Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a game that does exactly what it says on the tin – it gives you monsters, and you hunt them. With your custom-designed character, you roam the game’s environment completing quests that involve obtaining certain monster materials or hunting particular beasts as you scramble through varied environments. The latest instalment (for western audiences) is Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for the 3DS, the second portable instalment of the series after 2013’s Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. MH4U is a port of Japan’s Monster Hunter 4G, which in turn was an enhanced edition of the original Monster Hunter 4. Confused yet? Excellent!
As with previous entries in the series — or so I’ve researched, as I’m a newcomer to the franchise — you start the game as a fresh-faced new Hunter, this time arriving in the mobile desert caravan town of Val Habar. Signing on with the Caravaneer (a Southern-accented gentleman with a rather dashing red cowboy hat), you agree to help him fill out his crew while working to improve your skills as a Hunter.
What does this entail? Well, strangely enough it involves Hunting a lot of Monsters. The Caravaneer and residents of Val Habar will task you with various quests to undertake, though they mostly consist of various kinds of fetch quest. You’ll be tasked with collecting materials, reaching a quota for killing certain types of monsters, taking on large-scale monsters and crafting certain items. Many of these quest include an optional sub-quest which grants you access to additional rewards if completed. Over the course of the game you’ll gain access to new areas, opening up a variety of locales and environments for you to run around, climb up, jump off and otherwise admire.
Admiring is definitely something worth doing in this game – Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has a lot of wide-open spaces that are richly detailed, a feat which is always impressive to see on a handheld console. Watching the larger beasts in the game roam about either individually or in hers and packs is fun to watch, though the moment is somewhat spoilt when you go on to stab them all to death. The game does give you plenty of stabbing options, however! MH4U features 14 different weapon types, including 11 blade-type and 3 gunner-type weapons. These vary from crossbows to greatswords, lances and dual blades, and everything in between. With the option to switch out your weapon any time you are in the hub area, the sheer variety will keep you busy while you decide what fits your play-style best. Some even have multiple modes, allowing you to vary combat as needed. This instalment also adds the ability to climb on the larger monsters in the game world, a feature reminiscent of Dragon’s Dogma.
This title has some serious quirks that made gameplay annoying in my time playing, impeding my ability to enjoy it. Despite the inclusion of a tutorial, it seems very little instruction was given before I was thrown into the greater world of the game. After a meagre introduction that covered absolute basics like movement, the remaining core information (sprinting, climbing, jumping and camera control) were fed out piecemeal when they should have been presented upfront. This is fitting with the overall game however, as it makes no attempt to help you beyond these first few minutes.
You’ll find yourself sent on missions – which have time limits – to complete tasks such as “Slay 5 Jaggi”. No indication is given what a Jaggi is or where to find it, and when you do take on a monster there is absolutely no indication what type it is. Most items scavenged from their corpses bear generic names, so you mainly have to rely on checking the completion state on the Quest page to see if any progress has been made. I expected to find the name displayed when I locked on to a monster in combat, but there’s also no lock-on targeting! This is not a make-or-break mechanic, but when combined with a lot of slow-moving weapons and fast-moving enemies, it isn’t great.
Speaking of slow movement, that also describes a lot of the game. In the hub area your default movement is barely a crawl, completely unreasonable even in the small areas you find yourself in. It’s a baseline requirement to hold the ‘sprint’ shoulder button at all times (which gave me a bad case of Gamer Claw), as there’s also no option to toggle the default movement speed between Walk and Run. I also found it absolutely puzzling when I went to save the game; in MH4U this is achieved by going to your bed and sleeping — which is pretty commonplace — but in this game you have to watch your avatar flop onto the bed and climb off again to complete the interaction. The process of climbing off the bed and receiving confirmation of your save takes a full five seconds, which is ridiculous in the first place but entirely baffling for a portable title. The key point for portable gaming is to be able to pick up and play and then put it down in a hurry, a point this game doesn’t seem to realise.
Now I’m sure that plenty of long-time players of the series would argue that a lot of these are just ‘quirks’ of the series, and that it’s just the nature of these games. That’s all well and good, but as a newcomer to the series they simply act as roadblocks to prevent me wanting to continue. I prefer playing games for the sake of having fun, and that didn’t seem to work out with this game. That’s not to say that it’s BAD, per se – the Monster Hunter series are games geared towards grinding, a genre that is far more popular in its native Japanese market (and a big part of why Capcom took a while to decide to bring it to the West). As a friend who is a long-time fan of the series, the aim of the game is “to fight monsters to get better equipment so you can fight more monsters to get better equipment”. As a gamer who prefers story-driven games with a bit of a softer touch, it’s not really for me.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has a lot to offer, if it’s a type of game you enjoy. With dozens upon dozens of quests to undertake and nearly a hundred different monster breeds (the highest count to date in the series), there’s a great deal of content to dig in to. The world design is impressive and varied, and the monster designs in particular are quite impressive. The fact that you get giant cat companions, or ’Felynes’, to fight alongside you was not lost on me (I made mine look like my pet ragdoll), but sadly it wasn’t enough to keep me playing… even if you can dress them up in adorable little armour.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was reviewed using a promotional code on 3DS, as provided by the publisher.
Review: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate