Review by Darksun45230

"We Stand United."

A bird fell onto my patio. I don't know how or why it happened but it happened. Grabbing a fishnet, I lifted the creature placed it a shoe-box. After bringing it inside I found it's wing hanging at an awkward angle. It was broken. I checked for wounds, signs of blood, and found none. To tell you the truth I was glad since I didn't have a penny for the vet. Gently folding the wing into it's body, I applied some tape. I found a spot away from the animals, and presented him with a shallow cup of water and birdseed. Three weeks passed and I took off the tape. Letting him fly around a bit, I was satisfied that he would be able to survive on his own. I had mixed feelings about letting him go. It was only three weeks but the family had taken great pains to feed and clean the thing. My youngest sister had even asked if we could keep it as a pet. Needless to say, we were sad when we finally said goodbye. We held a little ceremony for it before finally taking the cage out onto the patio and opening it. It took a slap to the cage to send the little fella out, but when he was he turned to look at us. It was a brief, curious glance and it almost appeared to be thanking us. He turned back to the patio and began flapping it's wings. The bird flew away.

I tell you this story in order to illustrate the challenge. Anyone who has ever suffered an injury knows rehabilitation is a painful process. Which draws a neat parallel to the challenges in Monster Hunter. In this game, you will be injured many times and likely lose as many fights. My question to you is, can you recover? Do you have the mettle to rise after you've been knocked down? It's not a hypothetical question, it's a challenge. It's Monster Hunter.

Enjoy those role-playing game which requires half-interest to operate? You know the type, the ones where you can occasionally glance at the television and not worry about dieing? This message is for you. Monster Hunter is not one of those games. You will eat away the hours doing many things but they are trifles compared to the battle. You will forge armor and weapons for battle. You will collect materials through farming, fishing, bug catching, mining for battle. You will make traps, buy potions, make bombs for (and this may surprise you) for battle. Why though? What makes this action styled combat so engaging? What drives players to spend more than four-hundred hours playing the game? And even then you're barely scratching the surface! A journey this great however is not without hardship. It may discourage you, you may quit. It is my goal to show you that this game is a present waiting to be unraveled. Filled with goodies and hours of fun should you choose to take the time to tear off the tape, rather then mangle the box to get inside. And young or old, all of us like presents.

The returning title, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite appeals to both the newcomers and seasoned players alike. Unite is more of the same thing, meaning you don't need to own the previous game to receive the full package. It's all there. For the seasoned, the general consensus among one another is that they don't want to start over. Guess what? You can import your save, meaning, start off exactly where you were before. No time lost. However there are several changes, both small and grand. Previous weapons types and armor have been modified to further balance gameplay. Some you may not be happy with, and others you won't care about. What you gain for your sacrifice is more. More monsters, more weapons, and more ground to cover.

Gameplay
Allow me to explain the most important piece of the game, the gameplay. Combat emulates elements from the fighting genre and oddly enough, Megaman. In that game, you fight robots to gain stronger weapons. Monster Hunter expands on the system, but giving you materials which help you forge both better weapons and armor. You do this perpetually, fighting not only stronger but different enemies which requires a unique method to approach. And so it goes, gaining more and more materials and forging stronger equipment until you're top. You're Megaman.

That being said, the series doesn't have a story. It's simply unnecessary when you account for the hundreds of other things the game possesses. Though it does have an opening, however brief it is. After starting a new game, you're given the option to customize your character. I'm not talking about some half-worked pallet swapping either. Hair, skin color, facial features, voice, even what type of underwear you'll wear is dealer's choice. There you will, quite literally, be thrown into the game. It opens up as you advance in the powdered flakes of the Snowy Mountains. As the night sky swarms with stars, you take a moment admire it, and in the darkness erupts a boiling roar. Emerging from the tundra is a beast with wild abandon. Unprepared for this encounter, you brace for the coming collision and topple off a steep cliff. You stir in a bed at the village of Pokke, and thus your journey begins.

In the tutorials, you learn of gathering, and fighting with each weapon type. The weapons in this game are truly remarkable. There are eleven types and yet they vary heavily in characteristics. They are akin to characters from a fighter, coming with inherit strengths and weaknesses. Except these fighters stats can be improved, and their shape changed. These stats are a special set of attributes like Sharpness, Affinity, Attack Power, and Elemental damage. As you progress, keeping track of these stats becomes one of great importance. Not only are they separated by stats, but by the way they act in a fight. The button interface in general different for each weapon yet easy and even fun to learn. With this in mind, we can generate our own unique combos.

