Editor’s Note: This review, originally published December 2015, is being re-featured as it just released in the West as Monster Hunter: Generations.
Monster Hunter X is the latest iteration of CAPCOM’s popular, long-running action series. The game was designed and marketed as a celebration of all things Monster Hunter, bringing together a range of monsters, areas, equipment and mechanics, old and new. With such a well-loved and lengthy repertoire of content to sift through, the team at CAPCOM had their work cut out for them. What they delivered was a stellar homage to the series, but did it manage to stand on its own two feet?
The concept of X as an homage is made consistently apparent throughout your journey. From humble beginnings in the new town of Beruna Village, your adventure takes you through three classic villages stemming from previous games in the series. Dating all the way back to the original game from 2004, we have the pre-historic Kokoto Village, the snowy Pokke Village from the second generation, and finally, Monster Hunter Portable 3rd exclusive Yukumo Village. Outside of aesthetics, these towns add nothing of consequence to your journey, and the bulk of the game’s offline content can indeed be completed in any one of the villages. Prominent characters from the franchise’s history pop up here and there to offer sidequests and the like, but it quickly becomes apparent that narrative was not the focus here.
In fact, Monster Hunter X is almost entirely devoid of anything resembling a narrative structure. While the Monster Hunter franchise has never been known for its story, I can’t help but feel this is a wasted opportunity. Bringing back classic characters and locales, only to discard them immediately seems like a detriment to what they set out to accomplish in bringing back these classic locations and characters. It’s not a major issue, since the true appeal of a Monster Hunter game comes from the gameplay rather than the story, but it is a gripe nonetheless. Completing the offline content rewards you with a brief credit sequence accompanied by a short piece of J-Pop, so it’s quite clear that CAPCOM took a more tongue-in-cheek approach this time around.
What Monster Hunter X added, however, is a slew of new mechanics and functions designed to tailor the game to your particular style. To achieve this, X includes a selection of four hunting styles, accompanied by 52 interchangeable hunter arts. The four styles can drastically alter the approach to any given fight, while the hunter arts are powerful actions ranging from an instant heal to a powerful knockout blow, locked to a gauge. Of the four styles, two remain rather close to classic Monster Hunter play. Guild Style and Striker Style both remain simple in form and function, but Aerial Style and Bushido Style add new layers of complexity, and new angles of approach to the combat. To give a brief rundown, Guild Style retains the mechanics of previous games, while granting the player two Hunter Art slots, while Striker further simplifies the moveset of your chosen weapon, in exchange for a total of three Hunter Art slots. Aerial Style grants the player the ability to vault off any monster, player or bomb, continuing the assault from the air. Finally, Bushido Style is centred around counter attacks, allowing the player to rapidly follow up from a well-timed dodge of block. Both Aerial and Bushido styles are locked to one Hunter Art.
All four styles are well designed and balanced incredibly well. Taking one weapon type and switching between the different styles presents a very different combat experience, and that sentiment extends to the entire 14-strong weapon selection. For example, taking an Aerial Style Switch-Axe removes your ability to close gaps in Axe form, forcing you to remain mobile and use aerial movements to stay aggressive. Taking Bushido style greatly alters your infinite combo in Sword mode, encouraging you to use both forms of the weapon. Striker goes the opposite direction, with the three weapon-specific Hunter Arts all focused on amplifying the damage output and longevity of Sword mode. It’s these subtle changes to the movement and flow of each weapon that makes experimentation so enticing. While one particular weapon and Style combination might seem awkward and unwieldy at first, there is almost always a well-justified design choice behind that. No combination seems inherently better or worse than any other, which means that Monster Hunter X offers a degree of variation and diversity unparalleled by any preceding game in the franchise.
However, the downside is that some of the styles and arts seem situational at best. Using Bushido will grant you an immense advantage against the more predictable foes, but severely limits your options against smaller, faster opposition. The same can really be said about Aerial style. The new angles of approach opened up by the style are invaluable against larger monsters, but more mobile opponents put you on the back foot rather quickly. This can be considered as a way to encourage diversity, as both Bushido and Aerial style are immensely powerful under the right circumstances, but I don’t think it’s the right way to go about it. It’s immediately frustrating to be punished for taking an inappropriate style to a fight, where you should be encouraged for the choices you make.
