Why Monster Hunter Generations is Awful

Fucking 180°, bitch!  No one saw it coming!  Not even I!

Flash back to the PS2 when Monster Hunter came out.  I never played it back then, but I heard quite a bit about it.  It was a super hard game where you only fight bosses!

And I was like, “Eh.”

The earliest monster hunter is known as Generation 1.  It was a modest arrangement of monsters but a game like this hadn’t quite existed before.  The game sported only 13 monsters and their variant colors.  There was a mere 7 weapons in the game.

Monster Hunter 2 was also on the PS2 and it opened up a totally new set of monsters and added new weapons.  This game was known as Generation 2.  The entire duality of weapons was built here: great sword/long sword, sword & shield/dual blades, etc.  It added the Felyne companion system.  The levels were slight rebuilds of older maps, but it included the newer and older versions in the same game.

This is where I jumped in on Monster Hunter: when Monster Hunter Freedom Unite came to America.  The PSP title was my first Monster Hunter game and I easily dropped more than 1,000 hours playing it to death.

Generation 3 was an incredible explosion of new content.  Boasting a roster of 24 new monsters and all new levels.  This game gave us the nightmare known as underwater fighting.  I, personally, hated fighting under water- but the fact that is was a thing was exciting and fresh at the time!  It also gave us new exciting variables like elemental blights and unstable environments.  The game became exciting and hard all at once since it did away with many of the clumsy elements of previous games as it was now on the Nintendo 3DS.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was to me the crowning achievement of this series so far.  It was the flagship game for what is called Generation 4.  It did away with even more clumsy combat issues and streamlined many of the aspects of the game to feel challenging but fair.  There weren’t entirely new monsters but we get a good dozen or so and we had all new levels.  It introduced a new vertical way to fight monsters!  Jumping off ledges and climbing became combat staples instead of annoying speed bumps in my way.  The game was an awesome storm of everything I’ve wanted with new, unique monsters.

The reason I bring all of this up is to show you how much innovation takes place in between games.  The games took time to create and were carefully balanced.  Things were introduced as needed or as a niche mechanic.

The core ideas of the games are exploration and monster hunting.  Sounds a little on the nose- but new levels and new monsters make this game.  Weapons and fighting mechanics matter incredibly less than the monsters and levels do.

The game plays like thus: you are a Hunter in Village X and its your job to complete hunting quests for the village.  There is a job board in the village and you pick quests to do at your fancy.  Totally repeatable and grind-able.  As you do more quests you unlock more quests and eventually can rank up to the next set of quests.

The first like- 2 hunter ranks are dumb shit like “Kill 5 harmless beasts” and “Find and bring me 20 molten acorns.”

These missions sound boring, but they exist specifically so that you must go out and explore these new worlds and find all the hidden nooks and crannies where you can find materials on the field.  Since later on the game is about to get really stupid hard they want you to feel accountable for yourself when you get there; none of that “I didn’t know this shit” crap.  Its on you.

They slowly start to sprinkle in new monsters to keep you going.  The excitement and mystery behind these monsters is a huge driving force of the game!  Why are you going to want to do anything?  Because there is a stronger, bigger, more badass dragon just around the corner.  The feeling of the game is directly inside you- not some narrative.  You as the player are getting better and more knowledgeable as a hunter; all of the rewards are directly because of your actions.

Recently Monster Hunter Generations came out.  It came out almost exactly at the same time I was moving, so I didn’t get to jump in right away.  But with the boxes packed and the bed assembled it was time to turn Generations on and begin a new, fresh Monster Hunter quest.

And it’s such a let down.

They’ve created one new level that I have access to so far.  One.  And its essentially a different colored rehash of a level called Primal Forest from the previous game.  Its really flat and dull and feels like kit-bashed elements of older, better levels.

I didn’t find any new monsters in the early game so far.  So I looked up the list to make sure I wasn’t supremely high or something.  There are at a quick count 6 new monsters in the game.

Six.

And a majority of them don’t show up in the Guild or Village until you rank up to Hunter Rank 3.

The fuck is this shit.

“But Daniel!” one may cry out, “You just have to wait and then it gets really good!”

That is never what Monster Hunter has been about.  My character (and me, the player, by extension) want to explore and hunt new and exciting things.  The levels are all levels from the first 2 generations.  I know where most things are.  I’ve explored these to death already.  I’m excited to seem them back, but they didn’t even look shitty back on the PSP so why is this supposed to be an upgrade?  Oh yay new shaders that make it look all glisten-y and slimy.

