Dedication is a word that gets thrown around a lot when describing videogames. MMOs in particular have a knack of hailing the demand of dedication as a core tenant of their structure of play. And while some might have a legitimate claim, few games are as worthy of your dedication as the colorful Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.
Monster Hunter first made its mark as a PSP game that only saw the light of day in Japan, garnering the adoration of an ever growing group of fans with each new iteration. A couple of attempts to bring the series to the rest of the world was met with mixed reactions due to the unfriendly approach that the first versions of Monster Hunter took to heart.
After spending a couple dozen hours fighting all sorts of creatures, crafting equipment and getting the crap kicked out of my poor hunter, it’s safe to say that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the most approachable release in the franchise. That’s thanks to a host of improvements and the addition of much needed and very well written and constructed tutorials that teach you the core elements of inventory management and weapon usage. But while things are explained a little bit better to novices, the sinking teeth that the series is known for are as ever sharp as ever.
The bare bones and simplest description for Monster Hunter would be that it’s a collection of boss fights that require you to be thoroughly prepared beforehand. This isn’t an action game that allows you to charge in and hope to come back in one piece. The fighting is technical and your moves are verily dependent on the speed in which their animations play out. Dodging is a must and mastering distance plays a huge role in even the most basic of hunts, all the while forcing you to keep an eye on your stamina bar. Unlike the easiest comparison one could come up with based on that description, the ‘Souls games (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, etc), Monster Hunter goes much further in a some regards.
For one, the longer you take in a fight, the weaker your character gets and the less edge your weapon has, losing power and sharpness. That forces you to keep many variables in check during longer fights and take precautions all while avoiding whatever you are facing. There’s also the fact that Monster Hunter has no form of character development — all of your stats and bonuses come from equipment. You’ll never acquire gear from treasure chests or from beating any bosses. Everything has to be crafted from parts of monsters you take down, following a deviously time-consuming but ridiculously rewarding evolution curve.
Before even thinking about upgrading anything, you’ll have to learn what weapon you’ll want to use in a particular fight. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate brings back all of the blades, hammers, guns, and bows from previous games, as well as bringing in the insect glaive and charge blade. The glaive is a crazy combination of a quarterstaff that allows you to pole vault around and a ranged blow dart gun that can be shot at monsters to drain them of special buffs, while the charge blade is a huge cudgel that stores continually stronger power levels with each swing. Both new armaments are incredibly deep and do well in giving you more options to choose from, raising the total to twelve different ways you can approach this game.
I stuck with the long sword for the majority of my time with the game so far, and that got me relatively far in the early- to mid-difficulty quests. That was until I met with a particular monster that’s covered in rock, which made my trusty blade bounce off at every slash. Not giving it much thought past stone is probably weak to a hammer, I quickly crafted the strongest mallet I could at that point in the game and went to town on the boss.
Granted, this is probably the simplest problem Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate puts in your way. Later enemies pull even meaner tricks, adding in to their already punishing difficulty. Fights in this game can take a while to complete, depending on how you go into them, with some of them featuring a handful of stages, which are tied to the monsters’ unique behavioral patterns that change depending on how much damage you do to them. For instance, the aforementioned armored boss can have its scales shattered, at which point, it turns more aggressive in its close range attacks to protect its soft interior weak spot.
One of this game’s cooler new features comes from the verticality in most of the new environments you’ll be fighting in, which allow you to battle up and down multiple levels, a first in the series. It also brings in a new ability in the form of the ability to jump off cliffs onto enemies, giving you an added attack option. More often than not, it helps you gain an advantage in fights, toppling monsters and exposing them to even more damage, if you manage to hang on and hit them long enough.
No two fights in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate are ever the same and it’s that unpredictability that makes this game so exciting. Monster Hunter is yet another one of those games that work as a natural source of “big fish” stories. You might get through a fight by the skin of your teeth, after having just finished your supply of healing potions and feel like you won the lottery, or go the opposite the direction and get snubbed out while harvesting a plant, caught unprepared. Success and failure hang in such tight and narrow balance that regardless of which you end up meeting in a hunt, you’re likely to want to go back for more.
That inherent sense of replayability works well with the crafting system that has you coming back and killing or capturing a particular type of monsters for armor and weapon components. This might sound like an excuse to pad out your game time, but you’re never forced down any one equipment evolution path. And thanks to a huge list of possible combinations of armor sets, weapons and consumable items that has been slowly growing with each new Monster Hunter game, you’re given a huge amount of freedom to come up with an unique approach.
Given its unforgiving nature and ramp up in challenge, online multiplayer is a welcome addition that’s already proving to be Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate‘s best feature. Its interface could use some work, but outside of having to mess around with a few too many button presses, the online in this game works extremely well over Wi-Fi. Your gathering hall can handle up to three other hunters that can help you tackle a fairly big list of hunts that are tuned for multiple players.
Wi-Fi also does some neat things in the game through streetpass by adding in temporary quests via what’s called Guild Cards that you can gather and use to partake in your single player game. They earn you new exclusive items, not only for your hunter, but also for your Felyne ‘Palicoes’ battle buddies. It’s another excuse to carry your 3DS around town, never knowing who you might link up to.
Considering the vast amount of individual combat options, the variety of possible group formations is as gigantic as the monsters you’ll be hunting with other players. Both of the new weapons so far are the most popular choices for random hunters online, given their newness. That discrepancy should balance itself out once hunters start settling in with options that help complement a group instead of going out and doing their own thing. A good composition of skilled players is awesome to behold in action, just as a terrible one is to get frustrated at. The latter is bound to happen every now and again, especially this close to release, when a wave of newcomers are just getting into such a demanding game.
The online portion of the game also ties to the hunter rank you garner up the more monsters you vanquish, opening up a host of new bigger and badder hunts to tackle with friends or randoms from around the world. It’s an incentive to take your hunt past the solo experience that works extremely well and is sure to give this game legs beyond what’s already rewarding and fun — until the next installment, that is.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is one of the best games you could pop into your 3DS at the moment. The amount of content off and online is enough to keep you busy for a while, and luckily for you, quality is also there to meet you. Fights in this game are exciting, challenging, and extremely fun. They provide a huge sense of accomplishment every time you succeed and the “I’ll get you next time” when you lose. It’s rare when a game that thrives on continuing returns manages to be this fresh. If you have been hesitant on the series up to this point, you should really give MH4U a go. Capcom really nailed it with this one.