Monster Hunter Rise

The conclusion is that, sure, Monster Hunter has been much harder and demanding in the past, but it is tough to make an argument that it has ever been this fun to play

In a world where humans coexist with feral monsters, an event of mysterious origin has thrown that balance into total disarray. Sure, the relationship between the two species was never entirely peaceful, to the point that many are the people who grow up training to be hunters so that they can go into the wild and slay creatures that are causing trouble. However, what is happening this time around is slightly different, as rather than respecting the boundaries that separate villages from untamed nature, monsters have begun trying to break into civilized areas via attacking in surprisingly organized hordes that are reportedly lead by a especially mighty beast. With no option but to fight back and haunted by the memories of the destruction a similar phenomenon ended up causing half a century ago, the elder places hopes on the shoulders of a local rookie hunter, who is about to find out there is more to the attacks than what is thought.

Mysterious disturbances in the ecosystem that cause beasts to behave strangely are not new to the Monster Hunter franchise; they are the starting point of pretty much every game in the series. And the same applies to finding out the creature that was originally perceived as a villain is not the one truly pulling the strings, but merely an indirect consequence of the actions of an even more powerful monster; such mid-story twist is so expected its absence would probably disappoint a bunch of fans. Yet, despite the fact that, in terms of setup, Monster Hunter Rise does little to break away from its predecessors, that is far from being true for the title as a whole, as it executes enough alterations to change the experience to a large degree.

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Nothing that Monster Hunter Rise does differently is sufficiently big to be seen as significant on its own; by all means, this is still a game about going out into a wild area and having fifty minutes to beat down a monster until it is either dead or weak enough to be caught by a trap. And that is absolutely great news, because not only is the formula excellent, but it is also so obviously awesome that it is always shocking to think nobody else is trying to imitate it. However, Monster Hunter Rise, by both bringing new little elements to the table and slightly changing old staples, ends up with a pile of moves that amounts to something considerable.

Essentially, as usual, the game’s missions are divided into two groups: Village Quests can only be done as a single-player experience; meanwhile, Hub Quests can either be tackled solo or online, in which case players will be joined by up to three other hunters. Again following traditions, monsters found in Hub Quests are slightly tougher than those encountered in Village Quests, and their health will be scaled up according to the number of hunters involved in the mission; when the maximum of four gamers is reached, for instance, the creature’s total base HP will be doubled. Furthermore, as yet another signature balancing measure, while in Village Quests failure comes when time runs out or the player dies three times, in Hub Quests the rules are equal but the death count is shared among everyone involved, meaning that although missions can be cleared faster with the help of others, the risk of reaching the dreaded count of three is increased.

Progression through Village Quests and Hub Quests works in pretty much the same way. In both cases, tasks are grouped into ranks that contain key missions and regular ones; while the former type usually focuses on hunting one large monster the latter is more eclectic and can involve gathering items, stealing eggs from nests and bringing them back to base while avoiding one angry beast, defeating a number of smaller creatures, or even hunting two or three large monsters before the usual fifty-minute mark. Gaining access to a higher rank of tasks is only achieved when five key missions are cleared; at that point, an urgent quest – usually one that advances the plot in some way – will come up, and once that one is executed successfully, a new rank of quests is unlocked.

Interestingly, and on what should be no surprise to veterans of the franchise, the split between Village and Hub Quests is not merely a structural detail; it is an element that brings a great deal of flexibility to Monster Hunter, giving players the ability to build their own adventure. The true ending of the game is only available in the Hub Quests, as those accessed through the village just go up to the plot’s first major boss. As such, at one point, hunters will have to migrate exclusively to that tougher group of missions. However, the road they will take towards getting there can vary greatly.

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Folks who are newcomers, players who enjoy completing all missions, and people who simply want to progress more gently through the adventure can begin by getting to the end of the Village Quests before switching to the hub; in that specific case, Monster Hunter Rise will even provide a few extra urgent missions that, once cleared, will allow those who have deeply advanced in the Village Quests to skip a few ranks of the Hub Quests. On the other hand, gamers who look at the franchise as an experience that is better tackled online can jump straight into the second group and ignore village tasks altogether; contrarily, those who are more of the single-player type and are looking for immediate challenge can opt to do Hub Quests on their own. And anyone who falls somewhere in between can freely mix and match missions of the two types.

