Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Review: Ultimate Indeed
I’ve learned that people who play Monster Hunter are a rare breed. There is a devotion to this game that is unparalleled in any other multi-million-copy, world-wide seller. But the majority of those sales come from Japan.
And as I sit here playing through the wonderful Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the Nintendo 3DS, my mind boggles as to why this series hasn’t found the same footing here in the west. Sure, it has its fans, and having fought alongside hunters who love the game as much as I do, we here in the west are just as passionate. There is not really any other game like, even with its imitators like Toukiden and Soul Sacrifice, both for the Sony PS Vita, nothing compares to the energy and emotions that Monster Hunter brings.
Monster Hunter takes the very simple premise of hunting monsters (I mean, it’s in the title) and takes it to ridiculous levels. The player controls a hunter (who is created from scratch) and is tasked by the Hunter’s Guild to complete quests. These quests usually focus around hunting things. Dinosaur-like creatures and even huge — ridiculously huge — dragon-type monsters await the seasoned hunters, so the easy one and two star quests like “Kill 8 Jaggis” all actually lead somewhere.
When a hunter drops a beast, they then carve it up for components to build better weapons and armor, which in turn, opens up the possibility of going after the larger beasts. And let me tell you, when you do actually meet the larger prey, at first it is a little daunting, as Capcom knows how to present these things to the fullest effect with a FMV. And you will die (faint). A lot. But then, when everything comes together, and you’ve finally mastered whatever it takes to slay the monster, true, unbridled joy is unleashed. I cannot even describe how happy I was the first time I took out a Rathalos, a flying wyvern that was bigger than my TV screen. And the Rathalos is a upper mid-level monster. There are so many scarier things out there to be hunted. It’s thrilling. That feeling is what makes Monster Hunter so unique.
In Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, Capcom has truly created the best Monster Hunter game yet. Building on the weapons rollout and monsters from previous games, and adding a new element, verticality, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is just that: the ultimate Monster Hunter game. It’s also the largest, by far. In past games, a hunter was located in one “hub” village and would conduct business in outlying regions. In MH4U, there are multiple hubs, and even a story to help tie it all together. Monster Hunter Tri on the Nintendo Wii was that last Monster Hunter game to attempt a story, and while I was a huge fan of that game (well over 500 hours played over three systems, and I’m counting Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for the Wii U and 3DS, as they were HD remakes of Tri), there is something about MH4U that propels it into another atmosphere.
The monsters in the area are going “crazy” due to a strange virus. It’s up to the hunter and his crew, including a caravanner, or “pilot,” a cook, and a merchant, to find out what is causing the virus and stop it, before the monsters destroy the settlements in the game. It’s not literature by any stretch, but it works splendidly to present this world and its quests in a unique way.
The first hub, Val Habar, is a desert oasis plagued by a huge elder dragon-like sand sea monster called a Dah’ren Mohran. The opening tutorial uses this beast is a thrilling way. As the hunter completes quests in Val Habar, towns folk begin to re-populate, so the players can see and hear the results of their hunting actions take effect.
On top of the myriad quests there are expeditions, which allows the hunter to “explore” different regions and find new monsters to hunt. By “discovering” these new monsters, the Guild then classifies them and they can now appear at random, which adds a whole new wrinkle to certain missions. I mean, going out to collect six Unique Mushrooms is one thing. Doing so while a Great Jaggi and a Kut-ku are trying to kill you is another.
The graphics and color pallet in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate are some of the best on any system. The worlds and hunting areas are vibrant with life and color. Grass sways in the breeze, ripples float across pools of water. Herbivores go about their daily lives and are there for parts, if needed. The entire eco-system feels much more realistic. Even the crafting items, such as herbs, rocks, and honey don’t feel like they were randomly placed, but that they actually belong in the setting. Capcom’s art direction really hit this out of the park and it’s evident in almost every screen.
The 3D effects look great, but I prefer to keep mine turned off as I move around a lot while battling and vision is very important when trying to slay a huge monkey-like beast called a Kecha-Wacha wearing what looks like Majora’s Mask. I played this on a standard Nintendo 3DS, and maybe the New 3DS’s upgraded face-recognition 3D would make a difference. While I like the added depth, the 3D is not needed to enjoy a game like Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.
