Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (MH4U) is the 12th installment into the series, but the 7th that we’ve seen in the states, and only the 3rd that we’ve seen on a Nintendo platform. It’s had raging success overseas, but hasn’t shone much in the past few years. A new marketing plan, some overhauls and new ideas seem to have put it in the spotlight along with the New 3DS XL; but does it live up to the hype? Or does it get trapped in its own pitfall…trap?
Monster Hunter is infamous for its grind-heavy gameplay nature…not so much for its story. In fact, this is really the first MH game to attempt a story and somewhat succeed. Past titles have simply thrown you into a town with the “it’s you’re duty to protect this village” cliché. MH4U starts off with some pretty enticing cutscenes to introduce the village you’ll be spending a lot of your time at. We’re introduced to who will be essentially our guide – a rugged adventurer who is pretty much the epitome of a role model in this world. He states (through text mind you, though mumblings are spoken but the only form of communication is through text) that something is happening and they need to get to the bottom of it. With his newest recruit (you), he decided you’d be the best to venture into the wild – untrained – and ascertain information about the impending doom of monsters overruling the village.
The story starts out somewhat slow, which is nice. It gives you a chance to explore a little bit of everything in the mechanics before pulling you in too strong. But as you complete more quests, the story slowly begins to pick up. In traditional fashion, one solution leads to another problem’s discovery, and before you know it, you’re slaying just about anything you can find in a ‘monstrocidal’ rampage fashion. Essentially, there is a wild virus that is going around making all of the monsters crazy. Not terribly long after you get the hang of the game, you’re forced up against the foe making all of this happen. It might have been a little rushed to pit you up against a monster of that caliber so soon, but this really is a game that you can move at your own pace with. You find that even after killing that monster, something still isn’t quite right. Many other monsters are being noticed when they shouldn’t be and it’s your duty to discover why…and that’s pretty much what you’ll be doing for about 90% of the story. Miscellaneous quests will become available with some small dialogue that attempts to make it seem like killing this monster in particular will lead us to the next. Like a bad game of Clue, you just need to push to the end to reveal the secrets behind this children’s “mystery”. Successful completion of the story nets you a bunch of village upgrades and unlocks a ton of content though. So while it is necessary, it feels like they may have forced it a bit too much – much like the childish jokes and comedy rampant throughout the game that simply distract the player rather than add anything to the value of the dialogue. Once the story is completed though, there really isn’t anything left as far as a structured outline. You’ll partake in a plethora of different quests, both offline and online, and it begins to feel like monster hunter all over again.
Grinding has always been a major part of the Monster Hunter series; and it’s no different in MH4U. If you’re against grinding, then you’ll want to stay away – but really, MH has a way of making it feel like it’s not even grinding at all. There are hundreds of quests in 4U that pit you against 70 different large monsters and a handful of smaller ones. The premise is simple: you defeat a monster, use what you earned from it to make better equipment, and repeat the process until you’re satisfied (spoiler: many of the people who play these games are never satisfied). In order to complete this task, you’re given 14 different weapons, an all-time maximum! You can choose to take on monsters alone or with a group of 3 others, and considering the difficulty doesn’t scale to the number of players, having more only makes things easier. [It needs to be mentioned here that this is the only MH game I have ever had difficulty playing online with others – not due to connectivity but due to greed. With so many people “needing” different things, most won’t help unless it’s what they need – an issue I haven’t encountered as being this pervasive before. Nonetheless that doesn’t take away from the score.]
Considering there are 14 completely different weapon classes, and 70 main monsters… there’s a lot of gear to make! So understandably there’s a lot of hours that can be put into the game, making the replay value shoot through the roof. Monsters are programmed to know where you’re at and exactly how they can combo you into fainting if you’re not careful. Three faints in a quest and you fail so you really need to learn the monster’s attacks and how to avoid them. In many respects, this is one of the most skill-based games on the market meaning that no matter how much time you put into it, you can always improve, adding additional challenge and an overwhelming feeling of success after every hunt.
