I’ve been playing Monster Hunter completely, utterly wrong.
I was expecting a JRPG with some MMO elements when I picked up MH3 Ultimate for the Wii U and 3DS recently, hoping to finally “get” why it’s so popular in Japan. I thought “Hey, it’ll be like Pokemon but with more action and realistic monsters.” Its massive sales numbers always seemed to be a surefire estimate as to its popularity — it’s essentially the Call of Duty of Japan. And, like Call of Duty, it would be appealing enough to lure in newcomers like me with each successive installment, the latest notwithstanding. But, like Call of Duty, it is and forever will be built on an incredibly deep and meticulous experience that requires time, and lots of it, to master.
I didn’t know that. I just thought I was going to murder monsters. I was way off.
Here were my assumptions going in:
- No plot, just quests
- Kill or capture monsters based on mission request
- Lots of grinding to level up
- Earn gold, buy new weapons or armor, or earn them as rewards
- Several overworld locations to explore and battle monsters in
- Some crafting
- I’d stick to the single player
MH3U is hidden behind a minimal plot about a beast invading the waters of a village and our hunter’s task to bring it down. There are only two points in the plot, an A and a Z, and nothing in between. Initially I was a bit taken aback by the lack of narrative; I expected the game to be focused on a series of predetermined quests on the way tackling the main monster, with some manner of recurring narrative tackling the who’s and the why’s and an open world full of hunter missions afterward. The almost complete jump into open hunting took me a bit by surprise.
For better or worse, MH3U takes no fewer than 15 hours to finally crack through its tutorial. Learning to hunt, track and trap monsters is handled via the different quests in Moga Village. Weapons and armor are bought or upgraded, once enough materials are found. There are several seemingly mundane tasks associated with gathering materials, and they all consist of trying to grow them, trade for them, mine them or combine them. There is also the ability to travel to another port for added challenges and quests. For someone that rarely plays MMOs or meticulous RPGs it becomes incredibly overwhelming.
So I opted to grind.
I began passing through the Moga Village quests one by one, either killing dinosaurs or collecting herbs or whatever the task was required of me. On several occasions I would receive a quest to face a large monster, which is akin to some of the more grueling boss battles of many action games. Failure would occur often, as I’d faint (die) when the monster would land enough blows and I didn’t. The combination of not being able to lock on to an enemy and egregiously designed attack animations left me open to easy assault. It took me two hours to trap a bear in one quest, all because I would get murdered each time.
I would continue, though, defeating monsters and scavenging for materials. I upgraded my sword, which I chose as my preferred weapon from the multitude of options provided, and saved enough Zenny — the game’s currency — to buy great Hunter-level equipment. I didn’t have time to play house or farmer; I had a Lagiacrus to defeat and a town to save.
But after the initial tutorial quests, I got frustrated. The locations weren’t really changing. The monsters were insanely difficult, and I couldn’t attack them like I wanted to. My health was still the same level — there AREN’T any experience points. My usual action-RPG tactics weren’t working. I kept hitting walls in my quests, where the challenge wasn’t living up to the payoff.
I was ready to quit. And that’s whenI realized I was doing it all wrong.
Stuck trying to trap the bear beast Arzuros, I hopped online to find a video that could give me a strategy. What I found were countless clips that depicted methods of quickly focusing the camera on him, attacking and backing away, and chasing him into the next field. Trapping would be easy if I had the right equipment and used the right weapon levels. Several of the videos even pointed to visiting the other port town to begin working on my HR (Hunter Rank) first. Because of its slow animation my sword wasn’t going to cut it. There were suggestions for dual blades and bowguns with specific tips. To upgrade my weapon and armor I needed specific materials, which were best found when grown at the farm and traded for. I was to have a specific meal at the Moga restaurant to increase my defensive resistance before I set off on my quest.
The hunts were more about tactics and strategy than wailing away and swinging. They were about baiting and trapping, slowing them down and knowing when to run away. The payoff was when a strategy worked and a beast was felled. While I was trying for the highest stat equipment, I should have been going for the right equipment. Instead of rushing into a battle guns blazing and hoping to overpower a monster I should have stayed back, planned my moves, and been more tactical. Instead of trying to advance a story, I should have been working to take down a mark — sometimes repeatedly — until I had the right gear.
All of the information, and the deep deep DEEP system behind it, seemed to finally click.
The magic of Monster Hunter doesn’t make itself apparent until the basics are learned and we’ve had someone else show us the ropes. And that’s what finally happened to me. It took a craftsman (video) to show me how to properly play the game. Whether it’s a fault of Monster Hunter for not properly explaining its methods to me, or my inability to see past the confines of traditional JRPGs, I’m not quite sure. I was stuck standing in the middle of giant pile of tools without an understanding of which ones to use for what. Like Call of Duty, it takes the right combination of time and patience and an understanding of all of the mechanics before Monster Hunter opens up. Once it does, it turns us all into hunters, and not grinders.