It’s no well-kept secret that many of gaming’s biggest franchises have come out of Japan. From Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda to Pokémon and Resident Evil, video game hits and Japanese developers have become concomitant, and it’s well-earned. But some franchises take longer to build up steam than others. Capcom is known worldwide for its fighting games and other franchise giants such as Mega Man (Rockman in Japan) and the above-mentioned Resident Evil (Biohazard, as it is known in Japan). Still, Monster Hunter has traditionally been more of a niche title. While its fanbase has always been a strong one, the Kill-Big-Toothy-Things-And-Make-Shiny-Things game always beheld a high barrier of entry; that, coupled with gameplay that was unique among games of the action genre at the time, kept Monster Hunter from reaching much more widespread acclaim and play.
That all changed, however, when Capcom released Monster Hunter World. The first PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC outing marked a new dawn for the franchise. Monster Hunter World quickly sold out at retailers. It became Capcom’s best-selling title in its 40-year history. But what caused such a drastic shift in a franchise that had mainly remained unevolved since its initial outing on the PlayStation 2 console back in 2004? Remember that high barrier of entry that it was infamous for? Capcom opted to lower that. This was a pretty significant risk for the developer, but it paid off in spades. We’ll come back to this in detail shortly.
The premise behind and story that drives Monster Hunter Rise is very much on-brand for the franchise, and that is to say that there isn’t much of one. That accusation isn’t entirely fair, but it isn’t too far off the mark either. I’ll preface the rest of this review with this: if you’re playing Monster Hunter Rise for the story, you’re doing it wrong. That said, the story is that you are a newly-promoted Hunter, which means you’ve been given the authority and privilege to protect your home of Kamura Village. Upon receiving your promotion from the Wyverian twins, Hinoa and Minoto, you are informed that signs have been emerging of a return of “the Rampage.” This calamity is a rebrand of most other Monster Hunter entry disasters that the plot centers around and pertains to an event in which massive hordes of monsters suddenly attacked Kamura, nearly wiping it out entirely. The rest is copy-and-paste Monster Hunter, in that there’s a specific beast (in this case, the Magnamalo, a fanged wyvern which horns like a Japanese kabuki mask) that serves as that entry’s mascot, which you must track down and beat to hell with your weapon of choice. That’s really it as far as the plot goes for Rise, but don’t be disappointed here; now we get to the point of the game!
What has endeared Monster Hunter to its fanbase for so long is its addictive gameplay loop and the ever-increasing challenge that it presents. That loop is straightforward: you’re tasked with tracking down a specific monster, and then you go out and hunt it into oblivion, carving its carcass for its species-specific materials. When you return to your base – in Rise’s case, that’s Kamura Village, but this goes for all entries – you can use those carved materials at the Smithy to forge armor and weapons from that specific monster. But here’s where that loop truly comes into play: you’re not going to get all the pieces you will need to craft all five pieces for that set of armor (Head, Chest, Arms, Waist, and Legs) or new weapon on the first go-around against a given monster. You will need to hunt it multiple times before acquiring all of the requisite materials for your new gear. This is especially true when you move into the higher Hunter Ranks, and monsters are markedly more powerful. High Rank and beyond monsters will drop new materials when carved that will enable you to unlock and forge the High Rank versions of their armor set or upgrade and evolve their weapons past their Low Rank counterparts. Some materials can have meager drop rates, so you’ll need to be praying to RNGesus that you get that part you need. In addition to standard gear, you also have Charms and Petalace. Charms are a secondary piece of armor whose sole purpose is to gain an additional skill, whether that’s another Attack Boost V or Paralysis Resistance, etc. Petalace are brand new, tertiary gear pieces that utilize the new Spiribirds mechanic while on hunts and allow players to boost their stats. Spiribirds are found all over each map and will boost HP, Stamina, Attack, or Defense depending on which type you collect, and the various Petalace will weigh those Spiribird boosts differently.
