Hunters, listen up!
Monsters Rise once more to fight.
Go! Take arms in hand!
Monster Hunter Rise is the latest in the long-running franchise, and arguably the best yet. It may not be as pretty as World, but it makes so many quality of life changes I suspect it would be hard to go back. While I’m not the most experienced hunter out there, I’ve only been playing since 4, I still have a blast with each entry since the gameplay loop of hunting to get better equipment so you can hunt more monsters and get better equipment is so addictive. That being said, I do have quite a few gripes with the series as a whole.
If you’re not familiar with the series, the premise of Rise is exactly the same as every other game in the franchise: you’re the newest local hunter, so go hunt some stuff, and eventually, a big bad monster will do something bad that you need to put a stop to by… doing the exact same thing you always do. The games have never been known for their intricate plots, but Rise does make slightly more of an attempt. Rise has a very Japanese aesthetic that adds some nice flavor to your surroundings and keeps things from feeling stale. The plot also ends up the same as the previous games, but Kamura Village and its inhabitants have more personality than ever before in the series. Instead of painted planks of wood, they’re more like cardboard cutouts. I really like this aesthetic, especially the terrible poems introducing each monster that are lovable and corny, but I still think the series could do with a bit more plot.
The real meat of Monster Hunter is in the combat, which has been refined to a sharp point here. While the Sword and Shield remain my favorite of the 14 weapon types to use, even my mainstay feels better to wield than it ever has before. Weapons are divided into two categories: Blademasters and Gunners. Blademasters focus on getting up close and personal with the monster, while Gunners stay slightly further away and use various ammo types to deal damage and induce status effects like poison or sleep. I generally prefer Blademaster weapons, so let’s use my darling Sword and Shield as an example. Your basic combos involve pressing X, A, occasionally ZR, and moving the left stick in various combinations to perform attacks. Simply pressing A will perform a lateral slash, while pointing to a direction and pressing A will do a shield bash. Knowing your weapon’s moveset is the key, as only certain parts of attacks will allow you to dodge out of the way or block a monster’s devastating blows. For example, you can cancel the lateral slash at any time but the shield bash combo needs to finish its animation first. While the basics can be difficult to learn, the high skill ceiling along with monsters’ clearly telegraphed attacks makes every single hunt a delicate dance of knowing when to attack, when to dodge, and when to back off and use an item.
In addition to your myriad of standard combos, you can learn additional skills to switch in and out at item boxes to really tailor your playstyle. Continuing with the Sword and Shield, I swapped out my standard dash with X and A for a slide attack that leads into a jump for extra mobility which makes it feel like my weapon took a page from the aerial focused Insect Glaive with how much I stay in the air now. They’re a great addition, though I wish some were easier to get since the first set requires an arena quest and every other one requires their own, difficult hunts in High Rank.
While I didn’t spend too much time with them this time around, Gunners play better than ever before. Picking up the Bow, I discovered it basically functions like a third-person shooter now. When your weapon is drawn, you use ZL to aim and ZR for basic shots or X and A for special abilities. Overall the more complicated weapons feel like they’ve had their playstyles simplified somewhat, though in a way that doesn’t remove any depth from the weapon. In particular, the Hunting Horn has seen a huge rework, shaving down the large songlist to just three powerful skills simply played by pressing the same button twice. Everyone appreciates a good Hunting Horn in their party, but having to wait for them to play all their buff songs before moving out could be a drag at times so this speeds things up.
Rise is much faster than its predecessors overall actually, getting in and out of a hunt is faster and easier than it’s ever been. This is mostly thanks to your new best friend: your trusty Palamute. When you start a new game, you customize your hunter, your Palico, and your Palamute. Before we get to our furry friends, let’s touch on hunter customization. There are very similar options to those in World, and you can even preview your character in all kinds of lighting and animations which is a nice touch. No doubt we’ll see more hairstyles and emotes added as DLC later on (the deluxe edition comes with one of each, as well as some cosmetic gear), but I only saw a single typically black hairstyle, which was of course an afro, so I hope Capcom adds more of these for free so every hunter can feel represented in their character. Other than that issue, you can customize your companions in just as detailed a manner as your hunter, complete with fur patterns and colors as well as their voice. You can also change your hunter’s appearance at any time and hire newly customized pals for a small in-game fee. It’s a great set of character creators that are simply fun to mess with on their own.
