Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
The Monster Hunter franchise never had a meteoric rise in the United States. Of course, there certainly exists a hardcore and dedicated user base that's been there ever since the PSP titles forced gamers to use the "claw" grip style to play the game effectively, but the series never really took off until quite recently. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was a great first step, and even though it limited its players strictly to the 3DS and Wii U, it didn't seem to matter. It's follow-up, which I still regard as one of the best Monster Hunter games to date introduced a bunch of new improvements, broadened its appeal, and once again the numbers proved that there is indeed a thriving MonHun community in the States.
Monster Hunter Generations, or Monster Hunter X (read: Cross) as it's called in Japan, is quite possibly the best game to date, trumping my love for its predecessor in almost every way. It's almost paradoxical that the game can have an even broader appeal, and yet is even deeper than its predecessors. Those two schools of thought don't mesh, and yet Generations proves that it can be both new player friendly, and still offer the deep, rewarding gameplay with a slew of new additions and improvements, that legacy players will appreciate.
Four is the magic number
There is plenty new to talk about when it comes to Monster Hunter Generations, but at its core they're all tied down to the number four. There are four separate villages to visit and complete requests. Bherna is the newcomer to Generations, but is joined by Kokoto, Yokumo and Pokke, each one representing a generation of Monster Hunter, down to the very first game. For those returning from past games, there are plenty of cameos from past characters that are sure to put a smile on your face.
There are also four Flagship Monsters this time around, rather than just one. Each one is vastly different from one another, and they're all equally terrifying to fight. Sure, the towering Gammoth, a monstrous mammoth can be the most intimidating of all, but don't discount the cuteness of Mizutsune, as he's just as vicious. You'll encounter each of them way before you'll ever be asked to take them down, and it can be a terrifying experience to think you only have to pick up 20 tropical berries for a quest, and then have one of those bad boys show up.
Lastly, there are also four Hunter Styles, which are easily the biggest game changers. Each Style alters the way your Hunter controls, down to the movement set of an individual weapon. That's right, that huge sword you just built out of spare Lagombi parts has four distinct movesets based on the Hunter Style you choose, which in itself is mindblowing. One glance at Gaijin Hunter's extensive Weapon Tutorial videos and you'll see just how different each weapon is with each Style equipped. But it's their specializations that bring something new to the table.
Play how you want
The Hunter Styles offer a customized experience like no other MonHun game before it. Not only does it alter weapon's move list as previously stated, but it also changes the way you play and hunt. But that's not all. The game also introduces completely new super moves called Hunter Arts. These moves can range from devastating hits, to player and team buffs, and more. Each Style has a varying degree of Arts they can equip at once.
For purists or those simply stuck in their old ways, the Guild Style offers the most traditional move sets and combat options. Guild Style also allows for two Hunter Arts to be equipped at once.
Those new to the game might want to start off with the simplified Striker Style. This one allows for much easier combos with your weapons, but most notably, allows you to equip three Hunter Arts, giving Strikers the most advantage with these super moves. They also charge a bit quicker, meaning Strikers can easily be the highest DPS on the team, if they bring the right loadout of Arts in.
Aerial Style, which is already a big hit among many players, myself included, trades your dodge roll for a jump. If you jump off a monster or another player, you're then launched off into the air, allowing you to attack from above, and thus topple and mount the monster much more effectively. Those worried that the Insect Glaive is now a useless weapon, especially with the Aerial Style, can rest easy. The standard dodge is now replaced with a jump forward instead of up, making them incredible gap-closers, as well as one of the most versatile classes to dodge attacks. I've tried nearly every weapon type with Aerial Style, and I can attest that all of them bring something useful to the table. My personal favorite definitely have to be the Dual Blades. There's something satisfying tearing into the enemy with your blades as you're jumping off them and then come crashing down with another strike. Since this style is so dependent on constantly jumping and attacking, it only gets one Hunter Art.
The last style is certainly meant for veterans of MonHun, and is aptly named Adept Style. This one requires the player to have solid knowledge of the monster's attack patterns, because it solely relies on dodging at the last second to perform a flashy dodge move, and avoid damage completely, and then immediately counterattacking for some crazy damage. While I consider myself pretty good at these games, even I wasn't quite ready for Adept yet. Dodging too early or too late will result in the move not working, which means you're just going to get hit way too much. Like the Aerial Style, you'll mostly be dodging and counterattacking with Adept Style, so it only gets one Hunter Art as well.
You can play as a cat
The MonHun franchise's mascot is the oh-so-cute, but horribly-annoying-to-listen-to Palico. In past games, they've served as your NPC companions to make single player hunts a bit more manageable. However, Generations now finally allows you to actually play as these little guys.
The Palicos have their own quests which can only be completed by them, but interestingly enough, they can also be used to complete the standard quests as well. At first, I thought this was a way of the game to offer even more challenge, since I couldn't possibly fathom how these little guys could take down a Tetsucabra for instance. But, as it turns out, playing as a Palico is actually the game's beginner mode. It's absolutely perfect for those who maybe never played a single MonHun game before as it completely removes a lot of the tediums that come with playing as a human.