And no new monsters to even make me curious for 2 more entire hunter ranks?  That’s bare minimum in the range of 15 – 20 quests I have to do before the intrigue kicks in?  The opening quests are all fucking chores and without something to make them entertaining they become just that: a list of chores I need to slog through.

“But Daniel!” one cries out again, “The Malfestio was new and it was in Hunter Rank 2!”

Pretzel and I killed that thing our first try.  Like- really quickly, too.  It has no interesting tactics and anything new it threw at me I was totally ready for.  Its character rig was based loosely on the Rathian’s rig from every other Monster Hunter game.  I was prepared for it before I even began the mission.

Granted, the Malfestio is really fucking cool.  Its a giant owl-wyvern.

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Killing it felt weirdly cathartic.

Not sure why it couldn’t just be a bird… but it was probably the same designer who made the Zinogre and called it a wyvern, too.

We even made its armor really fucking fast.  My friends may say to me that we have become too experienced as hunters and we are too good for something of its level, but I’ll refer you to the previous generation.  The monsters in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate screwed me up a lot.  Devon and I spent a good couple afternoons dying and laughing because monsters were owning us.  You reading this Devon?  You remember our very first Najarala?  That huge fucking one?

It is true though.  A part of what I’m probably going to experience with all Monster Hunter’s moving forward is that when you have almost 2,000 hours of experience- little if anything at all will really screw me up.  I have developed gaming skills that cannot be lost.  In fact- I believe there is very little to innovate on when it comes to the weapons.

But they tried anyway.

This games biggest selling point was the introduction of new Hunter Styles.  These new styles will grant you passive changes to your combat style!  Also- we are introducing new attacks called Hunter Arts!  Just built up your limit gauge and then you can use Omnislash!

Wait.

Actually- yeah sure.  That’s pretty much what it is.  And the biggest problems with hunter arts and hunter styles is that it flies in the face of what the core game play mechanics were.  You were a good hunter because you practiced and got good.  You were a badass because you perfectly timed your attacks and intentionally (but more often accidentally) did some totally badass shit.

But no.  Now you press button to anime.

Little pre-programmed animations and attacks that break up the flow of the game.  Easy enough fix though.  I don’t use them.  Most of them are slow, clumsy, and really don’t do much.  But that’s probably because I haven’t invested enough points into leveling my brand new MMORPG skills up.

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If Monster Hunter gave me a wolf to ride all would be forgiven.

But worse yet are the passive styles.  The Guild style is your vanilla “I liked how it used to be” move set.  I was using that for a while before I realized how fucking broken Adept Style is.

Adept Style states that if you dodge at the last second of an attack you can pull of insta-moves.  They’re difficult to pull off, but allows for devastating counter attacks.

Aww man.  That sounds difficult.  It’ll probably take me almost 2,000 hours to get really good with that style.

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OH WAIT-

No.  Instead I accidentally ascended to a hunting demigod.  What happens if you dodge at the right moment is you temporarily become invincible and jump clear of the monster.  You can then direct yourself for a counter attack.

So my normal dodge roll became an ultra dodge attack.

Most of the monsters in this game are from previous games that I’ve fought and killed hundreds of times.  I know them like the back of my hand.  So when I see an attack coming I run towards it instead because I know how to dodge it and thus abuse the counter attack system.  I’m running towards attacks?  Do you think that was there goal?

Monster roars used to be annoying because it stopped you to cover your ears.

Not anymore!

The Gypceros using his annoying flash attack that stuns you?

Not anymore!

The Rathian’s fireballs, the Rathalos’ raking claws?

Who even cares!

Monster walking past you bumps you and knocks you over.

You better believe that shit counts.

My own fucking hunting partner accidentally swung at me with a switchaxe.

You bet your fucking ass that counts.

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Now you gotta kiss me.

Its all just dodge bait.  Monsters that used to lock you down now just turn me into an untouchable Hunter God.

I am exaggerating a bit, but I’m trying to make a point.  I’m not totally fucking hardcore like Gaijin Hunter or anything.  But I do abuse this shit constantly.  I’m not avoiding attacks- I’m jumping into them.  I’m not protecting myself- I’m just running and gunning.

