How monster hunters rose from proper imports into an international sensation

A summary of the history of the series in the East and West through the eyes of a hunting veteran.

I remember capcom day first showing us the last thing that will be called Monster Hunter. It was 2003, at the annual Capcom Media Festival in Las Vegas, and in all the games they showed us that day, Monster Hunter stands out. There’s Viewtiful Joe and P.N.03’s GameCube, and PS2’s Devil May Cry 2, but I can’t take my eyes off the curiosity that’s called This Monster Hunter. We watched a CGI video of what appeared to be a four-player cooperative game in which the team will customize and optimize its equipment to take down powerful monsters. I need this. That’s bad.

When I first learned about Monster Hunter, I was a widow of the very distressed Phantasy Star Online.

You must understand that when I first learned about Monster Hunter, I was a widow of grieving Phantasy Star Online. Earlier that year, SEGA decided embarrassingly that what the PSO fan base really wanted was a card game, not more than the unrivaled Diablo-lite looting I was hopelessly addicted to. A card game. I don’t want that, and it seems that many others do too, since that’s basically the end of the PSO franchise. But suddenly, Capcom has something like that that can fill that void.

The monster theme feels refreshing, and between beautifully designed characters and a variety of weapons, this looks like a hugely successful product. Capcom showed us a lot of other games, but Monster Hunter is all I want to know. I had expected a lot of button squeezing and swinging, but the development team had other ideas. The manufacturer who stood on the podium said that instead of using the usual button diagrams to attack, the weapon’s moves would be mapped to the right analog bar to simulate the weight and feel of a wide sword.

The idea was progressive, enforcement was weak and the game was unsuccessful when it was released in 2004. Whether it’s a basic concept or a real-life experience, the first Monster Hunter just doesn’t click on the masses, and a few expansions and the next one stays in Japan.

Fifteen years later, Monster Hunter is almost unthinkable as a small-time. How did it become such a rampage in Japan, and after a lifetime of almost only being stuck on handsets such as PSP and 3DS, shipped over five million copies on consoles with Monster Hunter World in just three days?

What makes Monster Hunter:

World different? Why should this be something that elevates monster hunting to a new obsession on the dashboard where past efforts have failed? After playing Monster Hunter from the start, in the US and Japan, I knew all about its wrong steps and victories, and why all that Capcom put on the board in the last 15 years was finally fitting for Monster Hunter to get its moment in the West — and finally on pc.

Let’s start the hunt
In the U.S., coming to a friend’s house requires driving and just that’s enough to change the motivation to play Monster Hunter into… Don’t play Monster Hunter.

Monster Hunter Freedom 2 (2nd Monster Hunter Portable in Japan), released three years after the original, is where it all began. Unusually detailed graphics are a factor that draws attention on PSP, but it is the PlayStation Portable’s four-player ad-hoc action that really changes the game. While the first Monster Hunter for PSP has sold over a million copies, the next one has almost doubled that number. Crucially, the results were reversed. Western rated scores averaged in the low 80s for the first PSP offer, but dropped to 70 for the second time, with the main criticism that it’s more similar, but for gamers interested in Monster Hunter, this is exactly what they want: More booty, more things to hunt for, more ways to kill time (and monsters) together.

This is why I love Monster Hunter. I’ve lost interest in one-player NGEs for a long time. The thought of sticking with a character that has been baked before that I do not identify (sorry, Tidus) for 90-100 hours is better, there is no obvious change in the device that I work extremely hard, well, that does ‘ not have a lot of appeal to me. I love the games you work hard for and play hard (I’ve spent a decade playing Final Fantasy XI) and you can showcase the rewards you’ve reaped.

In 8 and 16 bit days, we are limited by what technology can offer. But once Diablo 2 opens up the sweet, sweet game loop, which allows me to customize my little image with endless combinations of armor and weapons, while reflecting these changes on my character, that’s all I’ve wanted since. This was followed by Phantasy Star Online, and later Final Fantasy XI. I really like Japanese character design; it’s more charming, elegant, and less obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons-style images than games like EverQuest. So when Capcom showed me, Monster Hunter, I knew this was going to be a game for me. It’s tough, but when you see a player who’s really good at networking, wearing elite equipment, you know they’ve earned and that’s what keeps Monster Hunter players going.

Unfortunately, the advent of the special player feature didn’t bring many benefits to me in the United States, as none of my friends or colleagues actually spend a lot of time on their PSP. But thanks to half an hour of tedious morning work on San Francisco’s 38 Geary bus line, I had a lot of time. So, on a hunt, I’m going alone. Over the years, each expansion and the next will add slightly better graphics, new villages, different NPCs, harder ranks, more devices, and — once the series succeeds 3DS — DLC expands. However, none of this changed my monster hunting fortunes. I am primarily a hunter alone in the United States with the desire to be a Japanese child in Tokyo.

