3 days out from Wii U... Monster Hunter

What is Monster Hunter? The conversation goes something like this.

Before: "Hey, there's this awesome game called Monster Hunter, and you go and hunt these huge monsters that are like dragons, and you have to gather stuff and take parts from the monsters and make weapons and armour, and you totally feel like a badass! You should try it!" Response: "Oh." Shrug.

Now: "Hey you should check out Monster Hunter. It's like Dragons Dogma but with 4 player co-op online multiplayer!" Response: "Ooohhh, awesome!"

Monster Hunter is a huge Japanese phenomenon. People play it on their PSP's and 3DS's, they play it on the subway, they play together at breaks during the work day. It's huge. When a new Monster Hunter is released, the lineups are long, and the excitement is palpable. People in Japan love this game.

But in the West, it's been a tough road for Capcom's Monster Hunter franchise. There's something about it that hasn't quite clicked with western audiences, and that has lead to modest sales numbers.

The game is not easy. It requires a lot of learning, patience, and practice. It helps if someone is there to guide you, to show you the ropes. So much so that in Japan, there are mentor student relationships that form around Monster Hunter. Roy Blakely, of the My Fair Hunter podcast and @kotowari on twitter, has written up the Monster Hunter Beginner's Guide, which you can get as an eBook or in physical book form. It gives a great getting started guide to anyone who wants to check out Monster Hunter, or who is starting to play but needs some pointers. It also features beautiful illustrations by Sarah O'Donnell.

I wish I had this guide when I was starting to play Monster Hunter Tri; like many others it was my first experience with the franchise and I found it frustrating when I started. Through tons of online reading and listening to podcasts I was able to piece together some strategies and approaches to the game that helped me get over that initial hump.

And then I was hooked.

Monster Hunter has two parts to the game, an offline part and an online part. Offline you play on your own, or assisted by computer controlled companion creatures. You hone your skills, build up your resources, and stock up on supplies. You then carry over your equipment into the online world, where you face new monsters, but with the help of three other hunters. Online is always co-op, always on the same team. Quests are based on a pass/fail system. You fail the quest if your hunting party reaches three casualties ie. "faints", where your character's health goes down to zero. Three faints and you're out. And that's three for the whole team, not three for each player. This structure encourages team play, because if anyone on your team faints, it means you are one step closer to failing the quest.

Playing Monster Hunter online was one of the most rewarding online experiences I've ever had. Because of the team nature, and a culture of helping others, as a newcomer I found many experienced players willing to help me out on my initial basic level quests. "Are you sure you don't mind doing this with me?" I would ask. Invariably the replies would be, "No problem," or "I don't mind helping out the newbies." As I gained in skill and experience that spirit stuck with me. Now I was the one helping the new players, just as the high rank players had helped me. And so the cycle continued.

I haven't played Monster Hunter Tri (or just "Tri", if you're into Monster Hunter you only have to say "Tri" and people know what you mean) in a long while. After working my way through the offline portion, and fighting every monster in the online portion as well, I had to take a break.

I will admit to some silent inner squeal of delight when I heard that Capcom was going to release a Monster Hunter for the Wii U, in essence an expansion of "Tri" called Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. If I lived in Japan I would be getting the Monster Hunter special edition of the Wii U instead of just the Deluxe Set. Sadly we will have to wait till next year for the localized Western version to appear, but I will be getting this on day one, without question.

I wish that Monster Hunter was more popular in the West, it would be great to have more people to play with and to experience hunting together. For me it's a system seller, but I understand that not everyone shares my opinion. For now I'll be content to hunt without many of you. But when you're ready, I'll be waiting.

Check back tomorrow for "2 days out from Wii U... Gamepad!"

Posted on November 14, 2012 and filed under Countdown.