If I had to explain the Monster Hunter series in very few words, I’d say that it falls somewhere between Dark Souls and a raid in an MMORPG. What it essentially boils down to is preparing to hunt a giant monster, which can mean everything from huge dragons to a giant shark with arms. Things can go very wrong, very quickly, in Monster Hunter and that’s the beauty of the series. Your attacks have to be calculated, otherwise you’re going to end up dead. Like Dark Souls, there is an emphasis on learning the attack patterns of your enemies and using that knowledge to avoid attacks. With no health bars on enemies, players must use visual cues, such as the monster limping to take rests between attacks or to determine when it is near death. It’s these subtle development choices that help make Monster Hunter such a rich series. But with all this talk of facing huge monsters, how does the 3DS cope graphically? The short answer is that is copes great.
The 3DS does a great job of handling both the large environments and the monsters themselves. The varied environments, from the dingy Sunken Hollow to the barren Frozen Seaway, all take full advantage of the 3DS’ capabilities. The monsters are greatly detailed, being instantly recognisable from one another, having varying features that define them. Many monsters also have alternate forms during combat. For example, the Gore Magala grows devious horns and illuminates its wings and scales with a purple hue once it reaches enrage mode. Although I do not play 3DS games with 3D enabled, because I find it difficult to focus, the game suffers no performance loss by having 3D enabled. Although the soundtrack is nothing groundbreaking, its orchestral theme perfectly accentuates the epic, fantasy setting of Monster Hunter, shifting in pitch and intensity as you track a monster and weave in and out of combat. There is also nothing more satisfying than the sound you hear when you land a clean hit on a monster. I feel like I’ve been Pavlovian conditioned to seek that sound.
One drawback of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and the Monster Hunter series overall, is its rather shallow story. Although Capcom does nothing to hide that the focus is on gameplay, rather than an intricate and engaging plot, the story is about as basic as it gets. You are a wayward rookie hunter, looking to get out there and hunt some beasts. You meet up with the leader of a travelling caravan and, together, travel to different villages in search of getting a mysterious relic appraised. Each village is essentially a quest hub, containing the necessary amenities to prepare for quests. The Monster Hunter series’ stories are nothing compared to other JRPG titans like Final Fantasy or the Tales series, but it’s this awareness of its simplicity that allows Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate to succeed with such a base plot line. The plot simply becomes a loose vehicle for you, the player, to get out there and hunt monsters to your heart’s content. What Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate lacks in story, it makes up for tenfold in gameplay depth. There are literally hundreds of different weapons and sets of armour that players are able to forge, each based on a different monster, which gives this player such an MMO feel. Weapons and armour are forged using a set recipe of materials, which can be gathered in the different world maps through tasks such as mining and fishing and from carving up monsters that you have killed. The kicker is that, for each boss monster that you kill, you can only get three carve items. This gives you a, ‘just one more kill!’ mentality that will keep you playing this game well into the early hours, hoping for that rare item drop. Capcom beautifully captures each monster’s different nuances in the gear that you can make, such as a bow carved with the jaw of the shark-like Zamtrios.
Another issue with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is that it is paramount that you are able to control the in-game camera, as you are going to be running around in a 3D space a lot, trying to position yourself in relation to the monster(s). One reason why the game plays so well on a New 3DS is the inclusion of the c-stick which can be used to easily maneuvre the camera. However, if you’re using a regular 3DS/XL there’s also the option of buying a Circle Pad Pro, which adds a second analogue stick. If neither of these options are valid then there is the option to use a section of the touch screen to move the camera. However, juggling this and using the face buttons to attack, heal etc. can be uncomfortable.
By far the best thing about Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the inclusion of online multiplayer. Previously Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate did have online multiplayer, but only on the Wii U version. The fact of the matter is that, and I keep making the comparison with Dark Souls here, getting into Monster Hunter for the first time can be daunting. Some people find the combat to be slow and it can be hard to know which items are useful against which monster. Having a friend that is able to help you out online in the beginning can be a god-send, as they can show you the ropes of combat and advise you on strategy mid-fight. There’s also nothing more rewarding than getting together for hunters to take down a massive enemy, although Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate functions perfectly well as a single player game, gearing up with friends is when it really comes alive. Online in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is incredibly flexible. Whilst in an online lobby you are able to do everything besides embark on single player quests, including forging armour and organising your items. Although the game only supports a maximum of four players in an online game, any more players would require massive scaling changes to monsters to increase their difficulty.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a game that is perfectly suited to the handheld format and will steal hundreds of hours of your life. Its easy to grasp yet hard to master combat combined with its deep theorycrafting and MMO-esque loot system are the foundations that make this series so beloved. Fans of both real-time JRPGs and the Souls series are sure to find something they love in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.