The best season to hunt
Review written by
May 6th, 2015
I won't lie; I am a gigantic Monster Hunter fan. I've been playing the games since the very first one back in 2004 on the PlayStation 2, and I'm here to say - after 200 hours of play time - that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is easily the best game in the series to date. It takes everything Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate did right and expands on it to amazing levels.
Long-time fans will notice right off the bat that Monster Hunter 4's presentation is the best the series has ever seen. Right after character creation, the game throws you onto a sandship about to butt heads with the gigantic Dah'ren Mohran - a massive desert dwelling whale-like elder dragon. An apparent friend of yours donned in a red outfit tells you to be careful, but his hat flies away and snags onto the Dah'ren Mohran's back. With no HUD present, it's up to you to run up the elder dragon's back to retrieve the hat. There's a certain cinematic flair found in this moment, especially for new players who didn't encounter the Jhen Mohran back in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. The friend - who goes by the title Caravaneer - thanks you for your bravery and reveals to you a special scale he kept safely inside the hat. He tells you, the hunter of the caravan, that his dream is to find the creature that the scale belonged to, along with the rest of the caravan members.
And with that, the story of Monster Hunter 4 kicks off. There's definitely a noticeable effort to make the game have more of a traditional "story mode". 3 Ultimate had a light story where you were tasked with finding the source of the earthquakes terrorizing a local sea village. There was a real treat in talking to the villagers, who all had their own personalities. 4 Ultimate expands on this formula by introducing the caravan members. There's the lovely yet quirky Guildmarm, the mysterious yet humble wyvernian who goes simply by "The Man," the wisecracking felyne Street Cook, and of course the daring Caravaneer. More friends will join the caravan along the journey, each with their own reasons. The main storyline itself is nothing groundbreaking, but the real charm lies in the characters. All of the caravan members have their own distinct ways of talking to you, and you'll quickly recognize them just by the random conversations you will likely have. The series has never been too great at giving players a reason to play through the offline quests, but the unique characters might change that. It's especially important here because the offline quests unlock different functions for your hunter. On top of all that, it's just very satisfying to take down a large monster and relish in all the praise the caravan and random villagers give you.
Speaking of which, wielding big weapons and taking down even bigger monsters is the name of the game here, literally! Combat in monster hunter has always been one of the most satisfying gaming experiences when executed properly. Taking down a monster is ten percent preparation, ten percent gear, and eighty percent skill. You can bring all the items in the world and have super powerful equipment but it won't mean anything if you can't read your target. A typical skilled Monster Hunter fight is almost like a graceful dance; there are well-timed evasive dodges, precise strikes on weak points, and more! As far as the core mechanics of Monster Hunter go, they're still relatively the same. The target camera from 3 Ultimate returns, and it's almost a necessity if you're playing without a Circle Pad Pro.
There's one new big feature in 4 Ultimate, however, and that's the added sense of verticality. Most of the areas have little hills or cliffs that you can jump off of, enabling your hunter to do a jump attack. There's a big sense of high-flying freedom now, and it's matched with the more aggressive play 4 Ultimate encourages you to get used to. If you hit a monster with a jump attack, you'll notice special vertical slash effects that you don't see elsewhere. Once you inflict enough jump attacks, the monster goes down and you'll hop right on its back, starting a little rodeo mini game. You have to manage your stamina while stabbing the monster's back and hang on for dear life when it tries to kick you off. If you manage to stab it enough times before the monster throws you off, it'll go down giving you and your team an opportunity for some big damage. It's great new mechanic and I hope it stays.
If you're a beginner, I suggest introducing Monster Hunter 4 to as many friends as possible. Not only is Monster Hunter awesome with 3 other friends, but this entry is probably the most newbie-friendly game in the series. While 3 Ultimate did a decent job at slowly introducing new players to the mechanics, 4 Ultimate does an even better job by adding additional tips and quests that ease you into the experience. Each weapon has its own tutorial quest that briefly goes over the basics of the weapon, while allowing you to test it out for yourself. All of the returning weapon types are back and better than ever with all-new moves.
The two new weapon types - the Insect Glaive and the Charge Blade - are interesting new additions. The Insect Glaive is a bladed polearm that comes equipped with a special controllable insect: the "Kinsect". You can send kinsects out and when they collide with a monster, they'll bring back a special extract that buffs your glaive, making it do more damage, jump higher, and more.
The Charge Blade is probably one of the most complex weapons to grace the series so far. Similar to the Switch Axe, the Charge Blade is a sword and shield that can be temporarily combined to form an axe. As you attack in sword mode, the blade charges up energy. When full, you can convert the energy into a special attack for the axe mode, called the Amped Elemental Discharge. Additionally, you can cancel an A.E.D. to redirect the energy into your shield, giving you a temporary shield buff. Sounds complicated, huh? It's extremely fun to use though! Both of these weapons are great new additions into the Monster Hunter armory.