There is a blunt side to this however. To my dismay, I find people complain about those weapon characteristics. Things like, "this weapon doesn't have enough reach" or "this weapon is too slow." And my honest opinion is that they simply don't know enough or don't understand enough about that weapon. The Sword and Shield serves as a good example. Even as I tell you the name, you can guess pretty accurately what that weapon is. It serves as a weapon of balance, carrying a shield in one hand and a sword in the other. It falls into the "not enough reach" category, as the weapon itself is very short. This is an inherit and programmed flaw. Weapons in general are generally balanced in one way or another. The solution is to acknowledge this weakness and attempt to compensate for it. If you can't reach your enemy, move closer. If your weapon is too slow, time your swings. Hence the learning curve for weapons is quite deep.

Monster Hunter is a game without levels. It's true. There is no real indication of growth and to many confuses them to no end. How will we ever know if we're getting better? The answer is simple, by skill. This isn't a bold new concept. In the days of the Pinball the only indication that we were doing better was to measure ourselves by our score. In Monster Hunter, the only indication that we're doing better is the ease to which we defeat our opponents. Even with the right items, weapons, and armor, you could never measure up to a person with more experience then you. A highly experienced player can walk into a fight with nothing more then a Hunting Knife and walk out without taking a hit. How is this possible? Is the game, despite what I've told you, shockingly easy? No. The answer is that that experienced player knows exactly what move that monster will use next. He knows exactly when and how to avoid it. What I'm telling you may sound impossible, but think about it for a moment in another context. Say you're playing a card game like Poker. You're dealt a hand and whether or not it's a good hand is shown on your face or in your actions. A good player will look for that reaction. The same goes for Monster Hunter.

With each monster comes a series of move-sets. It's akin to that of said role-playing boss. They have only a certain set of moves before having to recycle their old ones. It's like a buffet with an assortment of dishes, you sample each one but eventually you go back to the plates you like. A monster is more like the rude house-guest as he eats whatever he wants, whenever he wants. It is your job to predict which meal he will eat next. Sounds impossible right? Not if you apply my Poker metaphor. Each move has a certain tell, an expressed frame of action leading up to the moment to which that monster will use it. That's why video is so coveted among players. They look for the exact patterns in each attack and the actions that monster will take before using those moves. On that level, they'll not only be able to predict said move, but avoid it altogether. To sum up it's all about the skill you develop as a fighter. No one thing tips the scales more then your skill on the field. Except maybe a damned Flash Bomb.

Excluding color variants, there are roughly thirty-two different Wyverns in Monster Hunter. To some, that may sound like the game only has a few. Think about what I just told you though, each monster is unique set of characteristics. They have a varying set of attacks that alter their form of play, this is heavily based on their shape and size. But what does size and shape have to do with anything? A lot. Believe it or not, the way a monster is built determines your method of attacking it. To illustrate this I will compare the Wyvern's Monoblos and Rathalos. Rathalos is a sky Wyvern, meaning most of his attacks are based in the air. By contrast, a foe like Monoblos burrows itself underground only emerge moments later on the unsuspecting prey. The differences between the two are like night and day. Rathalos head is easier to reach, Monoblos has a higher upper arch making the head much harder to reach. And even if you were to hit Monoblos head, it's not his weak-point. He is in fact, weaker if hit between the legs. Yeah, that part. Even then however, we'll still need a weapon with decent reach. Or do we?

If we have a weapon like the Sword and Shield, which I've explained earlier, has shorter reach. Then we can apply an alternative strategy. Attack the legs. Here I'm putting to use the advantage of the Sword and Shield, which is it's ability to slash quickly and dodge or block the incoming attack. With the monster's move-set in mind, reading him becomes a simple memory game. The reason why we become skilled in effective dodging comes from our sense of timing. We see a move performed enough times knowing when to get out of the way becomes second nature. And for that reason every approach is vastly different. So the number of Wyverns you face is really immaterial to the depth you have to go with each one. What makes a good Hunter, truly, is that you are endeavoring to satisfy your own needs through battle, the result being not defeat but dominance.
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From the Wyverns you slay, you get materials. The loot is somewhat random parts from that enemy, some may be rare while others common. From those materials however, you're allowed to create armor and possibly weapons from them. One of the most common places you'll visit in the small village of Pokke is undoubtedly the blacksmith. From there, you'll be able to improve your weapons in a branch-like fashion and create new armor. In some games, you acquire random armor that really doesn't show up when you're characters wear them. In Monster Hunter, not only will that armor show up, but you can eventually customize the color of that armor. There are limitations to this rule, as only certain armors are really effected by this, and the ability shows up late in the game. It's still nice to have the option. Now you may be wondering if your armor does anything else but look pretty, and it does. Aside from your skills and weapon, armor is probably the most important thing to have in a battle. Since you don't level up, you don't acquire any skills or magic. Armor is the way skills are introduced.