The majority of Japanese students live in a large urban environment. During my trips to Japan, I often see four or more children gathered under a tree by the school, outside the ‘conbini’ (convenience store), or even onboard playing Monster Hunter together. While I was running alone on my PSP, ranked 3rd, gradually completing the tasks, these 12-year-olds probably took down an HR9 Rajang as if nothing. In the States, gamers gather online. The idea of a ‘social’ gaming experience in the US is to wear headphones and start working, often in physically isolated situations.

If someone is in a prime position to start the hunt, it’s me, and even then it’s hard for me to gather a hunting group.

The era of LAN parties, where people play Quake or Halo in the same room together, if not completely dead in the West, at least in a minority. This is an important factor that prevented Monster Hunter from achieving initial success in the West. Especially in the United States, people are too dispersed. In the suburbs, and almost anywhere outside Of New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and the big cities, getting to a friend’s house requires driving and just that’s enough to change the motivation to play Monster Hunter into… Don’t play Monster Hunter.

I mean, I live in San Francisco and work at a video game magazine in an office full of gamers, where a lot of people have PSPs. If someone is in a prime position to start the hunt, it’s me, and even then it’s hard for me to gather a hunting group. There was even a time when I was working hard to get the game online, to play with like-willed, reckless gamers who bought third-party suits, cables, and apps, like an ad-hoc party on PS3 and Xlink Kai for PC. There are already extensive FAQS on how to connect all this to play with Japanese players over the Internet. It was too much effort just for the game to take place.

If I can’t get the usual games with all those advantages, then what chance does the series have to catch up with the rest of the country? Even with the recent success of the latest 3DS releases, it has never been a phenomenon in Japan. In a way, Monster Hunter is spartan. It has depth and re-acting ability, but very few real stories or engines apart from hunting for the sake of hunting. So as Monster Hunter continues to grow in Japan, even console ports are not enough to catch up in the West.

Dashboard problems
Eventually, I moved to Japan for about five years — not to play Monster Hunter, but to work for game developer Q Entertainment, although I can’t deny it’s a pretty sweet privilege. I suddenly and miraculously had no shortage of access to skilled Monster Hunter players. One thing you can trust in Japanese gamers is that when something is hot, everyone plays it.

By the time the 3rd Monster Hunter Portable was released, the whole of Japan was incomplete Monster Hunter mode.

Monster Hunter sessions manifest regularly during lunchtime or after work. More often than not, I actually turned down the offer to play over lunch when I used to kill people for the chance to have some more player action. In Japan, I am an ordinary person involved while my colleagues are devout about hunting three or four times per lunch hour. The attraction during my time in Japan was the 3rd Monster Hunter Portable for PSP, i.e. — for extensive comparison — Street Fighter III: Third Strike of the Monster Hunter series. It’s super subtle, the content is perfectly packaged, and by this point the obvious climax of the franchise.

Let me be clear about this: By the time the 3rd Monster Hunter Portable launched, the whole of Japan was in Complete Monster Hunter mode. This is and remains the best-selling PSP game ever. Clothing brand UNIQLO has sold Monster Hunter T-shirts and underwear throughout Japan. Television magazines even feature Japanese celebrities of all demographics engaged in television special hunts. It’s crazy, and I love it minute by minute.

I really wish that Capcom had localized the 3rd Portable version into English, or the beautiful HD version of Monster Hunter Portable. for PlayStation 3. Until then, I used PSP’s component cable converter to play the 3rd Monster Hunter Portable on my TV, but the PS3 version made all those cables unnecessary and it was cross-compatible with the PSP version, which meant I could bring progress made in the lunch sessions to the much more attractive PS3 version at home.

So the Monster Hunter phenomenon largely persists in Japan, but even with the widespread popularity of the home-based series, Monster Hunter has never – in Japan or otherwise – found success on consoles the way it does in a portable form. The recipe is simple: Many children, crowded urban areas, and play are especially successful alike. Anything else has simply been met with varying degrees of lethargy. And it didn’t help that before World, Capcom’s final console efforts such as monster hunter tri (Wii) and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (Wii U) were just upgraded ports of previously released handsets. These were relatively minor successes, but Monster Hunter’s greatest success continued.

By the time the PlayStation Vita was about to launch in 2011, all my “MonHan” (popular Japanese slang) team was excitedly preparing for how great the Vita version would look. Capcom then flipped back the script and announced that the upcoming Monster Hunters would be released exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS, less powerful handsets that did not work too well at the time. It’s shocking but understandable.

Until PSP, handheld gaming was dominated by one company: Nintendo. In Japan, however, PSP ate Nintendo lunch and by incredible numbers. Nintendo couldn’t let that happen again, and through some very interesting negotiations, they brought Capcom into 3DS in a big way, before launching Vita with carefully timed hardware discounts and the release of Monster Hunter Tri G (Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate in the West) on 3DS in Japan exactly a week before the PlayStation Vita launched. Brutal. And effective.

