As a consequence of its success, Monster Hunter has a huge burden placed upon it. People come in expecting the series to justify its record sales in Japan and are generally disappointed by the obtuse, awkward, and often clumsy monster hunting game at its core that spawned an eponymous genre of imitators. Monster Hunter Generations, a greatest hits collection of previous games’ behemoths and areas, does nothing to buck this trend to appeal to players hoping for a more malleable Monster Hunter experience. For better or worse, it is still the same Monster Hunter it has always been, with a few more stylistic flourishes on top.
I have repeatedly plinked off the side of Monster Hunter over the years, being either unable or willing to penetrate its thick hide with my presumptions of conventional action game mechanics. It was not until 2015’s Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate that the eccentricities of the games finally clicked for me; the increased focus on mobility played no small part in translating its obtuseness into coherent gameplay. Monster Hunter Generations follows in the same path as its mainline predecessor by casting off the shackles of tradition and translating older monsters for a new generation of hunters.
All the virtues of Monster Hunter remain alive and well in Generations. Fans of the series can look forward to hopping on all their favorite beasts, as well as a few new ones, with new options for taking them down. No matter your weapon preference, Generations adds interesting twists and skills to layering upon even well-worn monster battles. Veterans who worry that they might be too burnt out for another ride or that too much has changed do not have to worry with Generations, as it charts a middle path between the two extremes to attempt to satisfy fans of the series.
This middle path is also where most of the game’s faults lie, however.
Just like Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and Monster Hunter Tri before it, Generations begins with an overly-long tutorial for new players. This tutorial is the same in every game preceding it: learn how to use a pickaxe, learn how to pick flowers, learn how to catch bugs, fight some smaller monsters. Coming hot off the high-level missions of the previous game into picking flowers and fighting with dull weapons feels sleep-inducing. A simple question asking me if I have played Monster Hunter prior to this one would be much better, as would simply letting the player skip missions as they see fit. It might compromise the difficulty ramp a bit, but I would take the compromised design over a singular, combined path for players of varying skill levels.
For new players, this set of tutorials does not help ease anyone into the series. The traditionally opaque but important mechanics are still arbitrarily left unexplained to anyone who isn’t willing to dig for them. Even when discovered, they are buried in pages of flavor text through inane and overly-wordy dialogue from characters whose personalities seem utterly forced. After hundreds of hours of various Monster Hunter games, I am not sure I could tell you a single character’s name, nor anything about said personalities. It is frustrating as a beginner to drown in one-sided conversations with every single quest-giver in the Monster Hunter universe and still have gleamed nothing of worth from them. Newcomers are still mostly left to their own devices to figure the game out and that really should no longer be the case.
This means that it is ultimately still on players to act as each other’s teachers, shepherding newer players deeper into the genre and its peculiarities. Make no mistake, neophytes attempting to play this as a single-player game without a more experienced hunter to at least advise them and whisper in their ear are committing a folly. Attempting to do so will, very likely, cause them to completely give up on the game before too long. Monster Hunter Generations is no different in this regard, though it seems to openly embrace this aspect rather than kick dirt over it. It is easier than ever to get into multiplayer hunts, to the point where I realized I had been soloing multiplayer missions because I accidentally wandered into the multiplayer hub. Players who wish to engage in an immediate round of hunting with friends will find the process quicker and easier than ever before, though I hope arrangements for voice chat over a computer or phone are made first.
Once players get past those opening few hours and start really cracking Monster Hunter Generations open, they will begin to see what makes the game so exciting and genuinely fun. The comparison has to be made, so it makes sense to just get it over with: Monster Hunter is not unlike Dark Souls in some ways. This is not to draw a straight line between the two series, as they are quite different, but they share some common DNA that makes understanding one a good foundation for making sense of the other. That feeling of learning an encounter, of putting your entire self into it, of calming down and knowing when to press and when to retreat, are characteristics that fans of either game will happily attribute to their favored series. Monster Hunter Generations channels those things as expertly as any game before it, leaving your palms sweaty after a forty-minute tango with a dragon who seems to just keep getting meaner and angrier as you hurt it.
Anyone hoping for a revolution in Monster Hunter will be disappointed by Generations. Acting more as a chronicle of games past, Generations attempts to marry Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s newer, more locomotive gameplay to the designs and patters of older monsters throughout the series. This makes the game feel iterative, or like a time-displaced alternate history of the fourth game, rather than a massive change in the Monster Hunter formula. If you are looking for more Monster Hunter with a few new twists, Generations has you covered. If you are hoping for the same leap as the one between the third and fourth games, there will not be a lot here for you.
It is difficult for me to recommend Monster Hunter Generations without any qualifications. What should have been a slam dunk for new players still falls into so many of the pitfalls that have plagued previous games. There is a lot of frustration to be had for both the experienced player who gets bored by the unnecessary slope upward and the novice who finds the slope too overwhelming without a mentor. I still find myself wanting to recommend the game, however, because I believe so strongly in its virtues once all the pieces come together. I was lucky enough to have people willing to guide me out of the woods with a previous Monster Hunter title, just as people had done for them. I am unsure how long Capcom intends that to be a tradition and not a flaw, but I cannot imagine patience lasting eternally.
Monster Hunter Generations was developed and published by Capcom. It is available for the 3DS.
Imran Khan is a San Francisco-based writer that tweets @imranzomg.