Something that might surprise people who read this site is that, way back in my high school days, I used to be a PlayStation fanboy. It wasn’t that I looked down upon Microsoft or Nintendo or felt Sony was the superior console manufacturer, though: I just happened to have a PlayStation 2 at the time when other people might have been more interested in the Xbox or the GameCube and I didn’t particularly move beyond that. I had a Wii (in fact, I still do), but that was at a house I didn’t visit much (my family history sucks to talk about, so I’ll leave it at that) and I never really found the appeal in the Xbox over the PlayStation, although I didn’t look down upon it at all. Once the PlayStation 3 came out, I was basically left in the dust on the new console front because I couldn’t afford a new console, but I still played on my PS2 a huge amount and, up until I left high school, my portable system of choice was actually the PlayStation Portable (again, because I couldn’t afford a Nintendo DS: I HAD a Game Boy Advance SP, but I still was basically left in the dust once the Nintendo DS came out).
Nowadays, I’m a lot more of a multi console gamer than I was (for the most part: I still don’t have any Microsoft consoles, although I am still a console generation behind everyone else, so this one isn’t exactly the fault of Microsoft so much as it is my limited funds making upgrading to a new system a difficult thing to justify), but one of the games that I had a huge love for while growing up was Monster Hunter Freedom. I got the game in December 2006 by the urging of a friend (who was a huge fan of the original console game and had the portable version) while we were on a school trip to the intu MetroCentre (then known as the MetroCentre, although I stick with the shorter name because I’m a lazy sod) and, I’m not going to lie, my immediate impression was “eh, this is kind of boring”. However, I stuck through with it because I had it and there wasn’t a lot else I had which I was really eager on playing and, after a while, it all started to click into place. For a good while, me, him and two other friends would basically play the game in our lunch breaks in high school and we had a blast with it. Sadly, due to a falling out with this friend and one other friend (and a third guy who had kind of become part of our circle, but who I wasn’t overly fond of myself) during 2008 for reasons that genuinely were not my fault, the multiplayer side of the game got locked out to me and, when my PSP died for good in spring 2011, I found myself stuck and unable to play the game. I was absolutely devastated when this happened and the fact I was unable to get a new PSP effectively meant that I was unable to continue with the franchise.
So it was that, for over five years, the franchise remained basically off my radar. I was aware of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, but, lacking a 3DS at the time, I never checked it out and I did not have anyone else I knew who was even slightly interested in the franchise, so I never bothered to pick it up, and the same happened with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (which had actually fixed the multiplayer issue, but I didn’t know this at the time). However, when Monster Hunter Generations came out, I knew that I had to check it out, so I picked it up (in the special bundle that gave me a New Nintendo 3DS with it) and proceeded to jump back into the franchise for the first time in over five years.
While I will be honest and admit that I have not got especially far into the game so far after about a week and a half (I’ve completed the 1 star quests in the single player part of the game, have beaten most of 2 star quests and just unlocked the 3 star quests), I can say with confidence that this game has made me fall in love with the franchise all over again. The best way that I can describe my emotional feelings about this game are that I feel like I’ve met an old girlfriend after many years of being unable to be with her and found that she’s only become more beautiful as time has passed.
However, emotions aside, how does this game actually fare up on its own merits? Well, the franchise in general is one which you’re either going to love or hate, but I can definitely say that there is a lot to like about this franchise if you are willing to give it a chance and approach it with the right mindset.
Let me start by getting the things that I’m sure will be huge sticking points for potential newcomers to the franchise out of the way:
- This game is VERY much a slow starter. The entire franchise in general takes a good while before it starts throwing the really interesting enemies at you and, as a result, a lot of early missions will merely be gathering materials or hunting what are basically generic starting enemies. Now, to this game’s credit, you CAN start to get towards the tougher stuff after around eight or so quests if you skip the training quests (although, for fairly obvious reasons, this isn’t recommended if you are completely new to the franchise) and you get introduced to a lot of monsters very quickly, so it isn’t as bad as Monster Hunter Freedom was, but it does mean that you need to be prepared to spend a lot of time playing the game before you start to reach the really interesting stuff. This means that there will be a lot of grinding throughout the game, so, if you aren’t interested in that, then this game will probably not be to your liking.
- While the game does have a solid single player side to it, the franchise is one which has a strong multiplayer focus to it. It would be an exaggeration to say that the single player to this game doesn’t matter, but you will get far more out of the game if you’re willing to play it in multiplayer than if you’re just playing by yourself. The game DOES have an online multiplayer option as well as a local multiplayer one, but I would personally recommend the local multiplayer option because communication is important in some missions in the franchise (like capturing monsters) and you cannot guarantee that you will be able to communicate well without voice chat. As a result of this, if you do not know anyone else who can play this game (or just prefer a single player experience over a multiplayer one), you might find that this game isn’t strong enough to support a purely single player experience.