The other major addition is the option to play as a ‘Nyanta,’ the feline companions that have been a mainstay of the series for generations. The Nyanta system is deceptively complex, with an overwhelming number of skills to choose from fitting into one of several different archetypes. The general focus of Nyanta play is support, so there are the usual array of healing, trapping and buffing skills to keep the party in prime form. Other abilities include piercing boomerangs, combo attacks, and the fan-favourite cat tank, which is fully player-controlled for the first time. These support skills draw from a gauge that builds up over time, as well as by attacking, with more powerful skills requiring more gauge. In addition, Nyantas are incapable of using items, which means any healing must be done through the use of skills. It’s a simple system that encourages aggressive, yet careful play, and in the right hands, a Nyanta can be just as deadly as any hunter. It’s a lot to get your head around though, with additional skills unlocked as you progress, and certain archetypes being restricted to certain skills. Still, it’s a welcome addition, and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual hunter play. They are also invaluable for gathering quests, with an increased gathering speed and no reliance on tools like pickaxes and bug nets.
Gathering materials is more prominent now than ever before, with the changes to the equipment upgrade system. In addition to requiring a selection of specific materials, an upgrade may also call for a number of materials drawing from a particular category. For instance, upgrading a base weapon may require two Iron Ore, as well as a total of 8 points from the ores category. Rarer materials give more towards that point total, and later upgrades tend to have a higher upgrade threshold. In theory, this should serve to alleviate the need for rarer drops, a situation that the Monster Hunter franchise is almost infamous for. In practice, it doesn’t really change the general flow, with rare materials required for upgrades at key points regardless. My experience thus far has shown a decrease in the number of required rare drops, making progress significantly quicker than previous games. Another new addition to the upgrade system is the leveling mechanic. Rather than branches in weapon trees being hidden until separate paths open up, all potential paths are visible from the start. Leveling up a weapon usually comes with slight increases in attack power and sharpness, as well as opening up the potential to branch down any pathways at an equal or lower level. This means that branching pathways are available at any point in the upgrade path, but it quickly becomes overwhelming to see all of these potential options laid out in front of you. Taking note of which paths branch where is almost mandatory if you want to get the most out of your upgrades.
The roster of monsters available in Monster Hunter X comes in at a rather hefty 71, with an additional 34 small monsters to round it out. In comparison to the previous title’s 75 large monsters, it’s a small step down, but there’s still plenty of content to get stuck into. With the shoutout to the older titles with X, the bulk of the monsters filling out the roster are returning from previous titles, with a grand total of seven new monsters. While this is a rather disappointing number, it’s worth noting that X was never designed to be a mainline entry in the franchise, instead sitting as a spin-off title akin to Monster Hunter Portable 3rd for the PSP. The new additions to the roster are all vibrant, well-designed and possess a great deal of character, particularly the four ‘flagship monsters.’ They all possess their own ecological niche and core design motifs, and they each present a unique, interesting fight.
Each of the four flagships are tied to a particular village, and each is designed to evoke memories of an earlier game. For example, Raizex is a flying wyvern akin to series mainstay Rathalos. It inhabits the same area, and the ecological niche, and has a similar fighting style, while possessing its own unique traits. The Japanese mythology vibe of the Leviathan, Tamamitsune is a perfect fit for the hot spring village of Yukumo, and calls back to the aquatic themes of the third generation. These four monsters are a definite highlight of the game, as they’re each incredibly well designed, from an aesthetic, thematic and mechanic perspective. Of the other new additions, Hororo Horuru is the standout. This strangely-named creature is a majestic blue owl with a range of status ailments to ruin your day. The Great Maccau is your standard early-game enemy, but certainly isn’t lacking its own flair. With the wide range of returning monsters, some some have been tweaked to better fit with the current mechanics. New moves and, in some cases, new status ailments are spread across the roster, which reaches all the way back to the first generation, and even into the Japan-exclusive MMO, Monster Hunter Frontier. However, some additions seems questionable at best. Monsters like Cephadrome and Plesioth add nothing to the game, with exceptionally frustrating fights and no real payoff. Fan favourites like Barioth and Gigginox are nowhere to be seen, and there is a notable absence of subspecies, presumably to more effectively highlight the Variant Species. Still, with such a large roster, they can’t all be winners.