This represents to me another small step away from what made the earlier games great.  They obviously can’t not innovate, those older games were really flawed.  But the reward you feel from practicing and practicing and grinding and grinding to finally defeat the giant monster is what we love.  The games were much more carefully balanced back then because the controls were shit.  They knew this, so they timed the monsters down to the animation frame to make sure that even with crap controls you still had time.  The monsters didn’t suddenly have huge, unblockable attacks- they might simply use them more or the dodge window shrinks.  Something small and incremental.  It was about being better than yourself every hunt.  The ability to do all of this was locked within you and you simply had to become great to defeat the enemy.

But now you have hunter arts which are “Press button to look really cool.”  You don’t feel cool, you just watch your hunter do something that you, the player, cannot normally do.  You have hunter styles which break the games carefully crafted hunts.  Its not about timing anymore.  Its not about pattern recognition anymore or team work.  Its characters from Bleach trying to be the first to knock the monster over and unleash their Bankai.

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I stumbled on a rock.  That poor, poor piglet.

I can’t knock them for trying something new.  They have to continually top themselves and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was the total shit.

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It was the shit to end all shits.

But where I feel like they need to spend their time isn’t the game mechanics or play style.  Give us new and exciting worlds.  Give us new and exciting monsters.  The game played just fine; if you want to change a weapon up, do it in small ways, not game changers.  No one asked for a game changer, we just want totally badass things to do– not new ways to do them.  

I’ve got more I could harp on like how the new eating and kitchen system is fucking weirdly esoteric now, and how they added totally unnecessary steps to upgrading your weapons.  There are newer versions of older monsters to fight- but for some reason you need to pay the village to hunt them which makes no sense since you pay me to hunt monsters.  

There are four fucking hub world villages in the game.  I haven’t seen a single reason for this but I guess its vaguely nostalgic.  Thank god you guys spent time making a bunch of useless villages but only spent time making a handful of new monsters.

“But Daniel!” a million voices cry out in terror, “It’s called Monster Hunter Generations!  It is showing us the generations that came before.”  Then they were suddenly silenced.

You cannot have a perspective without a frame of reference.  You aren’t capturing anything from the previous games with everything that you have changed.  You just made a bouillabaisse of a bunch of old assets.  You recycled.  That’s what makes this a better game for newer players.  They don’t have a frame of reference so everything is going to seem intriguing.

They should’ve given us a little bit of new stuff and then each new hunter rank opens up older monsters and older levels.  Make us feel like we are playing through the Generations instead.  This feels formulaic and uninspired.

I’m probably one small annoyed voice in an ocean of praise.  And it deserves it.  This is the perfectly fine game for new players to jump in.  Monster Hunter Generations is a totally playable, fun monster hunter.  Just probably not for me.

-DTM

 

 

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Why Monster Hunter is Fucking Awesome

I fucking love Monster Hunter.  It’s probably one of my all time favorite franchises ever.  Its one of the most satisfying and challenging games I’ve ever played.

Today as this post goes up the next one comes out in America.  Monster Hunter Generations!  I can’t even play it for real real until like- next Tuesday.

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They are using the subtitle ‘Generations’ because they know how many hours I’ve played.

The games basic formula as mentioned in my last post is that you are a villages Hunter and its your job to protect them from monsters!  Some smaller ones, and some that could be qualified as ‘big.’

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Fairness sold separately.

In the event that its not obvious, the tiny running man in the bottom left corner of that graphic is you!  Run you little, bitch!

Or get good.

I mentioned in one of my earliest posts about why I like golf.  The idea is that the game isn’t about competing against one another as players, but to improve yourself every time.  Its not a match of brute force or physical ability against one another, but the ability to be better than yourself every time.

And that’s what this game is about: repetition.

Wait that ain’t- oh, never mind.  PLAY THIS GAME EMILY!  It starts you off with some basic equipment and some training, but after that you can go explore the immensely beautiful levels and fight some of the most badass monsters ever.  The game is hard for newcomers, I won’t deny that, but the satisfaction you get when you finally overcome these massive beasts.

If you look carefully at the above graphic (again) you will notice in the center that there are just two legs poking down into view.  IT’S REALLY THAT SIZE IN THE GAME.

When you beat them you carve their bodies to get monster parts to create awesome new armor and weapons.  Then you go face new monsters wearing the faces of their fallen kin.

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Or give commencement speeches.

