This is one I’ve been saving up for awhile. Today, we’ll be looking into one of my favorite game series and what makes it so special. If you know me, you’ll probably be aware of the little obsession I harbor for the Monster Hunter games. I got the original many, many moons ago on the PS2, and have played through up until the most recent Portable 3rd. Sadly, being something of an idiot in Japanese, my enjoyment of that one is somewhat dampened until we get an actually translated version over here by Capcom.

But enough of my little love affair for the Monster Hunter series. You are probably wondering why I enjoy it so much, or why I won’t shut up already and get to the point. So let’s get that out of the way right now, shall we? The Monster Hunter games are all very special to me because of their simplicity. Each one has the same level of difficulty innately built in from the beginning, and slowly builds upon itself as the game progresses, but despite this, the game never becomes any more complex. How is this possible? By segmenting the game into two different categories, and then building from there. These two being the titular monsters that inhabit the world, and the player that explores and murders everything.

Monster Behavior: Every monster in the world of Monster Hunter has a specific set of behaviors and skills, and these never change for the monster in question. Low level creatures like herbavoirs or large insects are indifferent to the player unless attacked, then they may either choose to fight back or flee. As the first creature the player faces, these are incredibly basic behaviors.

The next is usually a small raptor-like dinosaur. Small, quick, and aggressive. Each has a close range bite, and can jump forward, knocking the player over if it. Again, simple behaviors. Eventually a boss-level raptor will be encountered, giving way to the final trick players learn, monsters fleeing when wounded.

Finally, we come to the dragons. Each at first appears complex, having a special set of moves and traits, but can in fact be broken down by experienced hunters. Every dragon will give a sign or hint as to what it will do next. Rathian might stomp once, warning that she will flip and attempt to poison the hunter. Rathalos will back up and cock his head when attempting to bite. By taking several simple traits and adding them to one creature, dragons present a living, breathing, complex problem, that can easily be tackled with simple solutions. For example, “It’s going to charge, I won’t be able to attack safely. Guard. Wait.” And most creatures will only have one or two new mechanics to deal with. Raptors are hotile, and will attack with simple bites or leaps. Boss-level ones are hostile, and flee when heavily damaged, and carry the same attacks. Dragons will flee when wounded, and attack with bites or charges. The staple Yian-Kut-Ku, the first dragon, will also add fireball attacks to the mix, often lobbing them a short distance, while also buffeting the player by occasionally taking off and landing. Rathalos, a step up, has longer range on his fire attacks, the same buffet ability, but can also poison by flying straight up and diving at a target. Newer versions also gave him the ability to do some of his normal abilities in the sky, adding a seemingly complex amount of moves, when in reality they just changed his relative position when attacking.

The game continuously prepares for the next battle by slowly layering skills to the monsters as the grow in strength. If at any time the player becomes overwhelmed, it is always possible to take a step back, and practice on the lower step monster, honing their skills on that monsters mechanics to a razor’s edge before stepping back up and adding new tricks to the mix.

Player Styles: Likewise no two players are exactly the same, and Monster Hunter solves this by giving weapons as play-styles, instead of tools. A Great Sword is not a Long Sword, and even though they have similar roles, they have different styles. I’ll get to the weapons and styles in a minute, so just wait. One of the greatest things about the weapons is, every player-character is similarly proficient in all of them. A high ranking hunter will have no different abilities than a starting hunter, and the difference comes from the skill and execution. Likewise, gear can be another layer or totally disregarded. I was using low-level gear for the longest in more than one play through, because I relied on my skill with my chosen weapon to make up for the lack or armor or armor skills. And then, another save file I have all the relevant armors, stacking skills to turn myself into a true killing machine. In truth, it all comes down to player skill with their chosen playstyle, and armor skills are just another layer to the experience to let the proficient shine, and the new players not be left out if they don’t understand. I’ve seen naked people slay end-level dragons, after all. Now, as promised, play styles! Each one is unique to the weapon at hand. And the only requirement to change is to pick up another weapon. Your character will know all the moves when you grab it, it’s up to the player to learn how to use each one to the maximum efficiency. Note: There are a massive amount of weapons in Monster Hunter, and as such the following list is fairly large. If you are just interested in the article, feel free to skip down a bit.

