How I became a Unicorn

Hello there! Conash here, and today I thought I’d talk about my experience with Monster Hunter games, and why it is that I enjoy them and keep referencing it in various discussions, and I promise you that my click-bait title will be explained beyond me finding it amusing.

So, my history with Monster Hunter began with Tri, I had heard good things about the series so when hunting for a new game I decided to pick it up. My older brother loved it, he made some long-time friends playing it and really got into the series, I on the other hand appreciated it for being a well made game but just hated the controls. It felt sluggish, and the only weapon that I was comfortable with took a long time to kill the monsters, and I just could never really understand it. Now, I did have some experience with action RPG games before like Kingdom Hearts, Tales of games, and a few of the Final Fantasy spin-offs, but Monster Hunter Tri while I enjoyed sitting down and figuring out what armor or weapons to get in order to prepare for the monsters, actually fighting them felt a bit like a chore to me so I wrote off the series as not for me at that point.

Then Monster Hunter 4U came out, and one of my closest friends was going on about it and was looking forward to it, my older brother was also talking about how he was planning on getting it and how I would enjoy it. I was a bit doubtful at first, but when I looked into it I saw that they were bringing back some weapons that were cut from Tri, so I thought that I’d pick it up and give ‘Dual Blades’ a go because I was convinced it’d fix my issues, and it definitely did. See, in Monster Hunter every weapon is very different, they’ve got unique strengths and weaknesses and feels to them, a ‘Sword and Shield’ feels very different from ‘Dual Blades’, and well without having a good weapon that really clicked with me trying to get familiar with Monster Hunter’s unique systems just wasn’t fun, but that little slide when you’re in demon mode? Perfection. It was quick, effective, responsive, and allowed me to work on learning the monsters, as if I messed up and went in for an attack at the wrong time I had a way to quickly escape. Eventually though, I started to get bored with them as the core loop became pretty repetitive, so I tried out Hunting Horn and it opened up a whole new world to me. My movement options did become more limited without the slide, but I still had good base movement and the ability to constantly have a ‘puzzle’ in figuring out what songs to queue up, paying attention to their duration, preparing horns with different setups to cover different situations? It brought a whole new depth to the game that I still enjoy, to the point that I don’t ever want to play another weapon. I’ll still pull out DBs against some monsters that HH is a really bad matchup against, but well, being basically one of the 5ish people playing Hunting Horn I’ve come to embrace my inner unicorn (you can find run into people who use it in the right circles, but good luck running into them randomly online).

Now, that’s my experience with Monster Hunter more or less, but probably the more important question here is why do I enjoy it? Well, I do enjoy these sorts of Action RPG games like TWEWY, Crystal Chronicles, Tales of, or Kingdom Hearts, so Monster Hunter does fit right nicely alongside those games, but you don’t see me trying to push NM to dress up an HC character in say a Sheena costume or something, so I should probably explain what it is that Monster Hunter offers over many of those other games. One of the big things I did sorta get into while talking about my history with Monster Hunter is the vast variety of options, see in Kingdom Hearts you may be able to change your keyblade and skills to get some different combos, but you will always have the same basic options available to you, you will typically have similar timing to your attacks and defense, and you’re always ultimately playing the same character. In Monster Hunter however each of the weapons are so unique that their play styles greatly differ from one another, the philosophy behind the weapon changes entirely, the difference between a ‘charge blade’ (a giant sword and shield that lets you put the shield onto the sword to become an even bigger axe) and ‘sword and shield’ isn’t as simple as one is bigger and stronger while the other is faster and can use items all the time, when it comes to sword and shield you are paying attention to when to get in mounting damage, KO damage, what element sword you want to use, when to throw a flash pod, when your teammates need a life powder, what have you, while with a Charge Blade you’re paying attention to charging up your vials, you’re paying attention to how long your shield buff is active, you need to be aware of when to guard vs when to dodge, not to mention when to throw out your ultimate attacks or assess if you will have a big enough opening for your next attack, it’s a fundamentally different mindset and while the enemies and a lot of the core systems are still the same it’s feels more like comparing a rogue to a magus rather than a warrior with a sword to a warrior with a bigger sword, and because of this variety you’ll almost always be able to find a weapon that matches your play-style, and all of them are good weapons, even the ‘worst’ weapon generally will really only see any significant difference if you’re competing for world records (and even then the biggest difference comes not from the weapon but how people who compete for that stuff will gravitate to the weapon with ~5% higher DPS in optimal circumstances). Giving players a nice variety of choices that all feel so vastly different while still being competitive makes a huge difference in just keeping the game accessible in general to people like me who get tired of say just following the same pattern, to me the Hunting Horn offers a constant barrage of mini-puzzles where I have to pay attention to the team’s buffs, the duration on the buffs, what we need for this enemy and what we don’t, and what would be the best way to work in those songs given the enemy we have to fight and I just love having to constantly juggle all of these ever changing variables in my head, while other weapons are far more straight forward. Each weapon is incredibly distinct from one another and there aren’t any ‘bad’ weapons, just ‘bad for you’ weapons.