Once you’re out of tutorial mode (Low Rank) and are actually playing Monster Hunter Rise, you will want to craft far more than a single weapon and set of armor for your travels. This is multifaceted in its purpose, as most sets will offer elemental advantages and disadvantages, as well as set skill bonuses. While a fire element resistance or weakness is straightforward, skills are far more nuanced and varied. Skills such as Attack Boost are self-explanatory and will increase your base attack stat by X amount for each level you have of the skill. Earplugs and Tremor Resistance, two of the most valuable skills in the franchise, will make you resistant to Large Monsters’ roars or earth-shaking effects. This is crucial because those effects will stop you dead in your tracks while in the middle of an attack string and leave you open to getting your Hunter hide “carted.” Other skills can protect you from status effects such as poison or paralysis or make it easier to break certain parts of Large Monsters, such as severing one’s tail or busting their horns. This is a critical element to hunting and crafting because rarer materials will typically require that you break specific parts of whatever you’re hunting in order even to have a chance of carving it afterwards. It’s essential to take all of these into consideration when hunting a given beast so that you may give yourself the best chance of success; if you get carted three times (the typical number of deaths allotted to a player), then you fail the quest, which no one wants to do.
Now that all of that is out of the way, what about the actual point of the game – the hunts themselves. When you start a quest, you’ll drop into a given location that will vary with that specific quest as every monster has an environment in which it thrives. Your goal before you get to take a crack at big, scaly (or furry), and ugly is to track down your target. Most Large Monsters will have standard hangouts and territories that they will patrol, so if your target isn’t in one area, it is likely on the move and can be found anywhere along its typical route. One of the quality of life improvements made since Monster Hunter World is the seamlessness of the map now. Before World, maps were broken up into around a dozen numbered, smaller sections, and there would be a load screen in between each of those areas. Having the ability to traverse the landscape with more freedom is one of the most welcome changes; however, arguably the largest is the range of traversal, which players now have access to. In Monster Hunter World, players gained the Clutch Claw, which allowed for quickly latching onto monsters and dealing damage. This was a game-changer, especially for weapon classes that were far slower and less mobile, such as the Lance, Great Sword, or Hammer. In Monster Hunter Rise, the new feature is called the Wirebug. The Wirebug allows for incredibly agile maneuvers both while traversing the landscape as well as in the middle of a fight, and this is known as Wiredashing. When performed, wiredashing consumes the Wirebug Gauge, which will recover over time. But rapid attacks and evasive maneuvers are now possible simultaneously and, when used skillfully, can make for great combos and flashy displays.
While on the hunt, you have more actions available to you than merely swinging your sword around or firing off a barrage of arrows. You can mount and ride a monster, which is especially handy when multiple Large Monsters are in front of you. Once you’ve built up the Wyvern Riding Gauge, you may mount and ride it for a set period, and while on your not-so-trustworthy-steed, you can perform new actions, including simple strong and light attacks, launch the monster into a wall of another monster, and causing a great deal of damage in the process, or hit it with a Mounted Punisher attack to deal massive damage and topple the beast. Skilled hunters can use the launching action in conjunction with the wirebug to launch, remount, and repeat for high-damage strings. These improvements to mobility both in and out of combat have dramatically reduced the barrier of entry for new players to the franchise and have increased the fanbase overall as a result.
As with any other recent entry in the series, Monster Hunter Rise is addicting by yourself, but the game truly shines when you link up with friends and strangers online to take on formidable monsters. This is easy to accomplish, even for a Nintendo console, and it only requires going to the Courier Felyne in Kamura and selecting the Play Online option. From here, you will either Find a Lobby or Create a Lobby, from which you may join a friend’s created lobby or have them join up in yours. Up to four players can squad up and form a hunting party. The difficulty of a hunt will increase in tandem with the number of players in a particular quest, with monsters becoming increasingly more challenging to take down. You’ll want to coordinate with your friends on where you’ll each be focusing your attacks so as not to get in each other’s way. Equally as integral to a successful multiplayer hunt is a balanced party, with each player fulfilling a role such as causing status effects, toppling the target, granting buffs to the party via general items like Demon Powder or Hardshell Powder, or through specializing in the Hunting Horn (bagpipes that hit like a bag filled with bricks) weapon class. That three-death rule still applies in multiplayer hunts (unless the quest criteria state otherwise), and is shared across your entire party, so don’t be that player that gets the third cart and results in your team failing the hunt.