- The games in this franchise are ones which will take you a LONG time to complete them properly, even if you dedicate a lot of time towards them and are skilled at these types of games. As such, if you like games which do not require a lot of time to play through them or you are well aware that you do not have a lot of free time, this game will probably not be to your liking.
Those core factors will really decide whether or not you will be fond of this game or not, as those factors are pretty pervasive throughout the whole franchise. If those sound like major sticking points, they probably will be impossible for you to ignore in practice. If you can get past those factors, though? Well, then you’re probably going to find one of the most immersive gaming experiences you can get on a handheld system.
I would give the basic plot to this game, but, honestly, there isn’t really much plot to speak of with it. You play a hunter and you go out to hunt monsters (alongside a bunch of other things, like fetching items, capturing monsters and the like), that’s really all you need for a game called Monster Hunter. However, there is something vaguely resembling a plot for it, as you are a hunter who has been summoned to work for what is basically a monster research academy and it’s your job to do the dirty work. After a while, you gain enough of a reputation that you find yourself doing tasks for four towns and…well, that’s about it. It’s not really a deep plot, but, being honest, most people who play the games in this franchise don’t play them for the plot anyway, so that’s not a problem for those who are already established fans of the franchise!
The art direction for the game is pretty impressive, I have to say! Considering that my familiarity with the franchise was back when it was a PSP game, I have to say that the move to the Nintendo 3DS has not had a major impact upon the overall graphical quality of the franchise and it looks just as good as it did back on the PSP, if not better. Now, this IS a different console generation and gaming technology has advanced pretty far in the last decade or so, in fairness, so one would expect this to be the case, but it is still worth noting because I recently picked up Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and I honestly think that Monster Hunter Generations is better looking than it.
Compared to the PSP game, the load times in this game are a hell of a lot better, with barely any load time between stages of the maps. Again, I’m aware that I’m making comparisons between two completely different console generations, but this was one of my few bugbears from the original game, so seeing that problem has been fixed was quite a pleasant surprise for me (and yes, I’m well aware that this has stopped being an issue for a while with the franchise, but, considering my previous frame of reference, can you really blame me for making a big deal about this?). Some of the loading as you travel to stages can be slightly longer than it should be, but, even then, the overall load times are pretty good in the game (at least on the New Nintendo 3DS: I can’t say how it plays on a standard Nintendo 3DS).
The amount of variety on display across the game is honestly pretty impressive, considering the premise pretty much is just “kill stuff”. While the core of the game is taking on quests, the amount of quests available might just surprise you, as you have missions where you have to gather certain quantities of items and deliver them, slay a certain number of enemies and capture a still living enemy. While this might not sound like a huge amount of variety on paper, just about every enemy in this game acts in different ways, so the repetition doesn’t really grate as much as might be expected. There also is a HUGE amount more than that which can be done in between quests and even a few challenges which make the whole game really engaging. A little thing which is in this game which I REALLY like that wasn’t in the original game is that most missions have a secondary mission as part of them which you can complete to gain a better reward, more supply items and leave the mission early if necessary without losing anything that you have received as part of the mission (although you don’t count as having actually completed the mission until you complete the main mission). These secondary objectives often do not require any items to complete and are easier than the main mission, so, if you find yourself stuck and unable to complete the main mission (for example, due to running out of bug nets), completing these can often fix the problem thanks to the new supply items and, if it doesn’t, you don’t have to abort the mission and lose all of your progress. I really appreciate this move and I’m actually surprised that it wasn’t in the original game with the benefit of hindsight, because there were more than a few occasions where I was unable to complete a mission because I’d ran out of a key item necessary to obtain the gear I needed and had some good items which I didn’t want to lose, but wasn’t going to be able to keep once the timer ran out anyway.
The monster designs throughout the game are pretty inventive. Considering the game can be summed up as a “best of” collection of monsters from the previous four major installments in the franchise, I’m surprised with how inventive the monster designs have continued to be since the original game, with each location definitely having its own distinctive vibe of creatures and all of them offering some quite inventive challenges throughout the game. While I will acknowledge that I still prefer the monsters from Monster Hunter Freedom overall, I would be lying if I said that the creatures I have encountered from the rest of the games in the franchise didn’t impress me, with the Great Maccao and Tetsucabra in particular being well done monsters that I really enjoyed having to face. If I do have one personal complaint, I do think that the shuffling around of when you face creatures in this game means that you will face creatures at times which feel very odd if you are familiar with the previous installments of the game: in particular, I was somewhat surprised that the Yian Kut-Ku was marked as a 3 star quest, considering the Kut-Ku was the monster that you had to defeat to unlock 2 star quests back in Monster Hunter Freedom. That said, the stars in this game go up to 7 star quests as opposed to the 5 stars of the original game, so this is probably an unfair complaint overall!
