Thursday, April 18, 2013
When my Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate review ran at @Gamecritics, one of our long-time readers (Hi Alv!) requested that I take some time to get into the essence of the series, and really get under its skin to explain its appeal, similar to the way our own @GC_Danny dissected his love of the modern classic, Deadly Premonition.
I thought this was a fantastic idea, so I decided to go one step further. Rather than Simply sharing my own feelings (which I will do a little later on) I got a host of Monster Hunter fans to help me illustrate what makes it such a singular experience.
To open this series, a few words from Teamwork Podcast member @Nick_LaLone.
Every once in a while, a person needs a pick-me-up.
In 2005, I was pretty much at rock bottom so it was certainly time for mine. I wasn’t into drugs or deviant behavior or anything like that, I was just a guy trying to reboot his life and at the time it wasn’t working. I was ready to drop out of college because of bad advising. Semesters of financial aid were lost and and I sometimes ended up spending nights alone without a place to sleep. I would wander Austin under street lamps reading and napping.
You see, what I had wanted to do was devote all my time to my studies. In order to do this, I took a low pay, low effort job. However, because of bad advising there wasn’t anything to do -- all the classes I was in were a waste. I ended up dropping most of them and only had to go to campus once every few weeks.
Without money or a meal plan to use in Austin, I spent some of my free time stealing food to live. My only source of income was from my job – $240 a month managing an apartment building and $24 dollars per million gil in Final Fantasy 11. So, after a particularly rough patch of wasted time, I received a refund of financial aid and decided to take a trip to visit a friend.
Now, I haven’t owned a car in over a decade and haven’t really needed one, so renting a car is always a special treat. I bought myself groceries, went to a restaurant and ate non-ramen food, bought a pair of nice pants, some clever t-shirt, and headed to Houston to visit my friend. When I walked in, he was playing videogames and I saw a guy on his television screen holding something. It sounded like a gun, but looked like bagpipes. I could see bullets coming out of the gun and they were heading toward some sort of red dragon-looking thing.
I have to admit that at the time, I thought it looked stupid.
So this game (which was called Monster Hunter) was explained to me as a 'boss fight' game. You slowly wore down a large monster (usually resembling a dragon) until you could capture them or kill them. Once you did this, you carved parts off of them and used those parts to make hats, weapons, pants, and more.
At this point, I thought sounded like a stupid premise as well!
Now, remember that I was in desperate need of a pick-me-up and my PS2 had all but broken because of its constant use as a Final Fantasy 11 machine. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time it had been turned off! It couldn’t read discs anymore; so I bought a slim PS2, a copy of Monster Hunter, and a new memory card to set about trying to learn how to hunt monsters. I thought the game seemed pretty silly, but I was so down that I was willing to try anything at that point.
It didn’t grab me at first.
I mean, all you did was hunt for mushrooms and maybe, just maybe, you needed to kill some raptors (I’m sorry, velocidromes). I had a similar experience as Yahtzee did for his Zero Punctuation review.
It was also a difficult game; I mean, when you got down to it, the trash-mob monsters could kill me if I wasn’t careful. So, I made my character, hunted my mushrooms, visited with my friend, packed up and went home a little depressed that I had just bought a new playstation in order to do something silly like play a game by myself as opposed to with tons of other people like Final Fantasy 11.
I honestly didn’t think I would ever play again until I was told that I could play online with people for free. Once I got home, I logged on and met up with everyone in the online portion of the game. They introduced me to Yian Kut-Ku.
My friends also introduced me to making armor, using different weapons, and more. I also started to read the quest text. I mean, there was a reason that everyone needed these mushrooms! Suddenly, I started to feel like I was doing the world in the game a favor as I hunted monsters. All of the quests were like, “Oh god, this monster has invaded this territory and now we’re all in trouble! Save the village!”
