To say that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is my most anticipated title for 2015 is an understatement. Even with a newborn child, I managed to sink over 300 hours into the previous title in the series – any parent reading this can attest to how much dedication (or addiction) that takes. Needless to say, on the announcement of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, I immediately secured my pre-order. There was no way I was going to accept anything less than release day.
The Monster Hunter series never really gained much traction in the West. However, in Japan, it’s a phenomenon. Think of it as Japan’s Call of Duty. Everyone either plays it, or knows somebody who does. I think the lack of traction in the West is due to the fact that the majority of gamers are looking for a “quick fix”. In contrast, Monster Hunter requires you to put in a fair amount of effort to reap rewards. This carries a sense of accomplishment that is hard to beat.
For players new to the series, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, is, quite frankly, a game about hunting monsters. The game flow is as follows: Select a quest for the monster you wish to hunt, search the map, which is divided into numbered sections called areas, find the monster, and then kill or capture it. Sounds very simple, yes? Well, the main thing that makes Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate so engaging is the sheer number of ways that players can hunt each monster. Every weapon handles completely differently. Every monster is completely different. And so each hunt feels very unique. To top it off, the target monster’s health is never displayed on screen. You have to gauge it’s health with your eyes, based on its injuries and the behaviour it exhibits. That monsters tail is annoying you? Cut it off! See the monster limping as it tries to run away and recover? He’s hurting pretty bad, and is probably near death.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (or MH4U for short) is absolutely the easiest game in the franchise for new players to get into. In addition, the story is easily the most involved of any game in the franchise. Although not terribly gripping or deep, it’s involving enough to make you want to go through the single player quests before you really dig into the online mode. MH4U’s story is full of funny dialogue to keep the story relatively light hearted. It also gradually introduces you to the core changes the series has over previous iterations. Those being vertical movement, mount attacks, and the Feral Wyvern Virus. I don’t want to go too much into explaining the latter, as it’s kind of integral to the story, but suffice it to say that it’s a new status condition that the game does a great job of explaining to you.
Vertical movement is a huge focus for the game. Every area of every map is designed around the ability to climb and jump off of edges. This makes all the areas feel a lot more natural, as opposed to feeling a little flat, such as in previous titles. There’s always somewhere you can climb up or jump off, but the flow of movement is rarely broken. Simply run at an edge, whether from above or below, and your character will automatically jump off or climb up. If the edge is too high, you’ll get the option to start scaling the cliff face. All this vertical movement results in a great new addition to the combat mechanics, in the way of mount attacks.
Press the attack button while you’re in the air, and you’ll perform a mount attack. If you knock the monster over, you’ll jump on its back with the option to stab it in the spine. When the monster is roaring or bucking to throw you off, simply hold on tight, making it harder for the monster to throw you off. Complete the mount attack, and you’ll knock the monster over, opening it up to heavy damage from you and your team mates.
Palicoes make a return to MH4U! For those of you who don’t know, these are friendly felines who act as hunting companions – your teammates when you’re hunting on your own. You create your first Palico at the time of character creation, but as you progress through the story, you gain the option to recruit additional Palicoes, although they do require their own gear. This can be obtained through a mini-game once you reach the village of Cheeka Sands. Some of the armour designs are impressive, and it’s worth searching them out.
Two new weapons join the family, the Insect Glaive and the Charge Blade. They’re both fun to use, and from what I can tell online, very popular. The Insect Glaive is similar to a Bo Staff, and the Charge Blade is a variation on the original hybrid weapon, the Switch Axe. However, I don’t yet have a lot of experience with either, so unfortunately I find them hard to comment on at the time of writing.
It seems a lot of players take issue with the series’ “grinding” aspect. That is, hunting the same monster repeatedly in order to acquire the necessary materials for equipment. To the people who ask “How do you deal with all the grinding?”, I in turn ask “Is it really grinding if you’re having fun?” Every monster is fun to fight, and every fight is rewarding. In addition, since there are so many different weapons (14, to be specific), there are an equal amount of ways to hunt each monster. Hunting a Rathian with a Hammer or a Long Sword, for example, is much easier than fighting with the Dual Blades or Sword & Shield. In MH4U (and the other games in the series), if you start getting bored, you can just switch your weapon and the combat immediately feels fresh again.
I’ve also heard that many newer players pick up the game, play for an hour, get bored, and return it or give up. Why is that? After only an hour, you’ve played through the intro, hunted a few (very weak) monsters, and picked some herbs – MH4U requires a little more time. Once you start hunting monsters like Great Jaggi and Tetsucabra, that’s when you’re REALLY playing the game.
MH4U contains a fairly lengthy single-player mode. Once completed, there’s also the online mode. Here, you can create a room (with a password, if you only want to hunt with friends) and hunt monsters with up to 3 others. This is where most people sink endless hours into the game, as many monsters are only accessible in this mode. Unfortunately, the online mode lacks any kind of voice chat, and during hunts you’re limited purely to pre-written shout outs, which are customisable, at least. If you want to do any serious hunting with your friends, though, things like Teamspeak, Ventrilo, Mumble, or Skype serve well. Since you’re required to have a WiFi connection in order to hunt online, chances are you’ll have access to at least one of these services.
Before I finish, though, I have to point out some of the flaws. Even though I’ve mentioned that it’s the most “noob friendly”, MH4U can still be a little difficult to make sense of at times, as there’s a lot to take in. To that end, I highly recommend you have an experienced player show you the ropes. Failing that, there are a great number of guides on YouTube that serve as much better tutorials than what Capcom has provided. I highly recommend the one by ProJared; “Beginner’s Guide to Monster Hunter”. It was written for the previous game; however, all of the information within is still highly relevant.
Visually, it’s a little hit-and-miss. When you stop to look, you can quite clearly see jaggies on textures. In the middle of a hunt, though, it’s hardly noticeable. You’ll be too busy avoiding the giant chicken that’s throwing fireballs at you to notice a jagged edge here and there. Still, I feel I do have to mention it.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the friendliest and easiest Monster Hunter game to get into. With its massive roster of monsters to hunt (90+), there’s a lot of content here, too. DLC is released fairly often, and it’s actually all free. In my humble opinion, it’s the greatest game in the series so far, and an absolutely essential purchase for any 3DS owner. It’s already most likely going to be my Game of the Year.