Over the years, Capcom rest established the brand on the 3DS, and although initially sluggish, Monster Hunter eventually regained momentum, regularly selling millions of units globally on Nintendo’s handsets. When the global application of 3DS (a slow burner to start) succeeded, so did Monster Hunter’s fortunes. With turbulence behind, the Monster Hunter series is currently in the best position ever to become a worthwhile concern on home consoles.

Monster Hunter for the World

When Capcom finally announced Monster Hunter: World, I was excited. I mean, they’ve tried this before, didn’t they? And every time it’s usually an upgraded version of a game that I’ve played a million times before. However, when I took a closer look at the details, I knew I had to give this a chance. First, the game was built from scratch for consoles and PCs. This solves problems with Monster Hunter Tri and Monster Hunter Ultimate 3. Then, in the first real-time for the series, Capcom has simultaneously released this in all territories? That’s probably a small thing, but it’s important that the player base hasn’t taken into account the next Japanese entry when the most recent item was finally localized. And he’s very handsome.

For years, PC players have been eager for Monster Hunter Online to be released outside of China. But this, in the end, is a real Monster Hunter for PC, not an MMO sub-version.

Then the beta dropped. Rub. While the missions are very basic and provide little detail about how the overall gameplay, mechanisms, user interface, and progress will show, it’s clear that Monster Hunter: World, for veterans like me, is the real problem. The beta and now the full release was so exciting that I could find it very difficult to go back to the handheld versions. Hopefully, Capcom is taking notes and will put much of the World’s progress back into the way they develop the mechanism of the next mobile iteration.

Monster Hunter: World is basically all I ever wanted in the series. Since starting to join the “MonHan” universe in 2003, I’ve been frequently disappointed by the brand’s seeming inactively unable to really get rid of its formula. Each follow-up begins with the same tediousness in herb gathering and is a really scary series for no beginners. It’s stupid, I even tried to get my non-gaming wife to play games with me. I bought her a 3DS and the second copy of every newly launched game. Despite my best efforts, so far I have not been able to turn it into “our game”. There is only so much system to learn, combined with impatience of oneself, which leads to nothing more than frustration.

Although I didn’t expect Monster Hunter: World to crash the needle into the monster hunt in my marriage, it tackled a lot of things that got the series back on the panel. It’s not entirely skewed from what happened before, but things go a lot faster. The game immediately takes you into action when your ship aground a giant monster throwing people on board into the sea. When you wake up on the beach, Monster Hunter: World starts guiding you. I hate the tutorials, and fortunately, you won’t miss too much if you glance across the NPC’s dialogue tree or say. What matters is what happens in the proper game.

After more than a decade of mobile gaming, Monster Hunter: World looks crazy. There are so many details that I can barely keep track of all the things on the screen, including living things, complex environments, dense foliage, and a redesigned user interface. There’s so much more to be involved in. I can only imagine how beautiful it would look to run on an upgraded gaming PC. The leap in quality from 3DS to dashboard and PC is basically the same as watching Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion classics, like Clash Of The Titans, and then watching Jurassic Park for the first time.

However, the most important thing is that the game moves quickly, ideal for returning players or anyone removed by the drawn introductions. Although NPCs still tend to work, once I’m tied to my back and I’m crossing the wide-open areas of MHW, it’s going to go well.

There are features we’ve never seen before, like a pterodactyl ride. Instead of a map carved into small connected sections, everything is linked in a vast, open-world style. The maps are huge, but they don’t take forever to go through. Stamina consumes much less quickly than handheld versions (which means you can sprint for longer periods), climbing walls and ledges is as simple as running up and overtaking them, and the game is actually very upright. Take pride in the myth of hashtags and screenshots #MonsterHunterWorld people take snapshots from atop a tree branch. It’s beautiful.

Capcom took a risk with Monster Hunter: World, and it seemed to have paid off. While the skills of veteran players will undoubtedly switch from laptops to consoles, the real test here is whether others will eventually accept it. I don’t want to say whether to do or die for Monster Hunter as a concern of the panel, but obviously, Capcom has put so much effort and resources to knock it out of the park. Now, World needs to take people away from other player games, or at least provide an engaging community for gamers who are not affected by Call Of Duty or other shooters and runners.

I want it to succeed because I definitely want more than that. But I also find it interesting that in an era where publishing houses push the season for you, Capcom still maintains the view of providing free updates to World, a custom they preach on handheld devices. I’m also glad they didn’t try to get Monster Hunter Frontier or Online — their two MMO—instead, since they may have landed with such a frenzy, the PC community will turn their backs on Monster Hunter. So if you’ve ever worried about this series, now is the best time to jump into the fight and grab a great or wonderful katana (or exchange the ax if you like). These are monsters – but that’s the problem, isn’t it?