For those familiar with the Monster Hunter games, there are some new surprises for you too! To start, there are lots of new monsters never before seen, and they're quite refreshing as they're not just more bipedal winged wyvern types. The monkey-like Kecha Wacha takes advantage of areas with canopies in them, enabling him to swing around gracefully. The Nerscylla is a gigantic spider packing deadly poison and super sticky web - get caught in it and it'll reel you in to finish you off with a poison sting! That's just the tip of the iceberg, as there are plenty of other new monsters for you find.
The most important change though has to be the revamped monster behavior AI. In the past, monsters usually had a set behavior, where certain movements or attacks would lead into this or that attack. In Monster Hunter 4, monsters are a lot more erratic. Monsters will often go after the same hunter twice in a row, sometimes even three times, which was very rare occurrence in previous games. The monsters are a lot more jumpy too, best displayed by the returning Drome-type monsters, like the Velocidrome and the Iodrome. As you progress through the Hunter Ranks, monsters will even learn new moves. This will throw off even the most seasoned hunters, but it's a pretty nice change of pace. Additionally, the new flagship monster - Gore Magala - has a unique trait. It is capable of inflicting a status ailment on hunters known as the "frenzy" virus. When infected, a purple gauge will appear underneath your status bar. When filled, you will become extremely susceptible to any further frenzy attacks and your natural health regeneration comes to a halt. This is very dangerous, but thankfully if a hunter attacks enough times while the virus is still building up, they will fight it off and gain a temporary buff that increases their attack damage and critical chance. This encourages hunters to be more aggressive than usual, leading to some heated fights.
Unfortunately for the hunters, monsters can also become infected with the frenzy virus. When monsters are infected, they radiate an ominous purple haze, and some of their moves gain new properties, alongside the ability to infect hunters. Frenzied monsters are a neat new spin on old monsters, and later in the single-player campaign you receive special items called "wystones" that grant you increased damage against them.
There is however one new mechanic that I'm not too comfortable with, though. I mentioned that hunters could overcome the frenzy virus and become more powerful. Well, monsters can do that, too! Very late in the game, you will encounter "Apex" monsters. These are familiar monsters that successfully fought off the frenzy virus and have become incredibly strong as a result. What this means is that they dish out insane damage, sometimes even capable of taking out a hunter in one hit, and their bodies become super tough. Blademaster weapons will bounce unless you hit very small parts of the monster, and ranged attacks are less effective. In order to combat this, you will need to use a certain wystone that can temporarily knock the monster out of apex mode. The problem is that wystone buffs are only effective for a limited time; once it runs out, you have to wait for the wystone to recharge, which is usually around a minute or two. Coupled with the fact that these monsters can easily take off chunks of your health with one hit, it's sometimes a better idea to disengage the monster and wait for your wystone to refresh. The apex fights end up being a little too reliant on the wystones. While I love that these items encourage more aggressive play, the apex monsters take the concept a little too far. However, most of these late-game apex encounters are optional so it's not too bad.
There are some technical problems with Monster Hunter 4 as well. While the game looks beautiful at first glance, if you actually stop and take the time to examine the environment, you will see a lot of blurry, muddy textures. It's not a big deal as you will probably be focused on the monsters themselves who have very detailed models. It's sort of justifiable as the 3DS is just barely powerful enough to run the game. The evidence lies in the multiplayer - once you start up the game with more than one other player, the frame rate will take a significant hit, and in certain areas it will chug along sluggishly. Of course, if you're playing on the New 3DS, you will have a much better frame rate.
With that said, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is still an outstanding game. The sweet, sweet satisfaction of mastering a weapon and taking down a challenging beast is one of the best feelings you will ever get from a video game. The monsters have become a lot more aggressive than they have ever been in the series, but the new mechanics encourage you to do the same, all the while relishing in the awesome soundtrack. Seriously, the battle theme for the Ancestral Steppe is probably my favorite theme. Might I add that the Ancestral Steppe is the first area in the game? You know you're in for an experience when the first area is pumped with energy! So please, if you are at all interested in action games with deep combat systems, grab three other friends and start a hunting party. You won't regret it! If you're a returning fan, I don't think I need to say much. You probably already have the game, and that's great because there is plenty of new action in store for you. With hundreds of weapons and armors to collect and ninety-eight monsters to take down, there's always something to do in the world of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. Just look at me - I'm already 200 hours in and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon!
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