A few new mechanics have been added to hunts as well, further expanding on the knowledge and strategy needed to successfully pull off a quick quest. Mounting is by far the most prevalent of the additions. MH4U takes the fight to the third dimension by allowing verticality within the levels. You can climb and jump off of ledges and cliffs and attack midair. Successful attacks on a monster will cause you to enter a “mini-game” where if you complete it, the monster falls over for a extended period of time, completely open to attacks for the duration. At first, I was skeptical of this mechanism, but over time I came to realize it is well balanced and pivotal in controlling the moral of certain fights. (Also, for those veterans, this solves the issue of upswinging).
They’ve also added a plethora of new skills to the game. Skills are unlockable abilities that come with certain armor pieces. Combine enough of the right pieces and skill points and you’ll unlock the ability. The new skills either contain a very special ability, like consuming an item only to have your stock count remain the same; or a combination of skills bundled into one. Considering skills are one of the most important parts of the game, these can really push the odds in your favor.
One of the more robust changes to the game are expeditions. These are ‘free hunts’ that set you out into a procedural (never the same) forest where you encounter a variety of different items and monsters. While this does add a new dimension to the game, it feels like it does more harm than good. Many of the large monsters included in the 70 are actually hidden behind this expedition wall. In order to unlock them, you must go on an expedition and encounter a different monster. Killing it, or giving evidence of its discovery, will offer a small chance that you will unlock a guild quest. Guild quests can be stored (up to 50) or registered (up to 10). Registered guild quests can be posted in the guild hall like any other quest, with one catch. Every time you complete it, it levels up. You can level it all the way from low rank to high rank and then to G rank. The issue is that this drastically limits the number of monsters available to most people as personally it took a few days of extended play for me to acquire a guild quest for one monster. Once I had that monster, it wasn’t long before I had leveled it up and it was no longer useful to me (needing low rank parts and it had leveled to high rank), meaning that I had to grind expeditions again. There is no indication as to what monsters found in expeditions will give rise to certain guild quests, so you’re pretty much just guessing out there.
Expeditions also yield armors and weapons that have their own upgrade paths outside of the traditional means. Many of these armors contain skills not available outside of expeditions (or in rare quantities), and therefore can be useful in armor sets. With the exception that drops are completely random and often armors are lacking in many other qualities, these could theoretically be used, though they truly seem to be a wasted effort in such a coordinated pre-established system. The weapons on the other hand are a different story. Much like the armor you can discover, you can also find misc. weapons on expeditions. These weapons also have set stats, but unlike their normal counterparts made from the smithy, they’re stats can vary wildly. Essentially this equates to a random number generator (RNG) process where you may end up with an incredible weapon, or something utterly useless. Monster Hunter has always been known for its ability to stick to a straight statistical format, rewarding those who put forth the effort to overcome the odds of accumulating rare items. This new process appears to thwart this system by offering high reward for simply being lucky (much like the talisman system already in place). While it is entirely up to each individual if this is desirable or not, it stands that it is breaking away from the traditional Monster Hunter formula.
All things considered this is a Monster Hunter game, and it definitely plays like one. The addition of the third dimension blends extremely well with the hunting system and there’s more equipment than you could ever imagine. If you’re a fan of collecting gear and working for it, then you’ll be right at home.
Considering this is my first 3DS review (as well as first 3DS game), I really don’t have a lot to compare to personally. However, I’m no stranger to watching playthroughs or other gameplay videos of 3DS games so I have certain expectations. In all honesty, I was somewhat impressed at the start of the game. The graphics in the cutscenes were vibrant, full bodied and detailed, leaving very little to desire for. However, instantly upon seeing actual gameplay, I began to cringe as it looked nothing like I was anticipating. Environmental textures are flat and near-dimensionless, which really makes you feel as though you’re playing something from the early 2000’s. I was even more upset when it looked as though the armors and weapons didn’t stand out from the environments like they have in past titles (see MHP3 HD). Considering they are the crux of the entire game, I would have thought some more effort would have been put into making the gear you create more visually nourishing. While they are certainly detailed and in their own right, impressive and cool looking, there is nothing about their graphical quality that alleviates the disappointment of a world constructed on pixels. Luckily, monsters seem to be somewhat of an exception here. While they definitely do not stand out as better quality, many of the monsters you fight appear to be much smoother – getting away from the rigidity of the square infestation that is the overwhelming pixel ratio.