It will always be hard to describe to people why the game is fun.  I mean if you watched Pretzel and I play this game for an evening we’d go fight the same monster ten or more times just to get the rare piece we need to finish some tiny upgrade.

The satisfaction isn’t necessarily that you can beat Monster X, but the fact that you used to be less good as a hunter but now you are a better one.  Monster Hunter isn’t really a JRPG where you level up and your stats all get boosts, this game is straight skill in the end.  You could pit me against a terrifying monster and I’d still hold my own.

I mean I’d lose because it would one shot me by waking up, but hunting monsters is something you learn- not attain.

The armor and weapons are about closing gaps with harder monsters, not getting enough +1’s to all my stats.  Any benefits I gain by equipping badass armor (which you, the player, worked really hard to get) is mostly moot by the fact that the next hardest monster is just that more badass.

Monster Hunter so far hasn’t been about flowery cutscenes and GRAFIX as much as its about giving you freedom of motion and the ability to attack monsters however you see fit.  When you do something badass in the game it isn’t the game giving you the “Press X to Badass” option- no, it was just you doing some crazy shit to defeat this monster.  Jumping off cliffs onto a monsters back?  You did that.  Knocked a monster off its feet?  You did that.  Cut the monsters fucking tail off?  You did that.

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Never ask Hunter if they got any tail this weekend.

Later in the game they do sort of give you event type quests with cut-scenes and the like- but its more to get the mood going.  One of my all time favorites is the Lao Shan Lung fight in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite.

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So fucking big it has atmospheric perspective.

Its fucking huge dude.  The entire hunt takes place in a long, winding canyon.  You and your fellow hunters must continually attack him or else he is going to destroy the village.  The hunters are so small and insignificant that he is just moving down the canyon; the Lao Shan Lung doesn’t even care about you insects.

Its not really all the difficult, to be honest.  He doesn’t really attack you so the most you have to worry about is him stepping on you.  But the stress and adrenaline you feel is from that fact that you have to do enough damage to kill him or repel him.  You have to be on your best game, because you need to whittle his health down.  And you have limited time to do it.

At the end you go back to the base and wait for him on top of the gate walls with arrows and cannonballs ready.  Its quiet, and you can’t see into the canyon where the Lao Shan Lung is because its foggy.  Then you see him slowly step out of the fog, and the Monster Hunter music starts to swell.  This is it.  Either you win or he will destroy the village.  Man versus beast.

You launch cannon balls and ballista arrows at him and you use the mighty Dragonator!  You jump to from the wall and fight him at the very gates of the people you are trying to protect.  THIS SHALL BE YOUR FINEST HOUR.

If you defeat him, you can learn that this might king among dragons wasn’t just cruising for a bruising.  He was fucking running from another dragon.

So you are sitting there, blood pumping, excitement is the very fiber of your being and the game asks you.

Do you want to fight that dragon?

-DTM

 

Telling a Story: HTTYD v. Monster Hunter

A new Monster Hunter game comes out soon and I’m fucking pumped.  I love that game!  The most recent one, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (MH4U), was super great and it might be my favorite one!  I dunno though- Freedom Unite on the PSP was pretty glorious.

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That monster is the best no matter what Ellis cries about.

The one thing that stands out to me as a huge glowing weak spot in MH4U was the single player story.  The game isn’t an RPG, but they certainly try to make it one.

Monster Hunter’s formula is: you hunt monsters, you collect parts, you make better armor, you use said armor (and weapons) to fight stronger monsters.

The single player story puts way too much into trying to make you understand why you are hunting them.  They try to make me invested in the people and the town when I really don’t fucking care.  I wanna go fight badass monsters and make bitching weapons so I can see what the next monster is!  I don’t give three shits about your town.

The single player story essentially is: talk to village people, they make requests for parts, you hunt monster, you get prize.  That’s perfectly fine- I enjoy hunting monsters for my own reasons, so I might as well hunt them for profit.  But MH4U had a long story line about how the village is threatened and blah blah blah.  I can’t honestly fucking tell you because every time someone starts talking about some shit I skip it all.  I don’t care!  I heard “There’s a new monster…” and I was fucking checked out!

It wouldn’t be a problem but they talk forever.  Its the goddamn owl from Ocarina of Time.

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“Don’t say ‘No’ this time.”