You essentially don't bring any items with you. No healing potions, no pickaxes, no bug nets, no cool or hot drinks… nothing. Palicos don't get too hot or too cold, they have unlimited tools at their disposal, making them the best choice when simply farming for materials, and they have their own special skills that can heal them, give them boosts and even have their own specialized secondary weapons like boomerangs. Oh, and they have infinite stamina.
While you can literally play through this game almost entirely as a Palico, you would definitely be robbing yourself of the core experience. But it's definitely awesome that this feature is available, and certainly extends the core experience that much more.
Even upgrading pieces of armor or weapons, which I'll get deeper into, now allow you to choose various material as long as it falls into the family of required materials. For example, an early upgrade requires Ore, which means you can then select any type of Ore you own that falls under that category, such as Iron Ore, Earth Crystal, Disc Stone, Bealite Ore, etc. Also, depending on the rarity of each Ore, one type can count as 2 or 3, meaning if something requires 6 Ore, you can use 2 Bealite Ore since each one counts as a value of 3.
A more streamlined experience with some concessions
Since Generations is essentially a Greatest Hits package, there are some concessions the game had to make, especially in terms of a storyline. Normally, in previous games you move from location to location as you complete various quests for NPCs. Here, only after a short while, all four villages are unlocked, allowing you to teleport between them on a whim. If you've enjoyed the progression of previous games as far as villages go, this one might disappoint. But that's not to say that new maps aren't introduced as you play. As you rank up to higher level quests, you'll be constantly taken to new maps you haven't previously been to yet (at least if you haven't played a previous MH game) but there are nearly 20 maps to explore and hunt in.
This next improvement might sound inconsequential, but you can now hold the A button when gathering or carving. I did it in my second quest by accident, since the icon to Press A stayed up while I was gathering some mushrooms, and as soon as my hunter kept gathering while I had the button pressed down, I had a huge grin on my face. Trust me, this is a big deal, since a bulk of the experience is gathering and carving off pieces. It just makes that process a whole lot simpler.
And of course many of the other quality of life additions such as Meownster Hunters and Material Trading is still present, allowing you to attain even more materials for crafting while you finish quests.
There is a big notable absence of G-Rank quests, which already had many fans flustered when this was revealed through the Japanese version, but in the end, it doesn't really matter all that much. This game's answer to that are the Deviant monster variants. These monsters have new move sets and are of course much tougher to take down. The trade off is that they come with amazing rewards, and armor sets that are well worth the effort.
Weapons and armor and upgrades, oh my!
Man, oh man, one of the best things of Monster Hunter games is constantly trying out new builds with new pieces of armor or weapons, that you can craft from material carved from those pesky monsters you hunt. There is something immensely satisfying about knowing that tough monster you just killed or captured provided you with parts to create an even more powerful sword, or better gloves. Well, there is no shortage of that in Generations. There are tons, and I mean tons of armor to craft and upgrade.
It's actually the upgrade system that has me most excited when it comes to new equipment. Weapons and armor can be leveled up, which means you can keep using those Petrified Daggers you start off, much further into the game by simply leveling it up, and boosting its attack power. However, as MonHun players know, weapons can also branch off into different ones, depending on the material you have. This still happens here, but is tied down to leveling the weapon first.
Let's stick with the Petrified Daggers as an example. When you level them up to Level 2, you'll also unlock access to then craft them into Insecticutters. At Level 3, they can be turned into Type 51 Macerators. For this specific weapon, the branches go all the way up to Level 6, but each weapon will vary. The fact that these Dual Blades you start the game with have a Level 6 variant means that they're worth keeping around, even if you end up using something else until you have the necessary materials, because chances are that upgrade will be very well worth it.
Graphically impressive, even though framerate is no longer 60fps
I was genuinely surprised at how well Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate ran on the New Nintendo 3DS, with not only improved textures on various monsters, but also smooth 60fps gameplay. Generations certainly looks better, has improved animations, and some truly gorgeous environmental and weapon effects, but it all comes at the cost of that silky smooth framerate, as the game is then locked at a steady 30fps.
I certainly don't mind if a game is locked at a steady 30fps, but given that the game has the option to completely turn off the 3D effect, as well as the ability to turn down the special effects, it's a shame that turning both of those off doesn't come with a smoother framerate. However, it is nice for those that don't happen to have a N3DS, as I'm sure turning those features off will give players on previous 3DS systems a much better gameplay experience. Something that Hyrule Warriors Legends would have certainly benefited from.
A fantastic starting experience, but an even better sequel
Whether you're interested in diving into the wonderful world of Monster Hunter or you're a season veteran, ready to take on the challenges ahead, Monster Hunter Generations is a masterpiece that's well worth diving headfirst into. Sure, some things were more streamlined or taken out for coherence sake, but as a MonHun title, it features hundreds of hours of content. Of course, as with previous titles, Generations is even more fun with friends, and the game's local and online options work flawlessly, not to mention extend the game's lifespan exponentially.
Given the amount of content, along with all the new ways to play thanks to the Arts and Styles, $40 seems like a steal. Everything about Generations screams $60 retail price. As someone who has already poured over a 100 hours into the game, I can say that I can't wait until the rest of you can get your hands on the game on July 15th, and experience it for yourselves.