Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Learning to Love the Hunt
Trevor | February 23, 2015
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a complicated game where flaws and strengths aren't mutually exclusive.
I’ve spent the entire week playing Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and I still feel like I’m just learning how to play it.
My only other experience with this extensive franchise is Monster Hunter 2, a game I barely scratched the surface on before deciding I’d had enough of its flat world and plodding design. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is much more accessible than past iterations, but I still fear the same flaws are creeping up to disappoint me. For anyone out there who might be looking to Monster Hunter 4 as an entry point into the series, I've provided a list of the frustrating and endearing design choices I've encountered so far. Let's start with...
1. Tutorials are Utter Nonsense.
There’s a huge arsenal in Monster Hunter 4, so when I first noticed there were training missions for every possible weapon, I thought, “Excellent. I can learn the intricacies of all these weapons up front, then decide which one I like the best.”
That’s how weapon training missions would work… in theory. Monster Hunter 4 instead plops you into a room with an NPC who spouts a paragraph of dialogue at you about your chosen weapon. After seven text boxes of meaningless dribble about phials, charge bars, or “demon mode” the trainer goes “Okay, now fight this Great Jaggi!”
The problem is you haven’t actually learned anything. The game didn’t actually test your understanding of these techniques before pitting you against a hungry pseudo-raptor, it just hoped eight to ten dialogue boxes would be enough to keep your face from being eaten.
Here’s the status of my face after learning each weapon:
Great Sword: In tact.
Long sword: In tact.
Sword and Shield: Scratched.
Dual Blades: In tact.
Hunting Horn: Tattered into literal fleshy ribbons.
Gunlance: Eaten, along with a few limbs.
Switch Axe: In tact.
Insect Glaive: Scratched.
Charge Blade: Clawed.
Light Bowgun: Mauled.
Heavy Bowgun: Obliterated; all traces of a face-like object were removed from existence.
Bow: Lacerated, but recognizable as a face.
I gained a deeper understanding of these weapons from Gaijin Hunter's videos then I learned from any of these in-game tutorials. You can find his incredibly helpful channel here.
2. Locking on is a Pain in the Ass.
If you’ve played Dark Souls, Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, Legend of Zelda, or really any third-person game with a lock-on function, you might be surprised at how the lock-on process differs in Monster Hunter. First you must get to the area your target is currently residing. Then you need to tap on your bottom screen to choose the monster you’d like to focus on. (A necessary feature for later in the game, when two monsters can appear at once.)
You might think at this point your character would continue facing the beast, or at least move in relation to their position, akin to the ever innovative Z-targeting.
Not in Monster Hunter 4. In Monster Hunter 4, tapping the L button only centers the camera on the beasty in question for a moment, then gives up all control again. So, as the beasty bounces around the room like an excitable jack russell terrier, you'll be constantly mashing the L button to keep track of its location. Countless times I reoriented the camera, only to catch sight of a fireball headed straight for my face.
Thanks for that, Yian Kut-Ku. You're a real pal.
3. Gathering Items is a Pain in the Ass.
Here’s how gathering works in Monster Hunter.
Stand over the thing you’d like to collect.
Your character will now bend down and dig through the dirt, carve up a creature, laboriously mine some rocks, or swing a bug net around like a fussy child. Only when this animation is complete do you actually collect anything.
You might notice after the item is collected that you can still press A. This is not an accident. You can collect multiple items from a single source, but they must be collected individually.
It’s shocking how much time is spent in Monster Hunter mashing A to watch the same canned animations repeat over and over, as your character moves with alarming languidness. There’s nothing worse than watching your character celebrate catching a godbug, waving their hands about emphatically, as a Jaggi inches closer and closer in the background. You can mash on every button and wiggle the circle pad, but in the end, that Jaggi is getting a free meal.
4. Cat Helpers.
Imagine if I rewrote this article so "monster" read “Meownster,” "problem" read “Purrroblem,” and "collect" read “Clawected.”
This is the “Punny” vocabulary your cat helpers, or “Palicoes,” choose to use the entire game.
Do not talk to your Palicoes.
5. Long Attack Animations With Committed Frames.
When you attack in Monster Hunter, you are now committed to that attack. You are incapable of moving until the very last frame of the swing. God help you if you mashed on X too many times and started a combo, because now you’re trapped even longer in a pointless attack, moving all those threatening air molecules around.
Remember the lock-on problem? These two issues compounded make for frustrating encounters. The camera centers, you start your attack, and shit. The character isn’t actually facing the monster, because they don’t re-orient with the camera. Now your hunter swings wildly at the air, knocking aside allies and Palicoes alike, who are at the mercy of your unbridled assault on the very concept of empty space.
6. There Are a Million Things to Worry About.
Time for a hunt! Let's get started:
Do I have whetstones to sharpen my blade? Rations to keep my stamina up? Potions, maybe a trap or two? Great.
Shit. Forgot the bug catching net and a pickaxe. Damnit. Can’t gather bugs and minerals.
That’s okay. Hunt is over, I'm back, got a pickaxe and a net, I'm ready to set out again.
Shit. I forgot to get a meal from the chef before setting out, so I didn’t get buffs. Oh well, that’s okay, I can manage one mission without a food buff.
Shit. I ran out of potions during the last Hunt and forgot to restock. I’ll need to be careful and just never get hit.
Ok. Hunt over. Let’s get potions, a pickaxe, eat before the hunt - yeah, we’re okay now and-
Shit. I forgot whetstones. Won’t be able to keep my blade sharp now, so I better end this one fast. Better not attack anything other than the target monster.
Copy and paste these seven sentences until you’re exhausted. That’s usually when I need to take a break from Monster Hunter.
Alright, that’s all the frustrating, difficult parts of Monster Hunter out of the way. Let’s talk about…
1. Tutorials are Nonsense.
The weapon tutorials themselves are (sadly) worthless, but the game itself provides plenty of peaceful environments elsewhere to learn how to use a weapon at your own pace. There’s even non-hostile monsters wandering around in every map, which allow you to practice your combos on creatures that won’t eat your face at the first provocation.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate even provides an entire set of starting weapons for you via a free DLC download, so you won’t need to waste Zeni and crafting materials only to find out you aren’t crazy about the heavy bowgun after all.
There’s also gathering and fishing missions where combat isn't the primary goal. I found these to be perfect testing grounds for new weapon types, since if I didn't care for the weapon, I could still complete the mission without using it. Of course, you can't always choose when a Kecha Wecha will show up to ruin your mining. It’s when these surprise battles break out that the discovery process happens. I learned how to use an extremely effective switch axe combo from flailing around on my buttons in shock. The real learning in monster hunter happens organically, outside those god awful weapon tutorials, in the heat of survival.
2. Locking on is a Pain in the Ass.
Monster Hunter puts the impetus on you, the hunter, to keep tabs on the creature threatening your life. The inability of the camera to stay centered on the Monster isn’t a design flaw, it’s a design choice.
When fighting a Rock Dragon eighty times your size, a monster capable of killing you by tripping on its own feet, its location in relation to you suddenly becomes very important. A monster’s ability to leap outside of your view contributes to the sense of danger, the sense you're taking on something larger and greater than yourself. It’s a creature capable of evading your painfully limited human senses. It becomes a test of your reaction time and awareness, to reorient your sights and assess the danger.
Just like a real hunter might have to do after losing his prey. Especially if he only winged it.
And he’s out of ammo.
And it’s a bear.
3. Gathering is a Pain in the Ass.
The laborious animations on every gathering node force hunters to make carefully calculated harvests. If you’d like to gather materials, you better make sure nothing in the area is alive to attack you mid-collection. Want to carve up that monster and take its liver? Well, you better make sure his friends don’t have something to say about it first.
When searching for materials you desperately need to upgrade your equipment, each pickaxe swing becomes an event. Is this going to be the one? The strike that gets you the machalite ore you’ve been searching for? If it ends up to be just a chunk of stone, you can still hope the node has at least one more swing in it before its expended.
