Monster Hunter Generations review impressions

Monster Hunter Generations is a “best of” take on the Monster Hunter franchise that shows the series’ strengths, but doesn’t manage to shake any of the weaknesses.

You’ve really got to feel for Capcom. Here you are, with the latest and greatest in your monster hunting franchise ready to go, and out of nowhere Nintendo pushes out a phone app based on their own monster hunter, and it’s literally all anyone wants to talk about.

A disaster, really. But having spent some time with Monster Hunter Generations over the past few weeks -- after the disappointment of the demo --I have to say it’s a fate that the game doesn’t deserve. If you can tear yourself away from Pokemon Go in time for the weekend and give yourself to it, Monster Hunter Generations is as deep as an ocean -- even if it still (as has become traditional for the series) chucks you in without a liferaft and expects you to swim.

However, for the new player who has been planning on investing in the series with this edition, I think it’s important to contextualize Monster Hunter. You see, you might think to yourself that Monster Hunter, as a franchise, is a third-person action-adventure game. But it’s not. Monster Hunter’s DNA lies in Capcom’s other bread-and-butter -- Street Fighter.

Street Fighter is a game you could describe as being about “combos” but it’s more than that; it’s about positioning, about reading your opponent; about timing. And Monster Hunter is about exactly the same thing, except, in this case, rather than trying to beat up an American boxing champion or a man from Brazil with a terrible skin condition, here you’re trying to kill a creature that’s much bigger and much angrier than you, with up to three of your mates.

So unlike many action-adventure games, here you have to pick your “main” weapon (just like you pick your main fighter in Street Fighter) and practice. For Monster Hunter Generations, I’ve decided I want to make a go at becoming competent with the long sword.

As a result, I’ve now watched Gaijinhunter’s tutorial videos extensively, actually going as far as following along, practicing my combos. And Monster Hunter Generations has more options than ever, with four different “styles” for each weapon. For example: I’m sticking with the long sword’s standard “Guild” style now, but I soon hope to graduate to the “Adept” style, which will allow me to utilize powerful attacks for skillful dodges (but I’m not quite good enough yet.) When you have this in mind, Monster Hunter Generations becomes clear as a commitment or even a lifestyle, not just a willfully obscure game.

However, the game still does almost nothing to clear up its many, many mechanics, which is an issue for new players. For example: armor. It’s all got skills attached, but how does that work? The game won’t really explain it unless you dig in the menus. What’s going on with your adorable “Palico” cat pals, that can come on hunts with you and do all kinds of different things? You really aren’t going to understand unless you’re willing to commit to watching some YouTube videos first.

And playing with others -- particularly when going online -- is terrifically daunting, even if you’ve spent tens of hours in single-player (just wait until you swing your weapon and knock over all the other, more experienced players you’ve just met online). My advice to the Monster Hunter newbie is the same it’s been for every other instalment in the franchise, unfortunately: buy it with up to three other friends and go on hunts together -- either in person or with the support of voice chat via your phone or PC -- as without supportive fellow hunters, a lot of the joy is lost.

For both new players and veterans alike, however, when it comes to content, Monster Hunter Generations is both extensive and welcoming. There are four villages which are quickly unlocked, three of which are from previous games and include bags of references for fans, and as result it’s never boring (and if it is, just do a hunt in a different location.)

There has been some controversy over the game not including “G-Rank” -- the intensely difficult high-level end-game content that generally comes in second-revisions in the series (In Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate but not the Japan-only 4, for example) but there’s so much content, including high-difficulty “Deviant” monsters, that to anyone but the most extreme players it seems churlish to quibble.

Monster Hunter Generations marks ten years of the franchise, and as a result, it’s in a weird position. In some respects, it represents the best of the series -- offering variety in armor and weapons, in playstyles, and in content. In others, it marks a series that has been mechanically stagnant since almost the first game -- with little to no improvements in interface, camera intelligence, or tutorialization; all things which keep the series, so wonderfully realized otherwise, from its true potential.

Monster Hunter Generations is as good as the series gets as is, but I hope it marks the end of a generation and the start of something new, with big changes for Monster Hunter 5 when it (inevitably) drops on Nintendo’s next console. I’m not sure it will, but I can hope. I’ll be having a great -- if sometimes frustrating -- time with Monster Hunter Generations while I wait.