Regardless of which 3DS this is played on, the lower screen is used to give hunters valuable information. Camera controls can be mapped to the player’s style via tiles and the second screen is 100 percent customizable. Items, maps, targeting toggles, and hunter’s life bars can all be sent to the bottom screen, freeing the HUD up for total visual glory. It’s a nice addition to the series and keeps the action going without having to run and pause to find materials to craft into potions or to adjust the camera. Camera issues could be absolved with the New 3DS’s c-stick button, giving more room on the bottom screen for additional information.
The verticality in MH4U changes nearly everything about bringing down the bigger monsters. Hunters can climb up vines, cliffs, and steppes and then vault off them to land on the back of their prey. This allows for devastating knife assaults on the beast’s head and neck, and if the beast begins to buck, a simple press of the R button (along with the required stamina) can help the hunter hold on. Hunters can also vault up in the air with certain weapons, or with the help of fellow hunters, and launch themselves into devastating aerial assaults. It adds a new element (and thrill) to the hunts and keeps them from ever getting stale.
Perhaps the biggest addition to Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the inclusion of online multiplayer on the 3DS. Hunters don’t have to be in the same room to hunt together, and the interface to find a partner or partners (up to three) is as simple as visiting the Guild Gathering Hall and pressing a couple of buttons. You can even create your own group and matchup with other hunters are your skill level or who will hunt like you do. I’m a casual hunter. I do it for fun. Others do it to grind for better armor, weapons and higher Hunter Rankings (HR). The fact that there are so many different play styles to choose from helps to establish hunting teams full of folks you can trust. Teamwork is necessary when tackling some of the bigger monsters.
Even without human partners, hunters are teamed in the solo game with a Palico, which is a kind of feline (from the early MH games). The player creates the main Palico at the beginning of the game and it helps you in your quests. The little kitty can level up and has its own subset of weapons and armor to craft and upgrade. The player can even hire a team of Palicoes to go out and gather materials while the hunter and his or her main Palicoes are doing story quests. It’s another thing to manage, but helps to keep the materials coming in for needed potion crafting. The Palicoes, both the main and sub, which both join the hunter on quests, replace the strangely lovable Cha-cha from Monster Hunter Tri/3 Ultimate.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate includes two brand new weapons, an Insect Glaive and a Charge Blade. These join the 12 other weapons from the previous games giving hunters yet more choices. Even with the additional weapons, I still love my switch-axe. But I do plan to give the Charge Blade a shot in the future.
New monsters are also available. There are 10 new beasts in MH4U which brings the total to 98 creatures to hunt. This includes a new elder dragon called Gogmazios, which is as awesome as his name. Variations of previous monsters are also available, and lead to some very cool looking armor sets.
Nintendo really stepped up with its support for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate by allowing themed armor and weapon sets in the game. There is a Legend of Zelda-themed Link set, a Metroid-themed Samus set, and Capcom even joined in the fun by giving the Palicoes a Mega Man-themed armor set, and there is even a Mario-themed and a Sonic-themed armor set for your kitty companion. I haven’t uncovered any of these sets yet, and I’m not sure if they are in-game or DLC, but rest assured, I will be dressed as Link as soon as humanly possible.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is as content-filled as this review, which even I admit is running rather long. It’s the largest and hands-down best Monster Hunter game yet, and it offers so much to do, a cool little story, and some even cooler monsters to hunt and kill. I could actually go on and on about what the game has to offer, but it would just be best to just suggest that you pick up the game. You will quickly see why Monster Hunter has the following it does, and you may actually get yourself sucked into the world of hunting fantastic beasts in equally fantastic settings. With the wide variety of weapons and armor, and almost 100 beasts to hunt, MH4U is not only one of the biggest games on the Nintendo 3DS and New 3DS systems, it’s also arguably the best.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is available now for the Nintendo 3DS and New 3DS systems. This review is based off a copy of the game provided by Capcom and played on a standard Nintendo 3DS XL system.
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