Gathering new materials themselves also opens up a whole new world of items at your disposal. The discovery of a sleep herb can be the missing ingredient to twelve new tools for your next hunt, ranging from drugged bait to sleep darts.
4. Cat Helpers.
The Palicoes have incredibly annoying vocabulary, but they solve one of the largest problems I’ve had with past Monster Hunter iterations. In Monster Hunter 2, if you had no friends to play with (and I didn't), hunting became a chore. When you’re the only target for the monster, it becomes almost impossible to find chances to land blows. The quicker creatures zip around, clawing out your midsection a swipe at a time. Their unrelenting assault makes it almost impossible to find a safe moment to heal or sharpen your blade.
The inclusion of Palicoes gives monsters a new target other than you, even when playing alone. This creates new openings for attack that have never existed when alone in Monster Hunter, making the solo experience more approachable than it's ever been before. Later in the game, you can even find additional Palicoes to bring along, all of which have their own unique skills. They’ll attack with you, heal you, and even perform unique team attacks with your other Palicoe companion (or a friend's, if you’re playing online with others).
5. Long Attack Animations With Committed Frames.
In a real hunt, you probably wouldn’t swing away wildly without any sense of self-preservation. You’d take your time, plot out a course of action, and only strike when there’s an opening. In Monster Hunter, every successful hit has a serious impact on your next action. Do you go for another swing? Should you back off? Maybe the creature is getting close to its rage state? Do you have enough stamina to be able to dodge? Have you landed enough blows to bring it to the ground? Is it limping?
The point behind these long, drawn-out attack animations is to ensure the player is making smart choices on when to strike, and likewise, to punish a player who lashes out with no sense of caution.
I’ve died (sorry, “fainted”) a number times, due to nothing but my own hubris. My brazen attempts to land powerful, massive blows at inopportune moments only lead, every time, to my target barreling right over me. Disrespect the hunt, and the hunt will disrespect you right back.
6. There are a Million Things to Worry About.
Alright Kecha Wecha, let’s do it. You and me.
Crap. My blade’s lost its sharpness, and this Kecha doesn’t look hurt at all. I’ll have to keep fighting with a dull blade.
Crap. That hurt. I need to find time to heal, and sharpen this blade.
Palicoe heal! Thank God. Now I just have to find time to-
It’s down! Whetstone, where’s the damn whetstone? Sharpen, sharpen, sharpen, go go go-
Get it! Get it!
While there’s certainly frustration to be found among the dancing bars and meters, they often lead to intense encounters that wouldn’t exist without their presence.
I’ve talked extensively on this site about the importance of contrasting experiences in a game, and Monster Hunter takes it to an extreme. The presence of all these meters creates emotional mountains and valleys in a single fight, where finding an opening to attack is equally as important as finding time to sharpen your weapon.
This process used to be an absolute nightmare when playing alone, but the existence of Palicoes make moments like this more approachable. When the Monster goes for your Palicoe, it’s a perfect opportunity to sharpen that dull blade. Or hammer. Or glaive.
Don’t worry, your Palicoe is tough. He can handle the abuse.
The game also provides a set of “supply items” which can only be used on the current mission. It doesn’t supply enough healing or rations to sustain longer missions, but these small additions help ease the pain of any forgotten supplies between hunts.
As time goes on, my feelings on Monster Hunter become less complicated. I’ve already played this iteration more than any previous installment, and I’m starting to learn what people love so much about this series.
All the mechanics I interpreted as design flaws in the past are the mechanics fans see as the appeal of Monster Hunter. There will be plenty of people out there who continue to find Monster Hunter an arduous, plodding, inaccessible game. The core mechanics, after all, remain entirely unchanged. However, if you’ve ever had even the slightest interest in the series, Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate is the perfect entry point to discover if there’s a hunter in you.
as for me, I’ve learned to embrace the hunt (and if rumors of this game’s length hold true, it’s going to be a very long hunt).
All images in this article (sans the bear and Palicoe list) are from the Giant Bomb Quick Look for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, which can be viewed here.