I'm a Hunter

Monster Hunter Tri is currently dominating my play time. This is no real surprise, as I love Freedom 2 and Freedom Unite on PSP, and have been anticipating this instalment for some time.

I'm used to reviews of Monster Hunter games being faintly depressing reading. Many of them mention its popularity in Japan, and then go on to complain about design flaws that make it inaccessible to a western audience. It gives the impression that the unenlightened Japanese must all somehow like badly designed games, while "we" know better. Meanwhile, some fans get angry and complain the reviewer doesn't know what they are talking about, and lacks the skill to be a hunter.... only using angrier language.

The English-language reviews are looking slightly more favourable this time around, although there was a particularly confused muddle of a review on Crispy Gamer. Warning: link includes some fairly homophobic statements.

Tri seems to be a slightly more accessible introduction to the series than the PSP games. And that must help a lot when you are a professional reviewer without sufficient free time to let a game swallow your soul. From my perspective, though, it's very faintly disappointing. I don't get the same feeling of depth I'm used to. But it's possible that having played previous games I'll never quite get that same feeling again.

That said, this is still Monster Hunter, and I am a definitely a hunter willing to follow my calling. I also expect Tri will grow on me once I start fighting bigger wyverns. The first ten hours or more of a Monster Hunter game are really quite different from the later experience. It's focusing on the really big monsters where things really start to get fun. Tri is certainly one of the prettiest games on Wii, and well worth a look if you are after a challenge. I really recommend a classic controller, as the motion controls look like an awkward recipe for RSI.

I've been thinking a lot about why I find Monster Hunter so compelling. Most of the games I discuss here are story-driven experiences. MH games are action-driven, and expressing what is enjoyable about that doesn't come as naturally to me. I'm accustomed to just accepting Monster Hunter's awesomeness (for me at least) without having to think too much about it.

I mentioned depth, and it's depth and scale that probably hit me initially. My first experiences as a new hunter felt like I was gradually scratching at the surface of something greater, as I slowly accumulated knowledge and skills. Every tier felt more epic than the last, to the point where I wanted a bigger word than "epic" to describe the experience.

The learning curve is very steep, and goes on for a long time. This may have been moderated a little in Tri, though I haven't played far enough yet to comment properly. I've put in over 500 hours across Freedom 2 and Freedom Unite, and still definitely consider myself an intermediate hunter at Hunter Rank 7 out of 9. I still have an awful lot to learn. It's that learning that makes repetition something other than grinding. It's not a mindless experience like easily slicing through simple enemies in many other games. It's a gradual building of expertise as I try to better learn a monster's "tells" and more efficiently take openings and evade attacks. There is some grinding for rare items I could do without, but grind isn't as big a part of the experience as many people suggest.

Real-time skill-based combat is also what makes me shake my head in disappointment whenever a reviewer complains about the lack of a lock-on feature. That does not belong here, and combat is far more satisfying without it.

Another element of being a hunter is the sense of community. Considering the PSP games had no online play, there is a pretty amazing online hunter community. Many of the experienced hunters really do pass on their knowledge for the benefit of newer players. I tend to be a bit of a lurker in those communities, and gained a lot from that. There are some great guides available for newbies.

A new Wii game means a lot more beginning hunters, and I'm currently a bit wary of online multiplayer. I don't know what sort of players I might encounter, and I've heard some horror stories. At Australian times the servers may be pretty quiet anyway. I'm seeing how much I can achieve solo for now, and I guess I'll worry about possible multiplayer later once the Tri community has settled in a little.

As a concept, hunting monsters is not a particularly sophisticated idea. But it's very well packaged simplicity. I've never put much thought into this concept, though as an ecologist I do sometimes wonder how prolifically those wyverns must breed for the numbers to stay so high while being hunted heavily.

One thing that did disturb me slightly in Tri was a new technique for harvesting Kelbis (small herbivores). To get a good quality horn it's easiest to stun the creatures and carve the horn while they are still alive. As a gameplay mechanic that adds some new diversity, but as an idea it disturbed me. I have no issue with the idea of sustainable hunting for resources, but that seemed far less humane. I could assume the horn contains no nerves and that the procedure is painless, but it would still be likely to alter the animal's place in their social hierarchy.

I have probably really over-thought this. Treatment of a virtual creature does not actually have any of those potential consequences. I find it unlikely that game violence will generally translate into real-world violence, and this is really the same idea. Maybe it shouldn't have disturbed me, then, but it was an unfamiliar virtual experience, and that made me more conscious of it.