Both things can be true: I spent my first three hours playing Monster Hunter Rise screaming, “I hate this game!” at my Nintendo Switch screen. Since then, I have logged more hours in Rise than in any other game this year, and I’ve successfully convinced several friends to pick the game up as well.
For some further context, I’d never played a Monster Hunter game before. I knew that the title did most of the explaining as to what the franchise is about—you hunt big monsters—but that was about it. Rise’s debut marks the sixth main Monster Hunter game (the games have been popular enough to spawn several spinoffs, as well as a recent blockbuster adaptation starring Milla Jovovich), but that success has been a mixed blessing, as the series has become notorious for having a steep learning curve. To wit, when I took to Twitter to see what people were saying about Rise shortly after its release, assessments seemed to boil down to either, “It’s good, so long as you can get past a lot of menu screens,” or, “If you liked the other Monster Hunter games, you’ll like this one, too.” Not exactly inspiring stuff, but I took the leap anyway.
As it turns out, the number of menu screens is no joke. There are several tutorial courses for various aspects of the gameplay (basic controls, how to ride monsters, how to use traps, etc.), and all of them are paradoxically both long, with each action meriting a few pages of explanatory text, and just obtuse enough that it still feels like something’s being left out. (That feeling is actually justified, but more on that later.) In other words, it’s a frustrating start, one that defies the explanation of “it’s a feature, not a bug.”
So why am I recommending Monster Hunter Rise to my friends? The crucial thing about the game is that it’s meant to be played with other people; yes, there’s a single-player mode, but the multiplayer mode—available locally and online—is where the game really shines. The many different weapons that are available to players are vastly different—the hunting horn provides support buffs such as increasing defense or reducing stamina use, the dual blades are fast and do a lot of damage, the gunlance charges up unbelievably powerful shots, the list goes on. And part of the fun of playing with friends is, like building a good D&D party, figuring out what everyone’s role is, and cooperating to bring down a gigantic creature that would be impossible to tackle on one’s own. Though it’s possible to play without any real communication, Discord calls and other such chat functions make teamwork that much more seamless—and feel like more of a party.
Furthering the group chat experience is the fact that the YouTube guide economy is prospering when it comes to Rise, with seasoned hunters making video tutorials for each weapon as well as explaining the things that the game glosses over (such as how “latent power” works) so that newer players can really get all of the juice out of the metaphorical fruit. The sense of community that the game fosters branches out not just to your immediate friends but to strangers as well. Granted, that’s not really something that the developers could have planned out, but it’s now one of the great aspects of getting into the game.
As for what’s actually part of the text of the game, there’s tremendous appeal both in hunting monsters and in the fact that the game provides cat and dog (“Palico” and “Palamute”) companions to help player characters out. Their appearances can be customized—you can give your Palico Scottish Fold ears, for instance—and you can put them in little outfits (that up their stats and can match your own clothes, if you so desire) as well. The cut scenes scattered throughout the game, which do everything from introducing new monsters to providing a small reprieve as you watch chef cats cook dango dumplings, are gorgeously animated. The game continues to impress during missions, as monsters really grapple with one another (I once saw a monster swing another around by its tail) rather than exchanging rote punches.
There unfortunately isn’t really a way to skip a learning period that’s more significant than in most games. (The claims that Rise is the easiest Monster Hunter game to get into raise the question of what’s going on with the others, but I digress.) That said, the process is alleviated somewhat by being able to go through it with friends, along with the existence of more easily digestible, fan-made videos that usually only require a 10- or 15-minute investment (though those minutes will stack up a little if you’re interested in more than one weapon). What you get once you get over that hurdle, however, is well worth the investment. The multiplayer mode—not as chaotic as those in MMORPGs, as parties are limited to four people—is fantastic, and the necessity of hunting individual monsters several times in order to get enough monster parts to build gear means that going back to earlier levels to play with friends who are just starting out isn’t too much of a slog, and the chaos of special “rampage” levels practically necessitates a good team.
In other words, I’ve seen the light. I take back the hurtful things I said when I was struggling with the tutorials. I’m a full-on Monster Hunter convert, and by the looks of it, there’s no better time to join the hunting party.
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