Friday, 31 July 2015

Review: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)

Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate Review (3DS)
MH4U Review

Short History lesson start:

Around seven years ago I picked up a copy of Monster Hunter for the venerable PS2 console. I heard amazing things about MH's action, graphics and open-ended gameplay. Playing Monster Hunter solo made for a difficult introduction into the series, but I slowly learned the art of smashing large, dino-like creatures into submission with a giant hammer. The trick was learning a monster's attack patterns and exploiting its openings.

Fast forward a few years later, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (MHFU) is released for the PSP. Probably considered the PSP's most successful title, it sold millions of units and helped sales of the PSP platform the world over. MHFU amalgamated monsters and gameplay elements from previous games, namely MH:Freedom and MH:Freedom 2. It was very popular, especially in Japan where it became a national obsession.

While playing MHFU, I switched weapons to the great-sword and finally had a taste of Monster Hunter's multiplayer. Monster Hunter was definitely made for the multiplayer experience.

MHFU is one of my most favorite games on the PSP,  next to Tactics Ogre: LUCT.

Short history lesson over.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is another amalgamation title, this time for the Nintendo 3DS handheld, bringing monsters from previous titles into one grandiose game. It also introduces two new weapons: the insect glaive and charge blade. A new monster mounting feature has also been added to the gameplay. Hunters can now ride monsters and topple them over; just like some people do on a Saturday night.

The core Monster Hunter gameplay hasn't deviated much over the years, which is good. If you have a winning formula, why would you change it? You start the game as a new hunter charging headfirst into the monster hunting world. After the opening scene is played through, the player is then given the option of every class of weapon, allowing players not to be hedged into the same starting weapon.

I chose to use the hammer again for some MH PS2-style nostalgia hunting.

Weapon choice is a major decision in this game, as it will effect your play style, how aggressive you can be (or rather should be), and how easily you mount monsters. Weapons are split between blademaster(close quarters) and gunner(distance) weapons; they are then further split into faster and slower weapons. Slower weapons often doing more damage per hit and faster weapons having a higher DPS with faster evasion.

Armor skills help you fight

Most players (I can't speak for all of them) generally end up "main-ing" a weapon. That is to mean, to become an expert or master of one type of weapon. Every weapon type has a distinct attack move set, distancing, evasion, monster weak points and applicable matched skills. Later in the game, some players might start learning another weapon, but beginners should probably focus on one weapon until they become familiar with the game. Choosing a weapon to fit your personality is the first test of the new hunter.

New weapons, the charge blade and insect glaive, offer a fresh choice for new and veteran hunters. The insect glaive is unique because it seems to be made for exploiting the new mounting mechanic. The charge blade seems to mix the defense of the sword-and-shield with the power of a much larger weapon. I've been mostly playing hammer, so I can't really go into depth or comparison with the new weapons. They both seem powerful and fun, they're also really popular, with many guides on the net discussing their features. Most weapons have been revamped from previous Monster Hunter games.

Matching with your weapon will be your armor set. Made out of monster parts, armors have unique skills to help you during hunts, providing many useful abilities such as earplugs or better evasion. Armor sets often turn into a mixed bag affair, wearing gloves from one monster and the chest piece of another is not uncommon. Hunters generally tailor their armor skills to fit their weapon, or to counter monster specific abilities such as wind pressure, ground tremor or poison.

Hi, Tiggy.

Mounting monsters is the new gameplay mechanic introduced in MH4U. Hunters can jump off ledges or use their weapons to jump onto the backs of monsters and deliver blows to topple it. As mentioned above, some weapons seem purposely designed to enable easier monster mounting. When mounted, a player must perform a QTE to topple the monster, while the monster roars and writhes to try to dislodge the hunter from its back. The toppling effect is similar to knocking a monster out in the older MH games.

As in older titles, hunts take place inside a map that is further split into small areas. Forests, volcanoes, glaciers, swamps, sand dunes and arenas are some of the biomes hunts take place within. Most of the areas have different density of ledges which can be exploited for good effect on monsters. The game is very pretty and there is a lot of attention to detail. There's also a fair amount of destructible terrain too, so hunters are never safe just climbing up and waiting on a high ledge.

Here's a tip: If a monster sets you on fire, roll through some water on the ground to put it out quickly.

Maps are littered with resources such as: insects, ore, plants, mushrooms and even monster dung. Most items can be used or combined to provide benefits to hunters. Items include healing potions, traps, bombs, power ups and much more. Learning about items, their effects and when to utilize them is a process in itself. Mastering items early on will help you when things get more serious during longer missions later in the game.

MH4U's quest system is split into single player caravan quests and multiplayer guild hall quests. Guild hall quests can be tackled alone, so if you hate people, or need to test a strategy, you can do it without bothering other players. There are also special arena and event quests, event quests are special missions for challenge and fun which may unlock unique armors or items too. New to MH4U are expeditions, these missions require hunters to fight monsters for caravan points that can be later redeemed for items. Generally expeditions are best exploited later in the game, as the early game rewards aren't really worth the time investment.

Hammer time!
Now we come to the crux of MH4U - the grind. You'll grind for armor, you'll grind for weapons, you'll grind for pretty much everything. Some people like grinding games, as it takes a long time to have the best of everything, and gratifying when you finally do get something. But grind also artificially inflates playing times, as you end up killing the same monster for the 30th time for that 1-3% chance rare item.

Japanese gamers don't seem to mind grindy games and instant gratification is not something Monster Hunter easily gives out. Although some multiplayer quests can be very done quickly with a powerful and experienced team or a highly coordinated team. Young millennial gamers may find this style of game intimidating or at worst overwhelming, and may not have enough dedication to reach higher levels.

To ease the plight of new gamers into the series players may now have up to two active felyne (cat NPC) companions. Your felyne buddies will take some of the monster's attention away, allowing for a chance to recover or some time to learn a new monster attack pattern. Felynes are a much larger part of the game than ever before, having their own island, mini-games and storyline. However, if you truly want to go solo, you can also turn off felyne companions, making monster movement even more predictable for pro-hunters.

Multiplayer is a huge part of the game experience and it's where MH4U really shines. Grab you buds, grab your girlfriend, grab your dog, your uncle and that bum down the street, and get your monster hunting on. Ad-hoc local multiplayer and online multiplayer are used to join other players and friends on a hunt. Unfortunately online seems to be region locked and doesn't seem set to change. PUGs (pick-up groups) are the meat of the multiplayer experience, with up to 4 players able to join a mission, difficulty scales as more players are added into the party.

At the end of the day, wrecking and being wrecked by monsters is what the game is all about. Hitting the monster until it dies is simplistic but actually sums up the game very well. There really is only one difficulty - hard - but when you learn the game mechanics - normal - and once you learn a monster's patterns - easy. Gamers can easily pour hundreds of hours of their time into MH4U and many in Japan already have. Personally, I have sunk over 400 hours playing this game and I still haven't seen or done everything that's available.

Did I mention the game is slightly addicting too? At its heart MH4U is a learning game, attached to a learning curve that puts most western games in the last 10 years to shame.

MH4U is probably the best in the Monster Hunter series so far, having more monsters, more weapons and even greater depth - helping propel it higher than all other MH games to date. I recommend playing with friends and/or strangers to enjoy MH4U to its fullest.

-If you like grindy games.

-If you hate grind, you'll probably end up dropping MH4U after 80-100 hours.

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