God forbid you ever try to play in 3D, the already unimpressive graphics take a drastic plummet, giving both me and my friend headaches within 10 minutes of use. In such a fast paced game, it truly doesn’t make a lot of sense; as with the 3D turned all the way up frame rate begins to stutter from time to time, really taking you out of the experience. While visually the game leaves a lot to be desired, it should be pointed out that the game is still lively and vivacious, making the poor quality easier to forget when you’re enjoying the warm palette of the volcano, or the bitter scheme of the frozen tundra. In the end, it seems as though the game is limited by its console; it tries exceptionally well to bring a lot of detail, color and crisp visuals, but instead falls short and the graphical conflicts are brought out twice fold.
Monster Hunter has always been known for its ability to encapsulate the feeling of the game perfectly in its soundtrack. Unfortunately, it has managed to miss its mark a little bit in this entry. While many of the quests are paired with great music counterparts (mostly taken from past games and reapplied), the villages and guild halls have been paired with songs that tend to make you feel as though you’re at the carnival, rather than a smoky tavern filled with life-risking bad asses (and your overly occasional 12 year old). Perhaps the developers were trying to go for more of a contrast between on and off a quest, playing on the light-hearted nature of the scenery; but it just doesn’t seem to quite fit. Nonetheless, the monster’s roars, the sound effects of hurling your friend high into the air while simultaneously tripping a monster with your elemental great sword are spot on and immersive. I cannot recommend enough that you use a decent headset while playing this as all of the sound effects in a hunt get brought out marvelously. So while the majority of the sounds in the game are adrenaline-inducing, there are a few times when you’re painfully reminded that you’re not a small child standing in line for a cotton candy at the nearest amusement park. [And as a side note for all of the MH veterans, the main, epic, incredible MH theme song does not appear in the game until the third song in the credits]
Replay Value: 5/5
While the expedition quests don’t make a lot of sense when trying to acquire new armor and weapons, it does add one element to the game: replay value. The random assortment of monsters that can be combined in a guild quest acquired from an expedition feels limitless. This addition, combined with the built-in online, makes for a truly unique experience. Any hunters can post a guild quest and work with others to level it up; this means that beyond the hundreds of other quests in the game, you now have an entirely new, ever-changing repertoire of quests to undergo. Happen to enjoy a particular quest? Then ask that friend to share it. Anyone can send you any guild quest they’ve acquired and you’ll receive it at the base level it was discovered at. Since you can store 50 at one time, you can really build up some fun and exciting hunts!
Beyond expeditions there are well over thousands of weapons and armors to make, meaning you’ll need to do quite a bit of hunting of every monster in the game, but it’s all worth it for that shiny new sword! There are also challenge quests that pit you and a single friend against certain tough monsters – the catch? You have to use the equipment they provide! Completing all of these unlocks something special of course, so it’s definitely worth your time! With challenging gameplay that never fails to put your skills to the test you can sink hundreds of hours into the game.
Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate holds true to the series’ pre-established grind/reward system, offering players an impressive array of equipment if they put in the time. While a number of new additions work very well, there seems to be the beginning of a shift from a statistical system to a random number system, contrary to nearly every past game. The graphics leave a lot to be desired and 3D should never be used, but the sounds are immersive and boastful. If you’re a fan or the series, or enjoy collecting an extreme plethora of different, powerful, and unique equipment, then you should definitely pick it up! Don’t let the score fool you, the core gameplay is sound and enjoyable and yields to an incredibly impressive replay value.
+Gameplay is fluid and reliably the same as past titles
+Extremely large replay value
+Insane amounts of creative equipment to make
+More weapon classes than ever before
-Story is a good attempt, but feels forced and drawn out
-Graphics draw away from the experience and 3D is abused
-Some childish moments clash with the blood spewing gameplay
-Some establishment of RNG takes away from theme of putting in time and effort to get reward
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the New 3DS XL system.
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