The Endless Big Game Hunt - Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Review (New 3DS)

Hello everyone Lance here, and this is going to be the first of a few reviews on games that I have had the joy of playing on my Nintendo New 3DS over the past year. Today I will going over one the games that I picked up alongside the 3DS, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (or Monster Hunter 4G in Japan), my first game in the series.

The fast, long-reaching Insect Glaive combines powerful
acrobatic attacks with an insect that u can send to absorb
a variety essences from monsters to buff your weapon
with a variety of powerful enhancements.
So, Monster Hunter has always been a title that I took interest in as I have heard many good things about it from friends of mine as well as critics online. That and it being what I perceived as a series about epic fights with a vast array of huge monsters, large weapon and armor varieties, deep and varied game mechanics, with a combat system that relies on knowledge as much as execution. All that really appealed to me as a long time player and fan of From Software's Souls series of games which had many of the same traits that I had just mentioned, so I snapped it up right away when I had the chance. Did it live up to my expectations? Definitely, just not in the way I expected it to.

Right of the bat I'm awed by the sheer amount of variety and choice the game has to offer, a real embarrassment of riches if you will. Straight after the introductory sequence, you're given a basic version of all 14 weapon classes in the game (11 melee & 3 range varieties) and a simple introductory tutorial of how to use each of them. Now, each and every one of these weapon types operate very differently from one another, so much so that you might as well be playing a different game. From the simple but efficient defensive Lance, the one-hit-wonder Great-sword, stupidly-simple but hard to master Hammer, rudimentary but flexible pro-favorite Sword & Shield, to more complex varieties like the transforming Switch-axe and Charge-blade. Every single weapon has a complex move-set alongside small nuances and properties that can easily fill up a 20 minute long basic tutorial video, and that's without factoring in all the different elements, status abilities, crafting trees, complementary armor skills, and the pros and cons when going up against different monster types. Picking up and getting to grips with even just one weapon can take many hours of practice and iteration. But the game lets you go at your own pace, letting you play (or replay) your hunts in any desired order with any equipment, anytime. 
The Gun-lance combines the excellent protection of
its large shield together with a powerful cannon at
the tip of its weapon for hella fun

You see, there is no leveling involved in this game. All your progression is in the form of crafting better equipment from the parts you gather from the monsters you hunt (that and getting better at the game). If ever you feel like you want to try a different weapon, just switch up some equipment and you're good to go. Wanna just give those monsters a good smack down? Bring out the Great-sword. Have a hard time against a fast-moving-hard-hitting monster? Maybe bring in the sturdy Lance. Wanna have change of pace as a ranged class? Dust out the Bow. The game doesn't really ever restrict you to any one class. You can always switch around weapons (each even has 2-3 sub-classes) when you feel bored or stuck, just as easily as you can finish the game exclusively using your favorite class. Crafting better weapons and armor from the monsters you hunt to hunt even bigger monsters is the key game-play loop of MH4U, and it's hella addicting.

MH4U's cast of 75 unique monsters are as varied in design & behaviour as they are in size
The main stars of show are the monsters themselves of course, and Capcom has really done an amazing job in this department. Many of the monsters are beautifully unique, each with their own behaviors, attacks, gimmicks, weak points and quirks that require the appropriate preparations for. Couple that with a decently intelligent AI and amazing animation work that really sells them as living, vicious monsters trying their best to destroy you for their own survival. Each monster moves in a way that gives real organic physicality to their every movement and attack. The way they move and bring their arsenal to bear is heavily influenced by their size, weight, shape and overall move in a way that you would realistically (mostly anyway) expect a monster of its look to move.

An enraged Zinogre is a vicious opponent with
extremely fast, hard hitting moves with
paralyzing lightning attacks
As you fight these monsters, they sometimes enter into a variety enraged modes, where they are most dangerous, hitting faster and harder with new attack moves and/or properties. These periods can be waited out or even cancelled if enough damage is done to them. Different parts of the monsters can be broken for additional loot while also possibly affecting the attacks of the monster itself, like severing the tail, breaking its horns or crippling its limbs. Monsters can even grow temporarily tired as they fight you, wobbling unevenly as they weakly try to ward you away, trying to breath fire but failing to do so, or falling flat on their face as they attempt to fly away with their tattered wings.

Hit by hit, blow by careful blow as you carefully observe and learn the monsters' attacks, then move on to deftly dodge, block, or counter them, you slowly whittle their health down. As you near the end of the hunt, with the monster on its last legs, they will start moving with noticeable struggle, as they attempt to desperately flee for a different area. You will have to track it down to its nest in order to deliver the final blows (or capture it) to finally finish the hunt, which typically takes anywhere from 10-30 minutes. At the end you will receive money and materials specific to each monster in order to buy and craft new items, weapons, armor and upgrades, before preparing for the next hunt.

