Of all the words that could describe the island paradise that serves as backdrop for Monster Hunter World, the one that keeps coming back to me is “dense.” Electrified insects buzz around the trees while pterodactyl-like birds squabble and soar. The swamps teem with serpents, and the plains are busy with lizards that play-fight like a pack of dogs.
World, the sixth title in Capcom’s Monster Hunter series, embraces the complexity of a real ecosystem in order to give players the thrill of disrupting it. With weapon in hand and feline companion in tow, the intrepid hunter will cut a swath through this wilderness, understanding it and tearing it open in the process.
This isn’t new. Monster Hunter World may be a refined, modernized version of itself, but it’s still the same experience players have been having since 2004: characterized by repetition and mastery, punctuated by chaos. And yet, if you are even in the periphery of gaming circles right now, you’re probably hearing about Monster Hunter World a lot. That’s because, while World is merely an evolution, it’s one that comes in the midst of a broad resurgence of Japanese videogames—one that is changing the makeup of what games get attention in the current market.
Monster Hunter World is a good game. But more than anything, it’s the right game at the right time.
Anyone involved in videogames can tell they’ve gotten bigger and more expensive as the years have gone on. The triple-A gaming market has sprawled along with the rest of the tech economy, and the demands, both internal and external, for ludological megamachines have grown to a fever pitch. Big-budget games are expected to be detailed and seemingly endless while also being accessible and focused, catering to both the most casual and the most serious players. It’s an impossible set of standards to meet, and even doing a serviceable job requires more money than it takes to run a small country.
This has caused a number of serious problems in the videogame industry, one of the most significant of which is the utter erasure of its middle class. As recently as the Xbox 360/PS3 console generation, it wasn’t uncommon to see modest, centerline-straddling Western games. Made by small publishers and small teams, they were straightforward, serviceable titles. Sometimes they were experimental, sometimes not. Games like, say, Remedy Entertainment’s 2010 title Alan Wake—games that tried to do something distinct and entertaining with a budget that was large, but not absurdly so.
In 2018, those titles are hard to come by. The Western market just doesn’t support them. Now, there are two strata in the mainstream Western games market: triple-A and independent, with nothing in between. Nothing, that is, except Japanese games.
As the market has grown more stratified in the West, Japanese games have begun to enjoy a resurgence, due, in large part, to them filling the very same niche that titles like Alan Wake used to. The Japanese gaming market is smaller than the Western one, and is capable of putting out the types of games that the Western market no longer can: quirky, distinct creations of modest scope, games that could be considered financially successful without needing to end up in every home. Over the past year, with games like Persona 5, Nier Automata, and now Monster Hunter World, Japanese creators have been able to take advantage of that to push beyond cult appeal to real mainstream success.
Now, there are two strata in the mainstream games market: triple-A and independent, with nothing in between. Nothing, that is, except Japanese games.
Which is why Monster Hunter World, though only iterating on the addictive fantasy of its predecessors, finds itself with a broad audience enjoying it for the first time. That audience will find a wilderness of threats waiting. It will find the risk and reward loop of choosing a beast to hunt, tracking it, and engaging in the sort of epic struggle people haven’t embarked upon in centuries. Man vs. animal, to the death, at least of the cartoon variety. Roaring claws raking at flesh, swords of bone and metal and tooth flashing against fur and scale. The stunning thrill of preparation meeting unpredictable fury.
That sturm und drang doesn’t drag its feet, either; the only thing as dense as the game’s ecosystem is its spectacle. In only the third mission I undertook as a monster-hunter in training, I pursued a car-sized lizard through a shallow lake. As I got ready to pounce on it with my dual-wielded swords, a dinosaur like a high-fantasy T. Rex came out of the brush and bellowed. It charged at my prey and the two clashed, going for the kill. I stood in awe, wondering what I was supposed to do next. Then, because I was a hunter, I dove into the fray anyway.
New players will also find a game designed specifically to cater to their arrival, with streamlined monster tracking, better tutorials than any game in the series, and online matchmaking built to let them easily hunt alongside friends. Monster Hunter World is purpose-built to take advantage of the influx of new players, swinging for the fences to create an experience that turns a cult hit into a hit proper. For players seeking an experience more surprising and strange than big-budget games while still retaining that high fidelity sheen, Monster Hunter World, alongside a whole slate of Japanese videogames, welcomes you to the hunt.
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