Many modern games avoid explaining their complicated stories, mechanics, and systems for player communities to discover themselves, like Dark Souls, Crusader Kings II, The Witness. These can be deliberate aspects of the game's design, but some players find they can also be very difficult hurdles to overcome. The fantasy-action RPG hunting simulator Monster Hunter remains one of the most systems-heavy game franchises out there, 12 years after the original PS2 game came to America.
In Japan, the Monster Hunter series gained popularity largely on the PSP. The games' elaborate mechanics spawned bad but usable control schemes for a handheld with one analog stick and a directional pad. Last year's Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate improved the convoluted systems Monster Hunter is known for by adding tutorials, good localization that balanced humor with useful information, a robust multiplayer lobby system, and better camera controls by using the New Nintendo 3DS's additional C-stick nub. For better and for worse, Monster Hunter Generations proves Capcom is making Monster Hunter even more accessible. The weapon styles are more customizable, combat is more fluid, and the overall learning curve is shorter. The core loot loop gameplay in Monster Hunter Generations is still as enticing as it ever was, though it may be an overly familiar one for Monster Hunter fans.
Monster Hunter Generations (3DS)
Genre: Action RPG
Released: July 15, 2016
Played: Played single-player campaign for 2.5 hours, played online multiplayer for 60+ hours, with still many Guild Quests to tackle
In Generations, you play an aspiring hunter looking to take on quests from the Wycademy, an organization dedicated to solving the problems of local villagers, studying and hunting the monster population, and being a resource for hunters. There are four villages to explore, though three of them are recycled locations from previous Monster Hunter games. Only the fourth one, Bherna, is new. All of these villages may as well be palette swaps for a general hub world of stores and services you'll need to take on Generation's quests. The multiplayer Hunter's Hub, accessible offline and online, is a fifth distinct location that distills all these conveniences the best, which is good because the majority of players will find themselves spending a lot of time there. The areas of Generations's many hunts are all also from previous Monster Hunter games, though some environmental effects and layouts have changed slightly.
Mechanically, the esoteric combat of Monster Hunter remains. You can experiment with 14 different weapon styles or classes to find one that suits your play style. Varying from the mobility and flexibility of the Sword and Shield, to the support role of the Hunting Horn (a musical instrument), to the ranged combat of the Bowgun, the game has been balanced for players to find their niche. I favor the versatility of the Charge Blade, a weapon that can change its moveset depending on whether it is in sword mode or axe mode. Generations has tutorial quests that allow you to feel out your preferences, but doesn't surface them upfront.
On top of this, the game's two big new combat improvements, Hunter Styles and Hunter Arts, aren't explained in great detail. There are four Hunter Styles for each weapon that change the different weapons' playstyles slightly:
- Guild is a pretty balanced build that allows you to equip two Arts
- Striker, an Arts-focused style that also increases the rate at which the Hunter Art meter charges
- Aerial, a mobility-focused approach that makes it easier to dodge attacks and mount monsters in exchange for less Arts
- Adept, a restrictive form that rewards precision dodges with more powerful counterattacks and moves
Hunter Arts are basically akin to super moves in fighting games that range from powerful singular strikes to group- and self-heals to more general evasive maneuvers, and are only usable once you've attacked enemies enough and your Arts gauge fills. Some Arts are weapon-specific while others are more universal, but there isn't a good in-game way to tell how to unlock the more advanced Arts. Both Styles and Arts make individual strategy and tactics very customizable, but again, most players will find themselves locked into the ones that best mesh with their playstyle. Since most monsters in the game are large and because movement in this game feels very deliberate, I find the Aerial style works best for me, though I'm often fighting the game's camera when targeting enemies even with the C-nub on the New 3DS.
The vague premise of hunting monsters to get more powerful weapons and armor aside, this game does not have much of a single-player campaign. This is not much of a strike against the game, but the charming dialogue and characters from Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate have been lost, mostly to stay out of the way of the boss rush quality of every quest in Generations. Similarly, the ramp up to fighting more challenging monsters is slow on the single-player side, but is very accelerated on the multiplayer side; new tiers of quests unlock when a certain combination of key quests on the current tier have been completed. In general, I'd recommend only playing Generations's lackluster single-player campaign as a way to get basic items and money to better outfit your multiplayer expeditions or when you're playing the game offline.
Multiplayer is where Generations shines. Like Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, the lobby system is detailed, down to the specific monsters and objectives the Host wants to tackle cooperatively. It's easy to drop in and out of lobbies with other players. With a stable Internet connection, there is no lag in multiplayer matches, and working together with other hunters to take on progressively more difficult quests is satisfying. Unfortunately there's no voice chat in this game, but you can use the keyboard to chat with others in the Hunter's Hub. During hunts, you won't be able to use the keyboard, instead having to limit yourself to pre-made chat shortcuts you write yourself or the game's default ones. This limitation might be off-putting for people who want to coordinate strategies and use teamwork to take down monsters, but it works surprisingly well enough to make most multiplayer hunts successful without too much communication. Most times when I was playing, regardless of the actual time of day, I was able to find and host lobbies for other players to come join me. Unlike other gaming communities, I found fellow hunters super helpful and less toxic.
If all of this sounds intimidating, an easier Prowler mode is available in Generations where you can play as the series' cat-like sidekicks, the Palico. In single-player mode, these Palicoes offer AI combat support, but in this mode, you can take control of them, taking on a different set of quests than the normal hunter route. However, Prowlers can't use items and don't need pickaxes or nets to gather resources. You can even play as a Palico mixed up with hunters in multiplayer, effectively doubling the amount of content in the game. In addition, while the hunter loot has always been the draw to these games, the loot to customize your Palicoes is also pretty cool-looking and useful.
The actual monsters in Generations are mostly the same from previous entries in the franchise, though new foes such as the owl-like Malfestio are great additions to the roster. They make for stylish armor once slain, even when you're looking at this armor with the 3DS-level of graphics fidelity. You'll figure out the monsters' AI patterns by repeating their respective quests to get rare components, which can sometimes feel grueling when the game doesn't surface how rare these parts can be. However, there are extremely useful item databases created by Monster Hunter fans that detail this information well. Deviant and Hyper monster variations also exist in Generations, which are more powerful and dangerous foes that change up some of their typical attack patterns, allowing you to acquire the game's best gear once conquered.
Even without much of a single-player component, the sheer amount of quests you can take on in Generations is staggering. The series' unofficial explainer and megafan Gaijin Hunter reportedly spent more than 600 hours playing the Japanese version of Generations, and just 80 hours so far since the game's Western release. My time with last year's Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate topped over 200 hours, a staggering amount of gameplay I haven't devoted since playing time-sucking MMOs like World of Warcraft. I feel like Generations's hold over me isn't as strong as last year's game, even with the quality-of-life improvements and new additions to combat. I imagine many other Monster Hunter fans might feel the same way.
Effectively billed as a greatest hits album of Monster Hunter, Generations is definitely the most accessible game of the series. Sure, many of its individual pieces are repeated from other titles in the franchise, and yes, the game has enough menus, submenus, and arcane systems to make you question whether or not you're playing Dwarf Fortress in 2016. However, the amount of polish and content this game has is impressive. Its core formula remains fun despite sometimes being inscrutable. Hopefully Capcom notices the success of Generations to make even better changes to Monster Hunter's decade-old game design next time.