One of MH4U's flagship monsters, Seregious is a real nasty pain in the rear, dancing and swooping nimbly around as it rams and kicks you around, all the while firing out exploding spines that can cause a very debilitating bleed ailment 

This game is hard, very hard in fact for a newcomer to the series, and this is coming from someone used to the Souls series of games (which really isn't as inaccessible as people say it is). The sheer amount of practice and knowledge required to be even decent at the game is pretty steep, climbing ever so higher as you progress from low-rank to high-rank to the extremely challenging G-ranks and beyond. Monsters hit ever so much harder, with less prep time before each attack as you progress through the game. Each weapon
The most complex weapon in MH4U, the
charge-blade is a sword+shield that transforms
into a large great axe and requires masterful use
 of the transforming moves, the charge system, keen timing,
buffs, and split second block timings to make the
most of it. And its great fun.
and each monster requires time for careful practice and thought to learn and eventually master. Mastering every weapon and monster requires almost a full-time job level of hard work and dedication. Watching true masters of the game honing and perfecting their craft is truly mesmerizing, as they perfectly time their dodges, attacks and counters with absolute mastery of their weapons to take down beasts in half the time others would take. But Monster Hunter does not have to be all about that. In fact, one of its good points is how easily you can pick it up, play it 30 hours, 100 hours, or even thousands of hours and still feel like you got your value out of it, that you had a full experience. Its pretty easy to pick it up, play it for a few days, put it aside, then pick it up maybe a few months later and still enjoy it. The real tangible sense of progress and accomplishment as you defeat a monster you previously couldn't, pull of a new technique/combo you learned, craft a new item, finally get the new weapon/armor you always wanted, and genuinely feel good as you noticeably grow better as a hunter. I never got really good as a hunter, but I had a great time in my 150 hours in the game, and that's what matters.

MH4U's Dalamadur comes in at a whooping 440 metres and has its own special stage, requiring sufficient gear, planning and teamwork to take down.

Online play is one of the main selling points of the game. You can join up to a group of 4 hunters (hunts are always scaled to 2 players on online quests) to tackle quests. Playing in a group of friends is an absolute blast, as you can always try new, silly tactics to take on the big bad monsters, then fall flat and laugh about it. Joining a group of random strangers is fine too, as hunting in groups is almost always easier and more efficient than doing it alone, and the community as a whole is generally well behaved. Guild quests (which can be mostly solo-ed) and solo campaign are separate affairs, so there's plenty even for the lone wolf to do, and you're generally inclined to do both as they each give unique benefits that carry over to one another.

Your palicos act as useful (but dumb as bricks)
cat-companions when playing solo.
One special point of note is the general air of lighthearted silliness going around in the game all the time. Your hunter wears stylish but huge, bulky (ala World of Warcraft) armor as they swing ridiculous large weapons at monsters many times their size, you can jump from a 10 floors high and simply dust it of, you strike a strongman pose (annoyingly) every time you consume an item, you eat disgustingly large portions of gourmet food cooked by your Chinese cat-chef for buffs before going off on your hunt. The game doesn't want you to take it take seriously, and it helps lighten the mood in this never ending world of monster hunting.

My main complaint about the game is how dense and inaccessible to newcomers it can feel at times. The tutorials and hints given in game are not really that useful in practice and to actually get any good in the game at a decent rate is to study certain guides and watch guide videos to understand the nuance and practical applications or weapon techniques, crafting, tech trees, even very important game mechanics like sharpness, skills and farming spots. This is the result of the complexity of the already pretty difficult game itself, but the game really should do a better jobs of explaining things (if at all) to players. The grind may also be a bit of an issue, as farming the required parts for weapons and/or armor can be fairly tedious and time consuming, especially if Rngesus decides to never give you the rare component you need (much more so in hard, long bosses). But if any of that gets too much for you, its always okay to just take a break or move on to another monster until you feel more up to the task.

My other gripes pertain mostly to the fact the platform is on a 3DS. Perhaps due to development costs or brand deals with Nintendo, MH4U is currently stuck on the 3DS, which is perhaps not the best platform for the game to show its full potential. Most of all is the camera, which in my opinion is way too cluttered (despite the 2nd screen, which isn't that useful to be honest) and is too small to fit the bigger monsters on screen, making it very difficult to see incoming attacks more often than I would like, and I'm using the biggest New Nintendo 3DS XL. The graphic are of course nothing too special being on a handheld, and the frame-rate can tank a little at times. Its a pity too, as being on the PC or console would really help to bring the many majestic, wonderfully animated creatures to life, not to mention make game-play feel better and smoother. The lack of a dedicated second analog stick is also sorely felt, as freely moving a camera or aiming ranged weapons is more difficult than it needs to be.

Overall, I had a good, rewarding time with Monster Hunter. It's not a game for everyone, but those looking for a deep, nuanced action Role-Playing Game (RPG) with ridiculous amount of content, you might think to give it a go. It was quite different from the Dark Souls experience I was expecting, but I liked it for what it was. Dark Souls was all about the bleak, foreboding world which oozes atmosphere, rich lore, and in the moment action with on-the-fly adaptation and reiteration. Monster Hunter is a different kind of beast, it's more methodical, requiring you to always be honing your skills, crafting better equipment, learning new skills, trying different tricks, abusing different weaknesses, all in the effort to prepare for the next monster, the next encounter. After all, it is the never-ending big game hunt.


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