Your trusty Palico might not see as much action this time around, as they’ve been booted from the stage by their doggo counterparts. While the kitty companions are more useful than they’ve ever been here, with multiple styles like gathering, attack, and support to choose from, you can only bring one friend on multiplayer hunts and that will always be your Palamute. Each area is still one big map like in World, but even with several shortcuts, they can still take a while to get around on foot, so you hop on your new best friend and speed off towards your target. Every monster is now listed on the map right from the get-go too, so no need to search around or even locate tracks. You can even use items and sharpen your weapon while riding, giving other hunters a taste of the Sword and Shield’s majesty. These features really smooth out the experience in a way I didn’t know I needed and make the game perfect for handheld play.
While the Palamutes are great, my favorite additions are the Wirebugs and wallrunning. Wirebugs are what the name implies: basically portable, flying grappling hooks. You have two by default but can pick up a third temporarily in the field. With your weapon sheathed, you hold ZL to activate them and can press X to launch into the air, A to dash forward, or ZR to fly to where you’re aiming. You can use these to charge towards a monster or reach new heights in zones by launching towards a wall and running up it by holding R. To complement this, every zone has a new vertical element to it. You can climb mountains to collect herbs quickly or take a detour to get buffs from the new endemic life, Permabuffers (cute little hummingbirds who can increase your maximum health, stamina, attack, and defense for the duration of that hunt).
Wirebugs aren’t just useful for exploring, however, every weapon has two special attacks that use one or two of your charged bugs. The SnS can dash forward and into the air with ZL and X or, my personal favorite, attach the sword to a bug and spin it around rapidly in a whirlwind of damage with ZL and A. These attacks deal Mounting Damage, which is shown with a blue background. Upon dealing enough Mounting Damage, you can then Wyvern Ride that monster and essentially fight as them for a short time. Damaging yet another monster enough will fill up the Mounted Punisher gauge, which unleashes a devastating attack on your prey as you dismount. If you don’t want to or don’t have time to find another monster to attack, you can instead launch your mount at the nearest wall or monster for still massive damage. Using Wirebugs, you can launch a monster up to four times. Wyvern Riding a particular monster only happens about once per hunt though, so you need to be quick and decisive.
If you got through all that and haven’t played a MonHun game before, congratulations! These games have a lot of mechanics to manage and keep track of, we haven’t even touched on gathering, Meowcenaries, crafting, forging armor and weapons, elements, submarine missions, or arena quests. Rise may be the best game in the series by far, but it has a long, long way to go to be accessible to newcomers, let alone disabled gamers. Monster Hunter has always been about as dense as a giant slab of concrete, but it’s getting ridiculous how hard it is to learn just how to play the game. World had a nice combo tree you could refer to built into the HUD to help players learn exactly what their weapon can do and how to do it, which helped me start using weapons like the Longsword and Switch Axe, but that’s mysteriously been removed here. The only place in-game to find any information about your chosen weapon is buried in your Hunter’s Log and even then it’s very barebones. I shudder to think about the User Experience of players starting here.
The difference between Low Rank and High Rank hunts is also more confusing than ever. The game divides the story between two quest types: Village and Hub quests. Village quests are designed for one player while Hub quests are designed for a full team of four hunters and each has their own story. In theory, this is a great change; you can still play either type in single or multiplayer, and having a single-player story when not connected to the internet (like Dragon Quest X) is a fantastic compromise. However, in practice it just makes things feel disjointed. For one, Village quests are Low Rank only so once you have access to High Rank and its superior materials for making weapons and armor there’s no reason to go back. The Village story also just ends with no real resolution, with Hub’s continuing far, far longer (about 40 hours in and it’s still not over despite the plot having little substance). Again, I like the concept, especially if Village quests could be used more so for farming materials, but it’s executed in the worst way possible.
Finally, let’s go over Rise’s new quest type: Rampages. These are essentially tower defense missions where you use artillery that you set up in certain locations to defend the gates to Kamura Village. I didn’t watch any trailers or look at gameplay announcements before jumping into Rise, and I have to say I’m very pleased with this new mode. It’s a ton of fun, especially with other players, and breaks up the admitted monotony of hunts while still providing you with materials to progress. This is also another annoying new feature that dampens the fun a bit: Hunter Voices. Your characters can now speak preset phrases in chat in addition to giving you helpful warnings when a monster is about to unleash a devastating attack or run away. These can be incredibly useful at times and give your hunter a bit of personality based on the voice you choose, but they’re mostly annoying. You can adjust how often hunters speak up in the options, but even at the lowest of 20% they just. Won’t. Shut. Up. It’s not as bad as JRPGs like the Tales and Xeno series, but it comes close.
Monster Hunter Rise
While it’s still too difficult to get into, Monster Hunter Rise is the best entry to date. Hunts feel faster and more dynamic than ever and additions like Weapon Swap Skills, Wyvern Riding, Palamutes, the Rampage, and especially Wirebugs keep the gameplay fresh and exciting.