Each armor carries a certain amount of points that accumulate towards that said skill. So when worn in a set they add up to an Armor skill. Armor skills are an effective advantage in battle, whether it's something as simple as raising your current health, or increase the rate to which you land critical hits. With this in mind, hunter's can be very choosy over which armor they'll fight with. And often you'll be forced to choose function over fashion. There is no way around this until later in the game where armor begins to take a nicer appearance. And sometimes even if you're wearing the entire armor set, it's still not going to be enough to activate said skill. To which you must use a skill gem or Decoration, in order to compensate. It sounds confusing I know, but once you've immersed yourself it's actually quite simple.

Though there are eleven weapons there are two general categories, close-range and ranged. The weapons like Sword and Shield, Greatsword, and Hammer all fall under close-ranged weapon types while weapons like Bow and Bowgun fall under ranged. This separation becomes obvious when you look at the two armor types made for them, the Blademaster and Gunner armor. While distinctly different, the way you act with them isn't quite apples and oranges. I'd say in fact, that they're coworkers trying to do the same job only the format is different. With the Blademaster armor, your defense is double that of Gunner armor for the simple fact of range. When in close combat, you're more likely to get hit since you attack from close up. With ranged weaponry, this chance is somewhat diminished. When you attack from further away, you're less likely to receive a blow. This is because you have time to recognize the next attack and dodge appropriately. This isn't to say ranged combat is any better then close-range however, as if you're too far away the chances of getting hit actually increase. How is this though?

Believe it or not spacing is a big factor when it comes to ranged combat. The developers gave every monster the ability to recognize your distance from them an attempt to close the gap through an attack or ability. The amphibious Plesioth for example will squirm about the floor towards you leaving little time to dodge. The strange horned beast Rajang will pounce from a great distance in order to cover the ground you've taken from it. Being too far away is not only the wrong route, but suicidal. It's facts like these that determine the overall outcome of a battle.

Not all of your materials come the Wyverns you slay. As I've mentioned before, you'll take part in various activities in order to acquire the correct materials. To players who are still green, they often find these tasks not only confusing, but frustrating. You'd be surprise how easy it is to become overwhelmed in the world of Monster Hunter. That's why the developers introduce Pokke Farm. What is Pokke Farm? It's a place where you can gather various materials found in the outside world, all in one place. You must improve your farm through Pokke Points, which come from quest items like Wyvern Eggs, or Special Mushrooms. Even an enhanced farm however will only give so much in one setting. You must recharge these spots through completing quests. There are Insect Thickets for bug catching, mining spots for mining, and piers to fish off of. Even a talking cat that will gather materials while you're away fighting. There's even mini-games that tests your sense of timing like the Bug Tree, or fishnet machine. They help the player perceive one of the largely overwhelming elements of the game.

After completing several quests, you'll be able to purchase a Felyne. A Felyne is basically a talking cat that stands on it's hind-feet. You see them in the wild, but the ones you purchase are quite tame. You have two options when it comes to these furry friends, you can train them as chefs or take them into battle with you. An exclusive to Unite is the ability to to train them as a Felyne Fighter. A Felyne Fighter dresses up in a small uniform and assists you in battle. While this sounds great on the surface, these fighters don't tip the scales of a fight anymore then items do. Their AI isn't that much more sophisticated as the Wyverns themselves, and their attack power is dismay. Their attack style is largely dependent on their personality. If say, you have a Timid Felyne Fighter, that one will attack rarely if at all. Instead he or she will be more inclined to use the skills you teach them. Yes, they learn skills. Granted the system isn't nearly as sophisticated as the armor system, but it's one you're familiar with.

