copies worldwide, spanning 33 iterations. That’s the same number of sales as Street Fighter, but as of writing Monster Hunter only releases on the 3DS and barely makes a dent in US and European markets when compared with other Japanese juggernauts on the platform.
A strict definition of the series is difficult to achieve without omitting the small pieces that make the game great, but it can be boiled down to a simple feedback loop – gear up in town, select a quest, and venture out into a pre-generated battlefield in search of, you guessed it, a specific monster to kill and harvest. It seems simple, but the third person combat is nuanced and devolves into dozens of individual weapon categories, abilities and stat-tracking which can seem daunting to a beginner. What results however is an addictive carousel of achievement only improved upon by the crafting system – you often find yourself working towards a specific piece of armour or weapon by collecting the required pieces out in the field and end up knee deep in five other challenges at the same time. A key piece of the replayability of Monster Hunter and it’s clones (see below) is that you do not feel tied to a story trajectory decided by the developers. Admittedly, quests unlock in the order defined by those who wrote them, but the stories you make are created by your own exploits in the world and not by the script – it’s something that has resonated widely with handheld gamers across the eastern hemisphere, but as of yet, has not reached it’s potential in the Western home console market.
We can attribute a huge part of the success of Monster Hunter in Eastern markets to the continued popularity of handheld devices in comparison to home consoles. The Xbox One is a non-entity in Japan, to the point that we saw it release in the region months after it had become available in the rest of the world. Lifestyle choices on a societal level are a defining factor – living in the centre of economic centres in Japan is expensive, pushing people out to the countryside and increasing commute times, making the Nintendo 3DS a perfect time sink for working gamers. Monster Hunter feels like a large, in-depth experience that encourages players to return day after day in contrast with phone and tablet games which tend to lock players out of content quickly, not to mention alienating player bases with their microtransaction-based economies. Monster Hunter Generations, the latest iteration of the game, has sold 4 million copies to date, a resounding achievement for a game hamstrung by technically weak hardware (the 3DS). What we don’t see is a mirroring of that handheld success over here in the West – everyone knows the Vita was a major failure for Sony despite continued support from Japanese developers, writing off one of the platforms that hosted Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (the PSP) among others. In the case of the 3DS, developers must decide to either dedicate their development to either the 3DS or the Wii U, fragmenting a user-base which is already small.
The Nintendo Switch, then, presents a unique opportunity for Capcom to continue developing Monster Hunter in a similar fashion as with Monster 4 Ultimate and Generations – namely for a handheld clientele – while having it accessible in 1080p on the big screen for western audiences by docking the Switch tablet into the base unit at a moment’s notice. It’s a chance not many developers will get; producing a game which manages to appeal to two distinct markets in one fell swoop – chance made possible through the technological innovations of the hardware manufacture the franchise is licensed out to. The prospect of focusing developer efforts onto a united console/handheld platform presented by the Switch is exciting not just for the developers of games for the system but also for us as consumers: Nintendo first party games will no longer be exclusively available on either the Wii U (forcing you, aside from extreme edge cases, to play at home) OR the 3DS (forcing you to play with poor graphical fidelity on a tiny screen). What would benefit the series most is Monster Hunter becoming truly ‘third party’, that is an experience you can play not only in the Nintendo ecosystem but also outside of it. It would a large stretch to suggest that the PC could become the driving force behind updating the game to look like something fit for 2016 and ahead considering the starting point on 3DS, but the chance to sell the game on the Xbox One, PS4 and by extension the Scorpio and PS4 Pro is one that should absolutely not be missed by Capcom. You need only look to the games that have aped Monster Hunter and released there to see that the market is ready for the original series to stake a huge claim on the market.
You don’t need to look far to see that Monster Hunter has spawned copycat franchises from developers – those which appear more than willing to fill the sizeable market gap left by Capcom on home consoles and the PC. If you’re looking for some fun experiences on platforms other than the 3DS while waiting for the Switch and what the future of Monster Hunter brings, you could take a look.
Toukiden Kiwami, available on the PS4, PS Vita and PC combines the hack and slash elements of Koei-Tecmo’s famous Dynasty Warriors series with the tried and tested Monster Hunter formula. Defeating major Oni in Toukiden allows the player to collect equipment representing powerful warriors which change skillsets.
Soul Sacrifice takes a unique spin to the Monster Hunter format, allowing you to either ‘save’ or ‘sacrifice’ each enemy you defeat, contributing to unique skill trees for both available paths. Saving enemies provides benefits to healing and protection, while sacrificing enemies often increases damage output or speed at the expense of other negative side effects.
God Eater has lived a strange life so far, releasing in different formats on different platforms and generally confusing the hell out of me. Similar in design to Toukiden, players can collect ‘Aragami’ to change the way their character plays and what abilities they can use. The latest release of God Eater 2 includes both the original game and the expansion for the second instalment, which is available to cross-play and cross-buy on PS4 and Vita.
Freedom Wars, exclusive to the Vita, is a science fiction take on the Hunter genre which involves machines called ‘Abductors’ and teams of prisoners from other parts of the world. Freedom Wars also includes player vs player combat and mainly focuses on ranged combat in contrast with the melee fighting of other games in the genre.
That being said, if you’re interested in playing the Monster Hunter franchise but don’t want to be tied the 3DS, a system looking increasingly dated as the years roll by, it might be worth waiting until the release line-up is shown for the Nintendo Switch, releasing March 2017. On a platform that has already shown hints of a new 3D Mario game, Mario Kart and Splatoon in it’s 3 minute announcement trailer, not to mention a brand new Zelda title, the chance that Capcom decline to produce a shiny new Monster Hunter for the system seem astronomically low. In fact, it looks to be almost certain, considering stirrings that Capcom are focusing heavily on growing the franchise in the West and are aware that handhelds are holding the franchise back. There’s a potential exciting future for the franchise on the horizon, but cutting ties with platform exclusivity and expanding to new consoles is a must for the series to flourish.
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