This is not a review, but ongoing impressions for a recent release.

If you’ve ever played a Monster Hunter title, you know it’s one of the more obtuse games out there. It’s a game that basically presents you with a world to learn about on your own.  Your eponymous job can seem rather simple – find the monster and bring it in dead or alive. But in order to do that, you’re going to need the right tools for the job. Healing items, traps, paint balls, and, of course, weapons and armor. While the basic items can be bought from the various stores, the real challenge is in learning how to make the most advanced items yourself. The materials to make your gear isn’t always easy to find. Some of them will only be found in certain maps, or even in a specific area of that map. Others require a bit more work, like a unique fruit that can only be obtained by attacking a particular animal while it’s feeding off of a tall tree. The latest title, Monster Hunter X, hasn’t done much to change that formula, but…

Monster Hunter X (Cross, not Ex) released in Japan not too long ago, and if the sales figures are anything to go by, its popularity is taking off, just as the recent titles have before it.  There was some confusion when it was first announced because fans saw many of the same locations, but also some strange shenanigans as hunters were performing some crazy, powerful attacks that had never been part of the series.  Even now that it’s out, there’s still plenty of confusion over just where the series fits in, especially due to the lack of a number in its title. But rest assured, this is a full-blown release (albeit without the G Levels, which should come as no surprise).

4 flagship monsters (all brand new) and there are still those who think this is an interim title...

4 flagship monsters (all brand new) and there are still those who think this is an interim title…

So if it’s not a numbered entry to the series, what does that make it? It turns out Monster Hunter X is like a breath of fresh air into the series. Still trying to make the player figure everything out, you’ll find no enemy health bars here. Critical targets and elemental weaknesses are kept hidden, as well as just about everything else you’d hope to find. Fighting a monster means slowly discovering more about them. But it also means learning more about your own skills, and here’s where the biggest changes are introduced.

There’s a wide variety of weapons in the Monster Hunter series, from the quick-striking dual blades to the slow but powerful hammer, and even a few creative entries like the hunting horn – a giant instrument that plays notes during each attack and creates various effects based on the notes played. While there are tutorials for each of these weapons, these contain only the basic combos and abilities. It’s only through experience (or looking up manuals online…) that additional attacks and skills can be found. As unique and interesting as these weapons can be, the series was becoming rather bloated with choices. It’s hard enough to find the materials to build through a single weapon tree, let alone all 14 possible weapons.

It's worth it to get that shark lance, though.

It’s worth it to get that shark lance, though.

So rather than add a new weapon to the list, Capcom has instead tweaked the system so that every weapon now has 4 play “styles”. The Guild style is your standard bread & butter combat everyone knows and loves. Striker style emphasizes aggressive attacking and even rewards being hurt. Aerial style lets everyone pretend they’re in an Attack on Titan squad by leaping off of random objects before delivering powerful attacks, and Bushido is designed around perfect guards and evades. While the styles may stay the same from weapon to weapon, the combos that can be used with each style will vary. Moreover, there are now Hunter Arts – powerful techniques that can cause additional damage, heal your character or party, boost your skills, etc, and each style allows for a certain number of Arts to be added.

That’s not all X has done for the series, though. Several systems have been revamped for the better. Cooking, for example, is now based around fondue. Instead of earlier titles, where the hunter simply chose two ingredients from a list of foods and ate a that dish, hunters are now tasked with finding new ingredients for the cook. These ingredients can be mixed to make dishes that can be selected from a menu, but the skills come in the type of sauce added to the fondue. There’s a lot more variety in the offerings.

And finally, crafting weapons and armor has become much easier. Getting one specific piece off of a monster has always been a challenge, especially when they have drop rates of 5% or less. To get around that, many (not all) items can be crafted from categories of items. For example, a specific weapon might require a certain level of “bone material”. Small, common bones can do the job, but you’ll need more of them, or you can use large, rare bones that are worth more.  Specific items are still necessary, but they’re fewer and (thus far) easier to obtain.

Accessibility has always been one of Monster Hunter’s major hurdles, especially in the West, with players simply giving up after a few missions because combat can seem too hard. But this is a way to mitigate some of that. The Hunter Arts definitely make a difference, and a beginner in the Striker style can do incredible damage without worrying about the finer points of their weapon until they’re ready to switch styles. Veterans will probably gravitate to the Guild or Bushido styles which favor more advanced gameplay, but still allow for a touch of the new. And with cooking and crafting easier to handle fore newer players, it’s an improvement for everyone.

Did I mention you can fight as a palico? Meow.

Did I mention you can fight as a palico? Meow.

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