Those who are into multiplayer quests will be happy to know that in Monster Hunter Rise the online experience is pretty smooth and that sessions of that kind can be set up in various ways. If one wants to hang out with fellow hunters before moving out on a quest, it is possible to open the village’s Gathering Hub so that others can join; a configuration that works to draw in both strangers and friends, but that is particularly ideal for the latter case. If a more direct approach is preferred, one can simply either select a quest from the board and have the game look for an ongoing session that can be joined; or depart on a mission of their choice alone while leaving it open for random users to drop in. Even if the Switch is somewhat limited in terms of online communication, Monster Hunter Rise circumvents that nicely by offering a lot of useful predefined texts that can be sent with the touch of two buttons as well as the option for players to add messages of their own to that list.

The essence of the hunting itself has remained untouched. At their disposal, gamers will have a whopping total of fourteen weapon types to choose from, giving all play styles an equal opportunity to find a comfortable tool that allows for success. The dual blades are relatively light-hitting and have a limited range, but they are fast like no other weapon; the sword and shield mixes attacking with blocking; the hammer is slow but delivers massive blows; the hunting horn is more of a support option, but works well on its own as well; the bow, the glaive, the gunlance, and others offer long-ranged alternatives; the switch axe changes between two differently behaving setups; and the list goes on.

Armed with one of those weapons, players will set out into the wild looking for their target. And as tradition dictates, the hunting is as raw as it can be. Monsters do not have a specific spot where they tend to hang out at, spawning pretty much anywhere on the map, and as the fight goes on, they may run away to other locations; by default, the camera has no auto-lock feature, even if that option can be activated via the menu, meaning it is up to gamers to keep track of the target as they are engaged in battle; the game does not offer a health bar for the monster, forcing players to note their progress by relying, instead, on visual cues that indicate how weak the beast is; and since the number of items that can be brought to the mission is generous but limited, given the might of the monsters and the length of the duels one may have to eventually rely on local resources to regenerate health, cure statuses, or create helpful assets like bombs and traps.

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The Monster Hunter franchise is nothing but a sequence of big bad boss encounters against scary beasts, and its central twist has always been trying to replicate how its titular profession would be like if it existed, from the preparation of buying or crafting the necessary items as well as having a good meal at the local canteen for some boosts to the action of the hunts itself. It is a series focused on learning tricky attack patterns and finding the optimal balance between dodging and using the best openings to deliver attacks.

But progressing through the game depends on more than just grasping the behavior of each one of its main monsters. As the quest goes on and the creatures get stronger, the base weapons and armor stop being enough, and to most players there will be multiple points within each Monster Hunter adventure when a vicious beat down will indicate to them that upgrades need to be done. And when that happens, the franchise will reveal its grinding facet, because there is no good hunting tool that does not require a few monster parts for it to be created, since every large creature also has – attached to it – its own armor set and weapons. Consequently, a cycle will emerge where for new mightier monsters to be hunted, old familiar faces will have to be chased repeatedly until one has accumulated enough parts, money, and other resources like minerals to forge the appropriate equipment.

Naturally, all of those statements hold true for Monster Hunter Rise. But at the same time, the game works towards bringing changes to them, some lighter and others more radical. The first, and one that falls into the former category, is related to the weapons. Having fourteen types that are rather different is already a very impressive feat, especially when one considers all of them possess their unique combos that are triggered via multiple combinations of the X and A buttons. But Monster Hunter Rise outshines that flexibility which had already been established by its predecessors, and it does so via the freshly added Switch Skills. Unlocked as the story progresses, these are new attacks, combos, and abilities that can be equipped to alter each weapon’s standard moveset, hence giving gamers an opportunity to further customize their play style to an unforeseen level.

When it comes to characters’ arsenal of movements, though, no change quite compares to the Wirebugs. These insects, which have been used by the hunters of Kamura Village for generations, are capable of creating strong threads that can be employed in various ways as long as their gauge – which replenishes automatically – is filled. Their first usage comes in the shape of Silkbind Attacks; once again, each weapon type has its own moves of the kind, but as a rule of thumb, they are mostly activated by some combination involving the shoulder buttons and have two general effects: a nice slice of damage and the chance to tie a thread to monsters so that their movement is temporarily reduced.

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The second way in which they can be used is what the game calls Wyvern Riding. In Monster Hunter Rise, large beasts can be put in a mountable state if they are hit with enough Silkbind Attacks, if players collect a Puppet Spider from the wild and throw it at the monster, or if two creatures happen to come across each other on the map and proceed to engage in a feral battle. When the beasts become mountable, hunters can simply approach the monster and press the A button in order to use the Wirebugs to hop onto the creature’s back. Once that is done, monsters can be launched at walls for massive damage or even be forced to go into combat with another beast that happens to be nearby, in which case players will use the X and A buttons to unleash attacks and B to dodge timely.

