Report Card: Monster Hunter Rise

Monster Hunter, as a franchise, has a reputation for being difficult to “get into”. I can see where that reputation comes from, Monster Hunter has been slow to smooth its rough edges and simplify some of its more complex systems over the years. I, personally, didn’t really “get” what Monster Hunter was all about until Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, but believe me when I say all the effort was more than worth it. If you can get to the creamy center of a Monster Hunter game, you’ll find one of the most satisfying action games on the market. Does Monster Hunter Rise have what it takes to entice a new generation of hunters to heed the call while keeping its die-hard fans satisfied?

For those of you who don’t know what I’m on about, Monster Hunter Rise is a game about hunting monsters. Pick one of the 14 different weapons, kill a monster, harvest its parts, make new equipment, rinse, and repeat. That’s really all there is to it. Yup. That’s…that’s it. Of course, the monsters don’t want to be hunted. Oh, and they’re huge. Like, the smallest one is nearly twice your size and the largest could swallow you whole and not really notice. You’ll be fine, trust me. Once you find the weapon that’s right for you (and the game provides one of every type AND a training area to practice with them), you’ll be more than comfortable staring down an enormous apex predator while dreaming about the rad shoes you’re going to make from its skin and teeth.

The 14 weapons have different strengths and weaknesses, so there’s going to be one that lines up with how you want to play. Do you want to put all your might into a handful of powerful deathblows? Pick up a great sword! Would you rather keep some distance between you and the terrifying creature trying its best to rip you to pieces? Try a bow! Every weapon type is viable and sports a moveset that’s large enough to make for interesting combos without being so large as to be intimidating.

But it takes two to tango, and in Monster Hunter Rise your dance partner is one (or more) of a menagerie of killer creatures. There is a lot of variety in Rise’s stable of new monsters, from graceful killer birds, to hulking sumo wrestler platypus-turtles, to the physical embodiment of fiery hate. I know that sounds outlandish, but every one of Rise’s new monsters feels like a natural fit in the game’s environments. Classic monsters from earlier games return as well, making for a lovely mix of the new and familiar. Monster Hunter Rise may not feature the largest menagerie of monsters (for now, anyway, but we’ll get into that later), but what’s here is a delightful variety where every inclusion feels well thought-out and appropriate for the world.

The world of Monster Hunter Rise is beautiful with an intensely Japanese aesthetic. The first time you hunt a new monster, you’re given an introductory cutscene styled after Japanese poetry (if you have the voiceover set to Japanese it’s even sung in the shigin tradition). The new monsters themselves are heavily inspired by Japanese folklore. The music is filled with the sounds of traditional Japanese instruments like the shakuhachi and shamisen (a type of flute and stringed instrument, respectively). The dining hall, a Monster Hunter staple that bestows pre-hunt bonuses based on what you eat, is themed around dango (a type of sweet dumpling served on a skewer). The appearance of the main hub, Kamura Village, and it’s residents are all styled in the manner of feudal Japan. This isn’t necessarily a new approach for Monster Hunter, but it is executed wonderfully in Rise.

Outside of Kamura Village, Monster Hunter Rise features five hunting grounds. Each represents a different type of biome; forests, wetlands, deserts, icy tundra, even an active volcano! Every map is full to bursting with diverse landforms, endemic life, and secret areas. Exploration is a bigger feature than ever before in Monster Hunter Rise, nearly every wall can be climbed, and rewards such as mining points, harvestable plants, and stat-boosting wildlife are scattered about in a way that incentivizes that exploration. Fortunately, movement in a Monster Hunter game has never been as much fun as it is in Rise, thanks to some special little bugs.

Wirebugs are, in my opinion, the big new feature for Monster Hunter Rise, and I hope they never, ever go away. Wirebugs are, in practice, the best grappling hook to ever exist in video games. Players can aim and launch their wirebug, then after reaching a certain distance, the “wire” connecting hunter and bug sends the hunter flying toward the bug. This all happens over the course of about a second, which makes using wirebugs a quick way to move around the map and an invaluable tool for escaping danger. Momentum is a factor as well, hunters don’t stop at the bug but instead continue flying through the air. Wirebugs do have a short cooldown between uses, but this is offset by giving players more than one wirebug. If fast traversal isn’t enough to get you going, wirebugs also have combat uses. Every weapon has a variety of powerful “silkbind” moves that look and feel incredible, and can also render the target rideable.

Oh, did I not mention that you can ride the monsters? Because you can, and it’s pretty darn great. Previous Monster Hunter games let you grab onto monsters to try and knock them down, it’s true, but Rise’s system is a marked improvement. In Rise, if a monster is hit with enough silkbind attacks or is hit by another monster, they become rideable. While riding a monster, you can run around the map, attack other monsters, or even just slam the monster you’re riding into a wall for an easy knockdown. Riding controls do take some getting used to, but after you’ve ridden a handful of times you’ll be a regular pro.

But enough about what’s new, let’s talk about what’s improved! Monster Hunter Rise has the most intuitive online functionality the series has ever had. It isn’t quite as simple as drop-in-drop-out multiplayer, but the new “join request” system makes joining a mission in progress or making your mission open to other players is as simple as a top-level menu selection. Regular lobbies are still an option, of course, for those who prefer to plan a night hunting with their friends, but the join request is a great way to fill any empty slots in your hunting party. This is an extremely important change, as the second half of the game’s story is connected to quests in the multiplayer hub. Hub quests are possible to do solo, however, but do expect longer fights than you see in offline play.

Speaking of the story, it’s time to talk about Monster Hunter Rise’s one big flaw: it isn’t finished. The story as of writing ends on a cliffhanger, but everyone in town is talking about how “after a few more quests” they’ll have pinpointed the next monster that needs slaying. That “next monster” isn’t in the game, it’s nowhere. There is an entire section of weapon improvements blacked out because I don’t have access to the materials yet. It’s true that Monster Hunter games always receive an abundance of post-launch content, but this feels different to me. The first content update is scheduled for the end of April 2021, but the ending to the story isn’t coming until update number two. Is this a deal breaker in my opinion? No, but I’m used to coming back to Monster Hunter games as the updates roll in and I have absolute confidence those updates will come, since I’ve been through this update cycle before.

Even with the rather glaring flaw of being an unfinished product, I recommend Monster Hunter Rise without hesitation. The updates that will flesh out the story and bring more monsters will come, this series is a major tentpole of the Capcom lineup, but even if disaster strikes and they don’t come, Monster Hunter Rise is such a fun experience that I already feel like I got my money’s worth. This is the most approachable Monster Hunter has ever been, and veterans like myself will have plenty to enjoy with the new movement options and improved combat mechanics. I’m going to keep coming back to Monster Hunter Rise all year long as the updates come in and the monster roster grows, and I whole-heartedly encourage you to join me.

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