I’ll do another article how much I fucking love this game, but what I really want to talk about is how to tell a story.  I’m not a script or story writer, but as one who values experiencing a story there are definitely ways to make it fucking better.

You’re stories need to be about the experience as much as they are about the story.  If you spoon feed me the specifics about whats happening it makes me feel outside of whats happening.  That’s what happens in MH4U.  All I want to do is kill monsters, but you are making me sit down so grandpa can tell me about how he used to kill monsters when he was young and god I want to skip this sentence as I’m writing it.

If you want me to feel the pressure about monsters destroying the village- have them destroy the village.

How fucking pissed would you be if you failed to kill or stop a monster and it tore ass through the village and now half of the stuff I need is under repair.  Fighting monsters would have a new level of nut-sack on fire intensity if I knew that failure meant things would affect me.

But no- they’d rather have this guy talk for 1,000 years.  The monster destroyed the village while he was talking about the monster destroying the village.

This method is used a lot in Shounen animes.  Dragon Ball Z, Soul Eater, and Bleach come to mind.  It doesn’t inherently make them bad, just unsophisticated.  Its that formula of Character A is doing something and Character B is explaining what they see (even if they are alone).

An example of how to tell a story without a couple gallons of exposition is How to Train Your Dragon.  Dean Dublois is a fucking hero.

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He also worked on Mulan and Lilo & Stitch.

Now I know I’m comparing story telling elements in a game versus a movie, which can’t fundamentally be the same thing- but keep with me.  The overarching point I want to make is “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

I ain’t even gonna explain How to Train Your Dragon (HTTYD) because hopefully you’ve seen it.  If you haven’t I have significantly failed you as a brother.

Every scene in that video we understand promptly.  We understand Toothless and Hiccup separately, but also together.  The very end shows Hiccup trusting Toothless enough to look away with his hand out, and then Toothless leans forward and touches it with his snout.  Now- we could have a character from behind a bush be like, “Oh my gawd they understand each other and Hiccup is learning that they aren’t mindless beasts!”

But that doesn’t happen; so we all remember that and feel uplifted because we experience it with the characters.

By necessity the story is going to have a lot more visual storytelling because dragons can’t talk.  But that’s what makes the movie so great.  Words are more easily forgotten than seeing something and Dean knew that.  Its why Toothless is so expressive.

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Is that fucking owl still talking?

You take one quick look and you can tell whats going on.  He doesn’t have to have Hiccup voice Toothless’ every thought.

Dean trusts that he can put enough points out that we’ll just naturally connect them.  And when he establishes this with the viewer we get adorable sequences where there’s no talking- only happy memories.

And then he uses this as a powerful story telling tool.  As the audience, we know shit is very, very wrong when Toothless looks like this:

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“OH NO ASTRID, SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH TOOTHLESS!  THE OTHER DRAGON MADE A CRACK AT HIS MAMA!”

Dean wasn’t explaining to us why we should be worried, he was appealing to our experience so far as a moviegoer.  We’ve only seen Toothless have almost human like expression- and now Dean is finally showing us that Toothless is actually a fucking scary dragon.

And this contrast involves no dialogue.  Now obviously he has the characters respond to it in the movie but it mirrors our own.  We experience this at the same time as other characters in the movie.

I mean- these examples are pretty straightforward.  Maybe I’m not making my point.  Lets compare it to this:

Literally laying out a plan in front of the enemy seems fucking silly.  It’s not the end of the world but he could’ve just said like “Everyone know the plan?  Go!”  They could all rush off and we, the viewer, are left to discover what is is.

We can get excited when we start to realize and figure it out.  Why lay it all out?  Things are more exciting when you don’t know everything.  Its like sex- its not exciting if my explanation takes longer than the act itself.

Dean Dublois uses this stuff to great effect in HTTYD.  Since they are CG movies he’s able to carefully sculpt each scene to be full of symbolism and subtly.  He tells a lot more with less words because he sets it all up.  He treats each component of the story as its own character.

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Old Yeller ain’t got shit on Stoic.

You watch this scene.  Its somber, the music is low, everyone’s sad.  But this part of the movie is a turning point for Hiccup and he gives an emotional speech.  It couldn’t be more inspiring, but the idea behind the scene was that Hiccup is standing in the shadow of his fathers light.  He’s afraid, and he feels alone- but we see this on screen.  We don’t need someone from Sequelitis popping up to inform us what’s going on.