I always liked the idea of Monster Hunter, but for a long time I thought it was a very cool, well-put-together series that just wasn't for me. In the past I had tried the pre-release demo for World and… one of the 3DS games, I'm not sure which; I think 4U. I hear the demos tend to be more targeted at veterans than newcomers, and that checks out with my experience; I don't have any real memory of the 4U (maybe) demo, but either the one for World was too narrow a slice of the gameplay loop for me to fully grasp the appeal or I just wasn't in the right headspace for it at the time. I thought the art direction was fantastic and I bounced right the hell off of the combat.
When Rise came out, I didn't bother with the demo, but I did start eyeing the series again; the good reviews and lots of people saying it made a great entry point into the franchise caught my attention and gave me that "I probably am out of touch and it's probably not the children who are wrong" feeling, haha. When I showed footage to a couple of my old high school buddies that are in my D&D group, they thought it looked interesting, so I just decided I'd be the guinea pig and took the plunge and bought it on a whim. Figured investing $60 would force me to give it more than a surface-level glance and if the others got it too playing with friends would go a long way even if I didn't love it the way some people did.
Spent a couple of hours feeling like a dog with a chemistry set, felt like even controlling my character was kinda awkward, maybe even felt some light buyer's remorse, but then it happened. Everything started clicking into place. The movement started to feel natural, the crafting turned into crack cocaine, and most shockingly to me, the combat started to feel fun as hell.
I imagine many people reading this might not get why that was such a surprise, and that's totally fair, haha. Here's the thing though: while I like the idea of action combo systems in theory, I've always had a hard time grasping them, conceptualizing/internalizing how to string the pieces together. I was a very specific kind of 90s kid who cut his teeth on a steady diet of turn-based JRPGs and action platformers and Metroidvanias and the like in the 16-bit era (with a heaping helping of 8-bit because I inherited my older siblings' NES); stuff where technique tended to be very surface-level and transparent even if mastering it wasn't easy, like in Mega Man, or where I could slow everything way down and have time to strategize, like in RPGs and tactics games. I've always bought and dabbled in fighting games, but I've always been kind of a button-mashy hack in them; I can learn all the special moves and when I want to do one I can nail down the execution of the physical inputs (well, I start having trouble when you bring half-circles and full circles into things but I'd probably manage if I ever liked a character that demanded them enough to bother), but because I only ever played them casually with my button-mashy hack friends when I was a kid, I have very little understanding of WHY particular moves would be useful at any given time, what their use cases are, how to play speed chess with them, and how to set up and pull off combos. As an adult, I think it's a lot harder to carve those new pathways into my brain than it would have been if I'd started picking up some of those concepts as a kid.
So that's where I come to Monster Hunter. And true to form, I'm still not GREAT at that stuff. But I'm starting to feel the rhythms just enough that even though I'm probably still mashing way more than is healthy, I usually deal solid damage and dodge enough attacks to succeed, and I'm instinctively starting to pick up on which inputs give me which results, though that's a part of my brain that's going to need a LOT of development before I'm truly translating intent into input. But more importantly than finding the rhythms, I found the fun; everything about it is just so damn satisfying. The animations and sound design make the visceral moment-to-moment action feel great to play, once I started getting my feet it feels great to just move around and traverse the maps, and every monster has so much personality and smart conveyance. Recognizing a tell for the first time and dodging is cool. Honing that recognition to the point that you can fairly consistently punish it? Holy shit, it's so damn fun.
Had to send our Switch in for repairs, so I also picked up World+Iceborne on PC and have been pouring my life into that in the meantime. And ordered a copy of Generations Ultimate so that when the Switch is back I can dabble with the pre-World design conventions of the series between Rise and World sessions. And bought Stories on mobile and have been enjoying that so much that after a few hours I pre-ordered Stories 2. And when Rise comes to PC next year, I'll re-buy it and sink even more hours into it there because I'm THAT sucker who somehow owns three versions of Persona 3, three versions of Persona 4, and two versions of Persona 5 even though it feels like my wife and I are constantly about ten bucks above broke, haha.
So I'm a fan now, I guess. They did it, they got me. Sword and shield main for the time being, though I'll branch out and try other stuff as I go on, I'm sure. I'm still in the early game of both of the mainline games I've been playing, and the skill ceiling is clearly really high, so I'm not going to be surprised if/when the games decide to ask more of me, but I'm genuinely surprised at how forgiving they're willing to be for now. If I fuck around with the wrong monster for my gear and skill level, I'm definitely finding out, even early on, but I mean… the first time World takes you to the Wildspire Waste, the plot has you escorting a wagon. You run into that Rathian, and the game tries to get you to just distract it and then run. Me, I got cocky and thought "I've been doing pretty well at this game so far… I want to see if I can take this thing."
And I did. I chased her all around the map, chipped her down even though I was still equipped with totally un-sphered bone armor and a Jagras Edge I, broke almost every breakable part, never got poisoned (did catch just a little bit of fire, as a treat), severed and carved the tail, finished her off without fainting, hauled her egg back to camp, all while the Handler yelled "OVER HERE!" at me every 30 goddamn seconds. And then I went where the game actually wanted me to go and fought my first Barroth and finished up with 10 minutes left on the quest timer. I was already loving the series up to that point (obviously, given that by this time I'd squeezed two mainline games and a spinoff into our… well, let's just politely call it a 'non-budget'), but that felt like such an accomplishment, haha. I'm sure it's not a real threat compared to what's yet to come, but it felt like I really did something, and it sunk the hooks even deeper. Only got the rewards from the carves and in-combat drops, but that didn't really matter because… I did the thing. I took on a challenge I didn't need to and wasn't really prepared for. I don't know how many rad gamer skills I had built up from taking down a ton of Great Jagras, maybe a dozen Kulu-Ya-Ku, one Pukei-Pukei, and dying to two Anjanaths and having a third escape because I decided to fight it on an expedition, haha. But I proved something to myself for no real reason and had fun doing it.
I still haven't even touched multiplayer yet; the friends who I talked about Rise with are now planning to buy it on the recommendation of my new addiction, but I've been playing it as a solely single-player experience so far and having a blast that way. Kind of amused that my first multiplayer experience is likely to be one where I'll be the closest thing in the group to 'someone who has any idea what they're doing'; I'll be sure to pass on all the deep, abiding wisdom I've earned over my 12 hours in Rise and 22 in World so far, haha.
This ended up being way more of an essay than I intended it to be. TL;DR: Y'ALL WERE RIGHT, MONSTER HUNTER GOOD, CAPCOM NOW OWNS MY MORTAL SOUL
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