An initial perception of Wyvern Riding may lead experienced players to fear that the opportunity it gives for a lot of damage may detract from the meat of the franchise’s action; that is, the dodging and attacking grind between a monster and a human. But Capcom manages to implement the feature in a way that stops it from being overpowered.

Sure, the damage that Wyvern Riding produces can be great, especially if the hunter knows what they are doing; moreover, since the event of monsters running into each other is relatively common and can even be initiated by players via some good old bait, there will rarely be a battle without a beast becoming mountable. But in the end, Wyvern Riding does not take the focus away from traditional combat due to how the damage it produces is relatively small compared to monsters’ total health and because – like luring a monster into a trap, making it fall to the ground, stunning it, or inflicting some status to it – the more it is done in a battle, the harder it will be to pull it off again thanks to established cooldown times and parameters. As such, Wyvern Riding is a welcome addition that brings a new strategic element to combats and also has the purely fun boost of allowing veteran players to use – for their own advantage – signature monster moves they have been fearing for many years, like Rathian’s poisonous tail swipe.

At last, Wirebugs also play a role in transforming the previously slow-moving hunters into rougher versions of Spider-Man. That is because by aiming with the ZL button while one’s weapon is not drawn and pressing either X, A, or ZR, players can use the insect’s thread to zip around the place, being able – therefore – to pull themselves towards vertical surfaces to chain the move into some wall-running or to simply use the thread like a swing to cover some ground quickly.

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Although this particular usage of Wirebugs is great for moving around, it becomes even better when players gain enough confidence in it to seamlessly integrate those actions into battle, paving the way to some beautifully exciting airborne ballet of threads and hits. If a monster is too far away, hunters can quickly zip there and come down on the beast while attacking; if the creature is charging towards them, the thread can come in handy for an evasive maneuver; and if a powerful hit has caused the hunter to be thrown upwards, the Wirefall technique allows gamers to recover before they hit the ground and become vulnerable. The combat possibilities made available by the Wirebugs are truly endless, all that it takes is skill and some audacity.

Smoother movement, in fact, is one of the guiding lights of Monster Hunter Rise. Before it, traversing the relatively confined maps where the action takes place was a slow process, since even the running itself was limited due to how it spent stamina. Here, it is obvious a heavy focus was put into making it easier to get around: in addition to the Wirebugs which affect general movement and battling, players can also obtain a Palamute companion. These dog-like creatures do not replace the already traditional cat-like Palicoes, which are great in combat and do one amazing job at calling monsters’ attentions to themselves; what they do, instead, is work like a very welcome complement.

Since in offline battles it is possible to bring two animal buddies into the field, Palamutes are a good counterpart to Palicoes because although they hit monsters, the damage they do is not so large. Their purpose is, therefore, another. Given they are big enough in size to be mountable, they are used like horses by hunters. And because of the animal’s speed and endless stamina, it is now possible to go from point A to point B as fast as one wants to.

The added freedom brought in by Wirebugs and Palamutes is nicely capitalized on by Capcom in the design of the maps. Made up of fully integrated scenarios, rather than the separated areas divided by loading times of Monster Hunter 4, the hunting environments feel larger and more complex than ever. Due to the vertical movement unlocked by Wirebugs, scenarios are no longer mostly flat horizontal spaces, offering plenty of climbable surfaces, hills, parkour opportunities, and even multiple levels of caves and tunnels. Meanwhile, due to the speed of the Palamutes, open spaces are simply grander.

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On what is a strange turn for Monster Hunter, maps are simply fun to explore, and Capcom does not let the opportunity go to waste. There are sidequests handed out by villagers (including one which reveals some interesting backstory) that push players towards nice nooks and crannies that are ignored in normal hunts. There are extra unlockable camps that once found and rebuilt allow for fast-traveling. And spread around the landscape there is endemic life – like birds and bugs – that can work as items that provide different types of aids in the hunts or even grant valuable temporary stat bonuses.

Changes like those are bound to get a rather positive response even from the traditional Monster Hunter audience, since they work towards expanding gameplay without ever overlooking what the main focus is. In the midst of these new tweaks, though, Monster Hunter Rise also makes a few decisions that have the potential of angering or at least frustrating its most devoted fans.