One of Monster Hunter’s most endearing elements is its buddy system – NPC characters of your own creation at the start of the game who will travel with you on solo hunts. These buddies come in the form of Palicos (bipedal cats) and Palamutes (direwolf-sized canines – so, naturally, they’re superior). Your buddies will be customized at the beginning of the game right after your character creation is complete, and you can edit things such as the color of their fur, patterns, ear shape, tail type, etc. This is incredibly entertaining to do, but their utility reaches far beyond the aesthetic. Both your Palamute and Palico have their own weapon and armor sets that you may craft from the Buddy Smithy located right beside the Smithy for your equipment. And while the buddy gear isn’t nearly as in-depth as that of your Hunter, it is still vital to have them adequately geared to avoid them getting their tails handed to them. The Palicos have been a staple of the series since its outset; however, their roles have increased dramatically in the last few entries. In Monster Hunter Rise, you will choose a role for your Palico upon its creation ranging from the offense-focused Bombardier to the Healer and Assist roles that will increase your survivability throughout a hunt.
New to Monster Hunter Rise is the Palamute. As with your Palico, you will customize your Palamute prior to beginning the game for the first time. You won’t assign a role to your doge, as it is meant to be more DPS-focused by its very nature. Your Palamute buddy has its own set of commands and tactics that will aid you in battle, as well as skills that can make the hunt easier as well. Hunting Doge also has a unique set of equipment. Beyond standard armor pieces, it also has various weapon types with multiple properties. The Guarding Parasol weapon, for example, allows your Palamute to guard incoming attacks, and the Steel Fang lets it cling onto a monster providing a distraction and an opening for you to attack. Palamutes also have access to unique Palamute Scrolls, which grant additional bonuses: the Diversion Scroll turns your war doge into an aggro siphon. The Heal Blade Scroll heals everyone in the vicinity upon activation and several others as well. But one of the best features of the doge is that it doubles as a mount. A consistent complaint about the series is how slow map traversal can be, but if your Palamute is with you, you can hop onto its back and move measurably faster. Not only that, but you can still sharpen your weapon, take potions, and forage for materials while on your lupine steed.
All of these factors are to be taken into consideration before embarking on a quest. Hitting up the Canteen and consuming a meal is also vital to provide health and stamina meter boosts, as well as various other benefits. The Canteen changes slightly in each entry, and in Rise, the theme is Dango. You can create custom Bunny Dango Sets as presets so that you can consume the most beneficial for your current quest. Speaking of presets: remember the necessity of crafting multiple armor sets? Monster Hunter Rise allows you to create presets for your equipment as well so that you can quickly shift from one loadout to another from your Equipment Box. Having the proper setup for a hunt will ensure you complete it and can progress to the next rank as you fulfill the requirements of your current one. Once you’re in the High Ranks, you’ll likely want to start thinking about custom sets that are skill-focused and geared (pun intended) towards hunting specific Elder Dragons or Apex variants of other monsters.
On a technical level, Monster Hunter Rise is well-polished. The Nintendo Switch’s limited hardware keeps the game at 30fps with some minor frame-rate drops in some cases, but apart from those few instances, the game runs about as smooth as 30fps is going to on the Switch. Rise’s predecessor on the Switch, Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, was a step up from the previous 3DS entries. However, after having played World, it was a huge step down in visual fidelity. And while Rise still is not World, it looks demonstrably superior to Generations Ultimate, both in texture and overall graphics quality. Shadows, general lighting, and textures all look quite good for a Switch game of this visual style; however, foliage doesn’t really move all too much, if at all. This is obviously due to conserving the console’s limited processing power, but it does make for a stagnant feeling environment at times. This would be considerably worse if the game didn’t have falling leaves to simulate a living environment in some places. Monster Hunter has always had memorable tunes and sounds, and the sound design for Rise is no exception. Everything from sound effects to the music design is immersive and appropriate to the setting. Rise has a distinctly traditional Japanese aesthetic and theme, and the music is reflective of that to great effect. The game has a great atmosphere in every one of its five current locations, and the visuals, sound, and challenging but addicting gameplay loop culminate in another strong entry in a nearly two-decade-old franchise. And with Capcom’s history of free title updates for the recent Monster Hunter games that add anything from new monsters and special event gear to entirely new regions to explore in the game, Monster Hunter Rise is sure to have a stellar run and is off to a great start.