In Japan, Monster Hunter is the kind of franchise that can turn a great video game system into an industry-dominating one. It’s the kind of franchise that transforms the already subdued train rides into a sea of businesspeople unmoving except for their thumbs as they stalk beasts in synchronicity. Employers give their staff the day off when a new game in the franchise is released, if they suspect nobody’s coming in to work anyway.
And now the Nintendo Switch — already the only game machine anyone in Japan uses — has a Monster Hunter to call its very own, set in a world inspired by Feudal Japan no less, and the nation is unsurprisingly eating it up. But what about here in the west?
Monster Hunter Rise will impact people differently depending on your experience with the franchise. For long-time fans it’s a faster, more accessible and somewhat easier take that introduces new ways to get around the vast slabs of wilderness and take down hulking behemoths with the ludicrous weaponry of your choice.
For people like me, who have barely touched a Monster Hunter game before now, it’s a lot to take in. The game doesn’t explain itself particularly well, there’s a lot of assumed knowledge and it can take a dozen or more hours to get into the swing of the various obtuse mechanics and non-obvious techniques. But once you get there, it’s easy to see how this thing takes over people’s entire gaming life.
Split into two sets of missions — one you take on alone and one where you can be joined by online friends and strangers — Rise has you taking on a laundry list of imaginative fauna along with your cat and (rideable) canine friend to protect your village and its people from monster rampages. But while learning the ins and outs of your chosen weapon (from transforming sword-axes to ranged bows and guns) is key, the real core of the game is collecting resources. Small animals around the maps give you special benefits and abilities, while killing monsters allows you to harvest their parts to create flashy and effective new armour and upgraded weapons.
As a first-timer I wasn’t as immediately impressed with the new mobility options or the limited ability to ride and control enemies as some fans were. But by the time I got past the first few waves of missions, when monsters really started obliterating me until I had my game plan down, I was hooked on the cycle and hungrily eyeing the next pair of greaves I wanted to craft from some poor Volvidon’s shell.