Skills are unlocked after defeating a certain Wyvern with corresponding Felyne. You earn skill points automatically from any quest, to which you invest towards a skill. While you make a Felyne learn a said skill, you can't make him use that skill whenever you want. It's up your partner if he wants to use that skill or not. That makes a Felyne unpredictable. And that unpredictably throws a wrench into the seasoned player's game. Consider for example a skirmish between a Khezu and a Hunter with his Felyne Fighter. The wild Fighter would approach said beast and whack him on the head. Instead of aiming for the Hunter however, that monster will target the Felyne for being in closer proximity to it. To the green player, that may sound like a good thing. To a Hunter though, that means your enemy is now attacking a variable, something that won't attack you making it tougher to exploit it's movements. In other words, the skilled do not benefit from this addition at all.

You'll hear the buzz surrounding Monster Hunter, like "You're never alone." The fact of the matter is that it's simply untrue. Monster Hunter Unite comes without Infrastructure, which means you won't be able to hunt with faraway friends unless you own a Playstation 3 or install Xlink Kai. What is true is that there is a place which hosts a plethora of quests you can accomplish with friends or by your lonesome, the Gathering Hall. There is an indicator called Hunter Rank, which increases by doing a certain set of quests. The rewards unlocked with increased rank is surprisingly few, but the most promising is the new G Rank.

There are three levels of difficulty in the world of Monster Hunter. The early Elder Quests being the easiest, follow closely to a similar set of quests in the Gathering Hall. And after you've accomplished the Elder Quests, you move onto the Felyne Elder Quests which are much more difficult. The boss monsters have more HP, their attacks inflict more damage, and they attack even faster then before. The Gathering Hall equivalent is called Hard Rank quests, which range from Hunter Rank 4 to Hunter Rank 6. The Rank beyond Hunter Rank 6? Hunter Rank 7, the beginning of the G Rank Quests.

On the face of it, there is nothing special about the G Rank Quests. It's nothing we haven't seen before, strategically placed quests starting somewhat easy and ending somewhat hard. But something is different. G Rank is a Unite exclusive, and as such is accompanied by several changes. There are new color variations of your old enemies like Green Congalala, Red Shogun Ceanataur, and Purple Daimyo Hermituar. There are new enemies like Hypnocatrice the bird Wyvern, and Nargacuga the panther-like Wyvern. You fight these monsters in maps from the previous Monster Hunter titles, such as Kokoto and the Rainforest from Frontier. Not only are the locations different, but the rank unlocks an entirely new armor rank. In this rank you can unlock a new set of weapons and equipment similar to the method before that, by gathering new materials.

Getting on point, these quests are really hard to do by yourself. Hence the advertisements of people playing with their closest friends. They're working as a team cutting off tails, spamming Flash Bombs, and setting a great deal of traps. This is the ideal format for anyone who wants that sort of thing. I argue however, the use of these things act as a crutch bypassing all the elements of combat before the enemy has time to react.

The pretense of a Hunter fighting and a player fighting is that the Hunter will use as little as possible in items, bombs, and traps. In contrast, the player will go all out. There is nothing wrong with this. It simply has to do with the degree of time poured into the game. Imagine for a moment that I had let the bird that landed on my patio die. For one, I would loath myself for not helping. The same goes with newbie players, we all need help sometimes. Imagine now that I had taken the bird in, but instead of releasing it like I should, I keep it in a cage. It's a bird right? I'm providing all it's food and water. The bird doesn't have to brave the world by itself, and best of all it has a family. Now you can be resigned to this option, to be that bird and stay in your circle of friends, or you can venture out on your own. So who would you like to be?

Controls
We arrive an aspect equally important to a player in any fighter. When it comes to the controls, there is one complaint that manages to rise above all else, the camera. You have two options when it comes to camera control, the L Trigger and the D-Pad. The L Trigger maneuvers to where you're facing, while the D-Pad allows you to control the camera freely. Among all the things newbies have trouble with, it's the camera. Why? Because in battle we have to use the joystick and the camera controls in synchronized and simultaneous movements. A monster jumps off screen, you turn the camera to face them. It's that simple. For reasons difficult to comprehend, some players simply cannot accept these controls. It is fully possible to smoothly dictate the camera angle with your pointer finger. Yet this is something so alien to the newcomers that they reject it and the game entirely. I'm not kidding.