On the subject of stuff returning from previous games, I was overjoyed to find that the game decided to have four villages to operate from and that the villages are all taken from the previous games in the franchise (with the exception of the main one that you have at the start of the game, which is unique to this game). There’s even a few nods towards the hunters from the original games in the returning villages, which really helps to give the vibe that the whole franchise is being represented in this game and that the stories that you created in the previous games are still being respected for the great achievements that they were. While part of me wishes that there was a way to transfer hunters from at least Monster Hunter 3 Utimate and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate over to Monster Hunter Generations and have them as AI controlled allies in the game, I can’t really fault the way Capcom have done things for this game.
I also quite like how the Felynes have been integrated into the game in comparison to the original title. Felynes back in Monster Hunter Freedom, for the most part, were more part of the background of the game, as their roles could have been filled easily with other villages and nothing of any real note would have been lost as a result. This game has them in a much more prominent role by comparison, with you having the ability to take two of them on quests with you (effectively allowing you to have two allies with you at all times, which is a huge boon if you’re up against a tough monster) and even to play exclusive missions as one. They also level up and can be equipped with weapons and gear, effectively adding a second character to play as in the game. While it is not essential to use them unless you’re going for 100% completion, it’s a nice little addition that I find quite good fun. There is some additional stuff involved them as well, including a dojo, but I never actually tried this out, so I can’t say how well they are utilised in their own right.
The only major sticking point for me is the system for upgrading weapons and armour in this game, as weapons tend to be locked off behind level upgrades and armour can only be upgraded with special tools received from completing quests. I can see why the armour one was done and it doesn’t bother me too much (heck, so far, I’ve only stuck with my beginning armour and simply upgraded that, so it does work fine), but the weapons one sits poorly with me because it means that you can be locked out of getting a weapon that you know is available from previous games because you haven’t leveled up your weapon enough or that you waste time leveling up your weapon only to find that the upgrades available after the level up is reached aren’t ones which you would have got had you been informed about them first. Not helping matters is that you aren’t actually told what weapons are available to you if you aren’t at a high enough level to craft them when a much better way of handling things would have been to have made them available to read, but have red text in the description of the weapon saying something like “weapon level required: [appropriate level]” or having the weapon levels on their own pages, if only so you can browse and see what is available if you level up and can decide if the level up is truly worth it. I do like that the game allows you to upgrade your weapons without actually moving to a new weapon, but I feel the system could have been a bit better handled with regards to the upgrade system.That said, I will be fair and point out that, technically speaking, this is actually a step up from the original game, which flat out wouldn’t tell you about a weapon or piece of armour being available if you didn’t have any of the required special items necessary to make it and didn’t have the weapon upgrade system, so it’s still an improvement over what I’m used to from the original game, I just wish it had been better handled overall.
There’s a few things which I genuinely haven’t tried yet in the game which are available, so, in the interest of fairness, I will mention these here for the sake of completeness. Considering my mention earlier that the franchise is one which works a lot better if played with friends, I feel a bit ashamed to admit that I can’t comment on the online side of the game, as I haven’t played any multiplayer missions as of the time of writing. This is because I don’t have a lot of other people I know who play the game offline (and those I do know are too far away to just casually meet up with) and my internet connection can be VERY temperamental, so playing online isn’t really a practical idea. There also are Hunting Styles and Hunter Arts in the game, but I never really bothered tinkering around with these myself, so I can’t say how well they work in the game. Similarly, weapons can have slots on them to make weapons more powerful if you use certain items with them, but I never really bothered with this, so I can’t say how much of an impact it makes overall. I also stuck purely with the sword and shield weapon option in the game, so I can’t really discuss what the other 13 weapons played like in this game. I doubt the other weapons from the original game will have changed much over the years, but this is still worth bearing in mind if you are returning to the franchise after a long period of time away from it and preferred other weapons over the sword and shield option, as I can’t say how much they have changed over the years.
Overall, based on the roughly 17 hours I have put into the game (I did say it was a slow starter, didn’t I?), I think Monster Hunter Generations is a game which is going to have a very limited appeal to most people due to a bunch of decisions that are too ingrained into the franchise which won’t appeal to a lot of people. Those who don’t find those decisions to be too big a problem for them, however, will probably find this game to be a really good action RPG that, despite starting out on the slow side, will really take on a life of its own after a while and will become a true joy to play with a group of likeminded people. It’s also a great celebration of the franchise without coming across as a complete rehash of everything that has came before it, which is a truly great thing and a potentially great jumping on point for newcomers or returning veterans as a result. This won’t be a game for everyone, I should stress, but, if you have ever wanted to play a Monster Hunter game in the past or this sounds like something you’d be willing to try out, then you should check this out, as it’s easily worthy of your time!