It was really amazing to see how this world was set up. It was amazing to see how the difficulty of the game wasn’t in dissonance without the world it was set in. Even if you had all the best weapons in the game, wyverns could still find ways to destroy you. So, this game’s cognitive dissonance, the feeling that occurs when the knowledge of the character and the knowledge of the player are not in sync, is perfectly stable.
There is no cognitive dissonance here.
Every weapon had its own playstyle, and they all felt like they were massive, heavy things and you and your character discover these weapons together. I couldn’t remember when a game managed to portray that feeling so completely.
It was at this point that I ran across a zone during a hunt and slammed a Diablos in the side with my hammer. I knocked it over just as it was about to kill one of my friends -- the same friend that had introduced me to the game.
I suddenly felt like a hero!
I smiled as this massive, horned dragon writhed on the ground because of me. I felt useful. I felt strong. I felt…amazing. It wasn’t cruel or malicious, this feeling. It was heroic that this threat to all of us met my weapon and fell over. He wouldn’t have given any care to murdering any of us. And this was a game; a video game was eliciting an emotional response! I hadn’t had this before, and the fact that all my friends were sharing this with me meant that I was immediately hooked.
That pick-me-up had finally arrived, only it didn’t end there! About a week went by and my friend Damon called me while I cleaned the carpets of an apartment. He told me that we were going to fight Lao that night.
I wondered what he meant.
“Yeah! Lao-Shan-Lung!” I had to admit that it sounded pretty silly and surreal. It sort of felt like this commercial for Everquest.
This monster sounded ominous. Still, I had gotten used to just about every monster, and so the game was starting to stale. I wondered if I had had enough of feeling that awesome.
I finished up what I was doing, booted up the game and went to the city (AKA, online multiplayer).
After meeting up with everyone, I was greeted with a massive fortress and an enormous red dragon walking down a narrow canyon. The story of the quest was that Lao-Shan-Lung was running from his mate and was heading right for town! It was up to our tiny band of monster hunters to get Lao to turn around, or to slay him before he trampled the town.
Now, this fight is weird because you have to fight a face -- literally, a face -- as it slowly saunters down the canyon to the fortress. I makethis fight sound pretty awful, but it is such an incredible feeling to fight this thing because his face is the only thing that you can reach without being trampled yourself by a gigantic body that was in a real hurry to get to where it is going.
So, as he gets closer and closer to the fortress, you have to go to different arenas. The last arena, the fortress itself, has a device on top called the Dragonator. Essentially, it's a machine with a bunch of drill bits that stab outward. It does an amazing amount of damage to the dragon and once it does, this song begins.
So you’re at the base of the fortress fighting a massive dragon desperately as it throws itself against the fortress wall. This heroic music is blaring over Lao’s roars, and all you can do is swing your weapon. I don’t think any number of words can truly capture this feeling.
If I had let my depression take me along the path I was on, I wouldn’t have been able to experience how great it made me feel later. I think I can honestly say that Monster Hunter saved me from an entire gamut of things related to depression, and thanks to my co-hosts at the Teamwork Podcast, it has even expanded into technical skills like audio and video capture and manipulation. We all strive to bring that feeling Monster Hunter gave us to everyone we can find.
For me, Monster Hunter has a sense of valor and heroics that can only come through truly working with other people as a team. It was the reason I loved early MMOs like Everquest and Final Fantasy 11. While comparing things to MMOs is a danger zone, the relatively minimal effort required to achieve a sense of accomplishment is certainly worth noting -- it can take hundreds of hours, even hundreds of days to achieve the feeling in an MMO that Monster Hunter gives you within the first 10.
If you’re feeling low, alone, or sad but love video games, check it out. It might seem silly (because it certainly seemed silly to me) but give it a fighting chance and you’ll find your effort rewarded.
- by Nick LaLone, of the Teamwork Podcast
Stay tuned, folks… More Monster Hunter testimonials coming soon! And hey, if you want to submit a testimonial of your own, hit me up!