It's also not surprising. The configuration feels weird, and weird is often misunderstood as bad. And if it's something bad, then it obviously needs to be fixed. Which brings up the question, "Why not auto-lock?" If you're not familiar with the concept, auto-lock is a feature where a character locks onto an enemy and targets them throughout the fight. The idea of an auto-lock feature would essentially dismantle a core piece of Monster Hunter. Combat is broken down into it's most basic elements, accuracy, range, and spacing. All of this would be negated if you could suddenly brush up against an enemy and have all those problems go away. You would essentially remove all challenge and all difficulty. And if you're looking for that, then find another game.

Using the other controls comes surprisingly easy. At first it is easy to become confused, but a quick peek at the manual can explain things with grace. It's one that requires learning, as all weapons are different, so are their button configurations. While the R Trigger may activates the Sword and Shield's Guard, pressing the R Trigger with the Dual Swords equipped activates a special mode. The combinations are varied, but essentially exist within the same buttons, triangle, circle, and the R Trigger. And let's say you need to down a Potion, by holding the L Trigger you can cycle through a small menu and select that item. The action occurs within seconds, saving you precious time during a battle.

On the downside the controls aren't configurable and the combos aren't as grand as I make them out to be. While you may very well be able to slash an enemy three or four times, the chance to use them comes sparingly. The Dual Swords for example are surprisingly slow when broken down. When you think of a dual wielding weapons the term speed does come to mind. However the speed of the combos take more time to perform then you have to execute before the need to evade arises. In other words you're fighting with half your strength for the sake of speed. But in the end the combat controls perform with handsome fluidity.

Loading Times
Gamers nowadays have slobbery love affairs with the concept of speed, and shun the waiting. Which is why when they are ambushed by a loading screen, they shut down. Speed-wise, the screens lasts for several seconds at a time. Yet gamers can't wait. In order to solve this problem, the developers implemented Media Install which downloads a package of data onto your memory stick in order make the times faster. You can also plug your AC Adapter and play with the background loading option. Overall the difference is noticeable.

Graphics & Sound
The areas to which you hunt boasts a level of detail rivaling console titles. Whether it is the cold, cold peeks of the snowy mountains or the scorched lands surrounding a hungry volcano. Every Wyvern occupies an area, and with that area comes a strong interaction with ones environment. The layout for each area is different from one another, and with that comes certain advantages. The sky Wyvern Rathalos, for example, will exploit a rivers of lava in the volcano to escape from a Hunter. Any enemy you face at the peaks of the snowy mountains has the advantage of corners. Since the shape of the areas are jagged, it's easy for an enemy to corner you. So what once was minor is now important.

When you think sound in a role-playing game, you think music right? Believe it or not, the music isn't the most important sound you'll hear. It's all in the details, the minor effects that constructs the atmosphere. So for example, you go bomb mining at Pokke Farm. You hand over Barrel Bomb and watch a scene where the receiving Felyne takes into a cave. A moment later he'll be blasted out, and screaming all the way. Despite the dark overtones, this is quite funny. And the long drolling meow he makes before fainting seals the deal. Your footsteps, a Wyvern's roar, it all becomes a factor which paints a surreal scene on the battlefield. You just have to prime your ears to listen.

The Good
- Challenges seasoned gamers.
- Exceptionally deep, simplistic, and strange combat system.
- Vivid landscapes.
- Compelling music and sound.
- Sophisticated character creation system.
- Eleven unique weapon types.
- Comprehensive armor skill system.
- Engaging and ferocious boss battles.
- Comfortable control layout.
- Innovative farming system.
- Ad-Hoc system you to hunt with close friends.

The Arguments
- The steep learning curve turns away casual gamers.
- Camera operation.
- Loading times.
- Button layout is unchangeable.
- Absence of Infrastructure.
- Felyne Fighter is gimmicky.
- Gathering materials becomes tedious.

Every now and then I go back out onto the patio and peer out. Wondering if my feathery friend will ever return. I don't worry about him, not as much as I used to. Because I know he has the skills to survive on his own. There is no easy road for him or the hunter. It is a journey from north to south with wind-beaten wings. His travel may be perilous but undoubtedly rewarding. An adventure once taken, can lead to overwhelming satisfaction, or crushing despair. And who knows? Maybe he's among his flock, his friends and family. And maybe it's not a crime every once and awhile to stand united.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/17/09, Updated 06/22/09

Game Release: Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G (JP, 03/27/08)


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