To venture into spoiler territory, the final new creature takes the role of a final boss of sorts, barring your progress into higher ranks. The Osutogaroa is a strange cephalopod-like creature covered in the skeletal remains of fallen wyverns. It’s an interesting concept coupled with a menacing, otherworldly design, but unfortunately, the fight itself falls short of expectations. Previous elder dragons akin to Osutogaroa have presented lengthy, challenging fights unlike anything else in the game, but this one lacks any real unique concepts, and is deceptively simple. It’s a disappointing cap to the game’s journey, but any Monster Hunter fan will tell you that the journey does not end when the credits roll.
Monster Hunter X has its own approach to end-game content, in the form of Variant Species. These unique creatures are unlocked as you progress through the online portion of the game, and present a threat beyond anything else you may have faced thus far. In basic terms, these Variant Species are alterations of previously-encountered creatures, often emphasizing a single trait and possessing a wider, deadlier set of moves. Early on, you might face a Variant of Arzuros. For those unfamiliar, a regular Arzuros is a simple bear-like creature that only really poses a threat in the beginnings of your journey. The Arzuros Variant, dubbed the Crimson Helmet remains a threat even towards the end of your adventure, with a slew of powerful moves and a very aggressive temperament. The moves change enough to throw you off guard, and the unique aesthetic design of each variant helps them stand out from their base species. If you’re familiar with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, this Variant system effectively takes the place of Guild Quests. While there is nothing here quite as difficult as a Level 140 Apex Rajang, these Variants pose enough of a challenge to keep you invested well into post-game.
Accessing these Variant Species is done through the exchange of special tickets. These tickets can be accrued either through StreetPass, or simply purchased using resource points accumulated from completing quests. Tickets are consumed regardless of the quest outcome, so approach these quests with caution. Completing a Variant Species quest rewards you with exclusive materials used to make a unique set of armor and accompanying weapons. These armor sets possess distinctive skills that generally can’t be found anywhere else, and outside of the challenge, are the main reason to pursue Variant Species. Completion of any Variant Species quest will unlock a more difficult version of the quest up to Level 10. Each subsequent level provides better potential rewards, and upgrading any Variant Species equipment requires these higher-level rewards. As a late-game objective, Variant Species equipment pales in comparison to the sheer breadth of the Guild Quests and Relic systems of 4 Ultimate, but this system seems much more approachable and less repetitive. It’s also not quite so RNG-dependent, which is an advantage in and of itself.
This brings up the question of difficulty. To be blunt, Monster Hunter X is the easiest game in the series by a rather lengthy margin. Hunters are empowered by the wealth of new tools at their disposal, allowing an unprecedented level of aggression. Monsters however, seem to have had their damage output significantly diminished. The result then is a string of fights that generally don’t last much longer than 5 minutes, perhaps less so in multiplayer. However, the action is incredibly engaging and entertaining, and the frenetic pace of combat is a joy to behold. There is still some difficulty here, particularly heading into the online content, but never quite to the degree of previous titles. It’s never quite as satisfying to bring down an enormous foe when they never feel like much of a threat to you, but satisfaction in Monster Hunter X comes from other areas. It’s worth noting that, like Portable 3rd, X does not have a G-Rank, instead capping out at High Rank. There is still a veritable wealth of content between both Low and High Rank, so I don’t think that’s anything to be discouraged by. Instead, it encourages the player to get the most out of their current rank, rather than blitzing through to G-Rank as was prominent in previous titles.
All things considered, it’s difficult to think of Monster Hunter X as anything else but a step to the side, rather than a step forward. All of the additions here were aimed at approaching the same content in a different way, rather than adding new mechanics, or refining older ones. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Monster Hunter X is still a whole lot of fun to play, but it never feels quite like the next big step that it should have. Styles and Arts are an interesting new addition, and the sheer wealth of options for experimentation means there’s always something to do here. Monster Hunter X is a game for veterans of the franchise. Those experimentation options will mean little to someone unfamiliar with the finer details, and the constant attempts to play on nostalgia will go completely unnoticed. As a long-term fan, I do wholeheartedly appreciate all those subtle nods, and the sheer breadth of content on display is nothing short of entrancing, but it’s difficult to recommend this title to franchise newcomers. However, Monster Hunter X is a sheer joy to play, and the easier progression lowers the bar for entry quite considerably. My recommendation for a Monster Hunter game still goes to 4 Ultimate but there is plenty to love in X even if it’s not quite the progression we wanted it to be.