  • Great Sword: The king damage dealer for a single swing, no other weapon can touch the raw power of the Great Sword in a skilled users hand. Slow to swing, but every swing packs a powerful punch. The signature ability of the Great Sword is the three-charge swing, and a fully changed swing will harder harder than any other single move in the game. The Great Sword can block as a trade-off for it’s relative immobility.
  • Long Sword: Like the Great Sword, the Long Sword is unrivaled in unleashing chains of blinding fast damage. Lower in damage than it’s cousin, the Long Sword more than makes up for it with high mobility and the ability to boost it’s damage through powerful spirit slash combos. Each Crescent Swing, the final move of the signature spirit combo, will increase the blade’s damage for a certain length of time. The Long Sword can not block, as a trade for it’s high mobility.
  • Sword and Shield:   The “SnS” is one of the most versatile weapons in the game. While it often has a very low attack stat, Sword and Shield weapons will have some of the highest elemental attributes in on any weapon in the game. With each quick slash, the weapon is able to blast through elemental weaknesses with relative ease. The Sword and Shield is also the only weapon type in the game that allows the hunter to use items with the weapon drawn. SnS users can block with the shield.
  • Dual Swords: Trading in the shield for another blade, the Dual Swords have blinding speed on their side. While each individual attack is weak, the Dual Swords can strike fast enough to wear down even the strongest monsters in no time at all. Like the Sword and Shield, Dual Swords can have massive elemental bonuses, and some even carry two elements, one per blade. Dual Swords can not block, but are able to cancel out of any attack at any time with a role, making them one of the most mobile weapon types. Dual Swords can not block.
  • Hammer: The hammer is like a distant cousin to the Great Sword, packing a lot of power into some slow swings. While the Hammer isn’t as strong as the  Great Sword, it brings out something else. Nearly every ability will do “KO-Damage” if it connects to the monsters head, and after a certain point any monster will be knocked off it’s feet after being beat senseless upside the head. While big and slow to swing, Hammer users are able to run and dodge effectively, trading the ability to block in for high mobility.
  • Hunting Horn: A strange weapon, even by the Monster Hunter universe. The Hunting Horn is similar to the Hammer, but lacking in it’s arsenal of skills or raw damage. Instead, the Hunting Horn allows it’s wielder to play out certain musical notes, boosting the power of the hunter and their allies for a short time. Something of a traditional “buff-bot”, Hunting Horn users can do everything from mimic the effects of Sonic Bombs to heal allies, depending on the notes played. Like the Hammer, the Hunting Horn can not block.
  • Lance: The defensive masters of the hunting world, the Lance user is built to last. Lance users can hole up behind their shields, shrugging off attacks to emerge and strike with their long spear when the time is right. Lances also have the unique ability to dash, gaining a boost to damage after running for so far, as well as being able to block and attack at the same time. Yes, Lances can block.
  • Gunlance: A modified Lance that can create an explosion at the tip of the spear on demand. The Gunlance trades in some of it’s defense for offense, gaining the powerful ability know as “Wyvernfire”, able to blow down even the mightiest dragons with sear destructive force. The Gunlance is a personal favorite, and I always have more than a few lying around to choose from. Like the Lance, the Gunlance can block attacks.
  • Switch Axe: The newest and one fo the most interesting weapons around. The Switch Axe can either wield the destructive power of the Great Sword, or the speed and grace of a Long Sword. While it’s not as good as either in a stand alone engagment, the Switch Axe’s true power is in it’s versatility and easy of change between modes. Another personal favorite, the Switch Axe is a powerful weapon in the hands of a hunter who knows just what type of pressure to apply and when. The Switch Axe can not block.
  • Bowgun: The long range support of Monster Hunter, and comes in two flavors. Light Bowguns have faster attack speed and lower recoil, but lack the punch a Heavy Bowgun can bring. Likewise, while Light Bowguns give the user high mobility, Heavy Bowguns lack the mobility their Lighter kin enjoy. Some Heavy Bowguns can also be modified at the shop to give them a shield, automatically blocking in a pinch. By default, unmodified Bowguns can not block.
  • Bow: The Bow is a special weapon, especially in the hands of a master hunter. By using it’s extremely precise attacks and high mobility, hunters can wear down any monster through hit-and-run attacks and blasting away at the one spot a monster is the weakest. Also unlike Bowguns, Bows can carry elemental bonuses, augmenting their shots with a powerful elements. Bows can not block.

While everything is incredibly simple in the world of Monster Hunter, it builds complexity through thinking about solving puzzles. Each weapon carries a distinct style, and each monster has a fairly unique feel to it. The games have all created a feeling of complexity and simplicity that meld together, allowing people to play on the level they wish. Some people take whatever weapon they like and go out on the hunt. Some, like myself, view each dragon as a challenge, and select a weapon that will provide the est results when applied to the challenge.

The idea to take away with is that simple is not bad, nor is simple easy. Even as simple as Monster Hunter can be, a simple mistake can often lead to a quick beating by the monster of the moment. Simple can be a powerful tool hen used correctly, to build up the player and opposition, to allow skill to shine. There is a saying that has gained popularity, “Easy to play, hard to master.” Monster Hunter pulls this off brilliantly by using simple mechanics and steps to allow players of all skill ranges to find what level challenges them, and allow them to work on that level for as long as they choose. Whether it’s the lowly Veloriprey or the King of the Sky, Rathalos himself, the player is free to seek the challenge they want, using the style they want, to seek glory and victory.

All photos courtesy of http://monsterhunter.wikia.com/wiki/Monster_Hunter_Wiki