In the game’s development, it appears that streamlining a lot of little gameplay details was the order of the day. Examples of changes of that kind are everywhere, and even though some are completely harmless, others are the types of shifts that may cause stronger negative reactions from some. On the first inoffensive group, there is how gathering some specific resources – like ores and bones – will only demand one button press rather than the usual three; how certain materials are automatically converted into items, such as when picking up a herb will immediately generate potions; and how buying pickaxes (for mining), rods (for fishing), and whetstones (for sharpening weapons that have become dull during battle) is not necessary since they have been turned into infinite equipment.

Contrarily, the potentially troublesome group is more significant. The location of large monsters is now shown on the map, which eliminates the search for where the beast is as well as the action of looking for it once it runs away from battle. An icon indicating the monster is tired enough to be captured is now displayed when that moment is reached, meaning getting to that conclusion by reading behavioral signs is no longer necessary. Players’ item box can be accessed straight from camp, which significantly reduces the risk of running out of healing items. Cold and hot drinks are not needed to explore regions of extreme temperatures without losing health every second, which simplifies the preparation step of the hunts. The reduction of maximum stamina is so slow it barely comes into play, making items that restore it – like the ration – not so vital. A detailed version of the map displaying where all kinds of resources are located can be accessed at all times, reducing the importance of getting to know the locations. And some village facilities provide simpler ways to acquire a few specific resources and even monster parts.

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Whether or not those changes are negative simplifications or positive optimizations will be up to the judgment of every player, and it is unlikely there is a veteran hunter out there who will universally like or dislike all of those shifts. What is a fact is that Monster Hunter Rise is a considerably streamlined version of the franchise’s past versions, and this movement towards being more welcoming to newcomers is seen in other aspects of the game too.

As a whole, the Village Quests are relatively easy, and although rookie players are sure to find a couple of monsters that will work as walls (that is, blocking their progress for a while until they get considerably better or forge superior weapons and armor), experienced gamers are likely to breeze through that part of the adventure without much trouble until the final missions. For a game that is famous for its difficulty, this lack of challenge can come off as sinful; fortunately, the Hub Quests make up for it nicely, especially if they are tackled solo.

In addition, the grind for monster parts is simply not so intense. Undeniably, there are a handful of armor sets and weapons, especially the most powerful ones, that demand items that only appear rarely when certain areas of the creatures’ bodies are broken, which means that players after those will have to kill the same monsters over and over again. But, mostly, a lot of the pretty good equipment can be forged after two or three hunts, which should be good news to those who want to tackle the experience in a more casual way.

The final novelty brought in by Monster Hunter Rise is one that provides a totally unique gameplay perspective on the franchise and that is equally likely to produce some split in the fanbase. Rampages, which see hordes of monsters trying to break into the village, work like tower defense quests, with the twist that players are a more active part of the action than it is usual for the genre. First, they run around the arena setting up traps, weapons, and other kinds of installations. Once that is done, the horde will come and hunters can jump on canons or ballistae to shoot at the incoming creatures (which can be specialized in attacking or breaking down barriers) or run around the place fighting, activating special contraptions, and more.

All in all, Rampages are a unique mission format and a worthy attempt by Capcom to add new spice to the franchise. Furthermore, they do generate some pretty thrilling moments, especially when monsters are powering through obstacles and getting close to the final line of defense. However, the truth is quests of the kind are not as good as traditional hunts, and they end up being merely adequate detours. As a piece of good news to gamers who come to not appreciate Rampages, they can rest safe in the knowledge that these are not too frequent, as only two or three have to be completed throughout the storyline, with the remaining missions of the sort being entirely optional.

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The bottom line is that there are a few tiny punctual complaints that can be thrown at Monster Hunter Rise. Its total of five environments seems a bit on the short size, regardless of how richly detailed they are. The lack of challenge of its Village Quests, which aim towards accessibility, can come off as exaggerated to some. Its choices to streamline a lot of the details of the hunting process might be perceived as going overboard in a few cases. And the fact that, as of the game’s state in its release date, its storyline has no conclusion will certainly frustrate many, even if that ought to be remedied by an eventual promised free update that delivers more missions and monsters.

In general, though, the balance of the changes executed by Monster Hunter Rise leans far more to the positive than to the negative. Via its streamlining of various gameplay details, it ends up removing a lot of little annoying quirks that were more bothersome than challenging. Thanks to the beautiful flexibility it adds to hunters’ movement and arsenal, it produces the most thrilling and satisfying battles the saga has ever witnessed. And with a thick pile of progressively tough quests to be tackled, it gives players plenty of reasons to keep going for many hours. The conclusion is that, sure, Monster Hunter has been much harder and demanding in the past, but it is tough to make an argument that it has ever been this fun to play.

FINAL SCORE: 9 – PHENOMENAL

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