That said, variety alone isn’t the only thing that sets Monster Hunter apart, after all I use Hunting Horn as much as I can, so that doesn’t explain why I will gravitate towards pulling out Monster Hunter for some fun fights instead of Kingdom Hearts or some other game that I’m comfortable with, and to that end I’d honestly say that probably the biggest difference is the interactions between the players and the monsters. See, in the Tales of series one of the key things that you need to pay attention to (on the harder difficulties) is knowing when you can safely attack and when you can’t, knowing not only how but when to stagger an enemy to stop their attacks, and in some rare cases knowing the attacks in question to respond in kind, but a big problem is that with how fast the attacks are rarely ample to respond to specific attacks and have to just drill into yourself reflexes on how to respond when ‘this’ enemy guards, when ‘that’ enemy is staggered, and it just makes the challenge of the fights generally boil down to muscle memory rather than any real thoughtful exchange between you an the enemies. Kingdom Hearts goes a bit above this by having a lot of the enemies telegraph their actions more, or visually display when they’re immune to attacks from the front or when they’re weak to the fire element, but even then it absolutely pales in comparison to the level of detail that you find in the interactions in Monster Hunter. See, Capcom has just put so much detail into the monsters AI, their movements, their movesets, all of it, that in some cases when you see them shifting their weight to their back legs you know they’re going in for a pounce, so if you’re a Lance user you might need to guard to avoid taking the hit, or maybe you need to dodge out of the way. Did Teostra just suddenly jump into the air and you hear that sound effect for him gathering in power? Well then you need to decide right then and there if you’re going to run, block, or throw a flash pod to not only interupt his super-nova but also knock him out of the sky so that everyone can get some free hits on him. See, Monster Hunter telegraphs the enemies movements well in advance that you can respond with the options that you have, but you need to pay attention to how they shift their weight, the sound effects around you, the attacks they did recently, the distance between you and them, and then it comes down to your ability to respond quickly. In Tales of Symphonia, it’s incredibly frustrating when I made a guess to back-step from an enemy to dodge their attack but they were quicker than me so I should have guarded instead because I had no way of knowing which attack the enemy would use in advance, in Monster Hunter when I get hit it is always my fault, maybe I got overeager and I dodged too soon, maybe I got greedy and was attacking the monster when it wasn’t safe, maybe I thought that I was out of reach of it’s attack but I was in reach (though Lunastra’s tail swipe should get it’s hitbox checked). Heck, I’m looking forward to the Iceborne expansion coming up where they’re going to bring back a monster who was infamous for having an attack that hit roughly 80% of the screen you were on for massive damage, because even if that one attack could easily fail you the mission if 3 of your teammates didn’t know how to survive it, learning how to deal with that massive attack (which had a big wind-up to it) was a lot of fun in of itself, and when you managed to learn how to dodge it? It felt amazing to walk up to this monster and know you would be walking out with some new boots that boost your handicraft (assuming RNG provided), because winning is never about RNG, it’s never about ‘guessing’ if you’re safe or not, you know when you are safe once you learn to read the monster. Sometimes hitboxes are a little wonky, sometimes damage is bullshit, but the game always tells you what to expect, and whether your response is to have the Insect Glaive user get onto the monster or your SnS player to drop a pitfall trap in the middle of battle, there are always tools at your disposal to respond, and that level of telegraphing goes a huge way in making sure the game always feels fair. This plays a big part into why I try to make sure that players are always given information to respond with, why I try to make sure if a huge attack is incoming that the enemy is ‘focused’ first, or why when I got the go-ahead to put in a Monster Hunter based enemy I went out of my way to make sure they only ever got 1 attack but the end of the turn you’d get a message telling you what they did so that you could respond to it in kind (granted I need to add in more ways for players to respond to these telegraphed attacks), because that’s the biggest advantage Monster Hunter has over it’s competition if you ask me.

Well I also really enjoy sitting down and planning out new armor sets, figuring out how to get really good skills that take advantage of what I want, that sort of puzzle solving is a really big draw of Monster Hunter to me, but the core gameplay loop focuses on ‘Hunting’ the monster more than anything else! Hope all of you were able to get something out of this ramble, whether it was maybe getting an idea if you want to try out Monster Hunter sometime (I’d suggest getting Iceborne if you’re interested, World is a lot friendlier to new players but the lack of monsters can really hurt it after awhile) or if you might be able to take a few of the things that I talked about and bring them to projects you may work on!

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