Monster Hunter: Solving Monsters (Part 2)

Here’s the next part of my game-theory fanfic on the Monster Hunter series – if you missed the first part, you can read it here or just scroll down a little while.

Monster Hunter (2004), CAPCOM

Video games are puzzles at their core. They’re defined by their interactivity, by the agency they provide, by the player’s choice. Some are more open and others more rigid, but almost every game provides some sense of objective or motivation to interact with it – they provide puzzles to solve.

Since video games are puzzles, their mechanics – the stuff you do with those buttons and sticks, that let you interact with the game – are the countless, infinite variety of solutions. Together, these puzzles and their solutions, create gameplay.

So here’s where I get back to Monster Hunter, whose gameplay boils down to:

Core Mechanics (solutions to…)
Monster Design (… its puzzles)

Monster Hunter: Frontier G, CAPCOM

In almost every game, the core mechanics result in countless solutions. They combine and work together to form a hugely flexible solution to a puzzle. They’re a web of constant systems, where the player tugs at the corners and edges of the web to interact with it until the puzzle at its centre is ‘solved’.

Monster Hunter’s own core mechanics are hugely varied and distinctly interactive.

Like I stated in the first part, MH’s progression is largely player-directed, and its core gameplay is the same: MH provides a massive variety of tools and simply gives players an objective – a puzzle – to complete. A handful of mechanics exist to help or guide (the helpers, Palicoes or Shakalakas depending on the game; basic tutorials, gradually more accessible with each release) but otherwise Monster Hunter games are sandboxes of puzzles and solutions.

MH currently includes 14 unique weapons or move sets (sets of mechanics). Each weapon has shades of another– for example, the Hammer and Great Sword are relatively similar weapons – but each is nevertheless distinct from the rest. The most recent Monster Hunter: Generations (or ‘Cross’ in Japan) added Styles and Arts that amplify this, but I won’t bother getting into that (I’ve only played the demo so far anyway…).

From here, the series’ monster design (which I’ll get to later) creates a higher level of difficulty that accomplishes two things: First, it demands a broad understanding of a weapon’s move set (or at least heavily encourages it) and the wide variety of mechanics therein; second, it encourages (though doesn’t force) preparation – as in bringing healing items (etc.) to use on the hunt – that highlights item usage as a distinct and important gameplay mechanic. This means that ‘spamming’ or cheap solutions are very rare, the game demanding a more unique solution.

These mechanics – already particularly dense – combine further with its progression systems (different equipment, etc.), leading to a variety of experiences with just a single monster. Weaker weapons are a different experience than stronger ones; different elements (ice, fire, etc.) can colour a hunt as well; and the player’s growing knowledge of the monster gradually alters the hunt, too.

Altogether, MH’s massive web of mechanics equals massive gameplay variety. This isn’t the first time a game has been massively interactive of course, but I’ve always found MH impressive in just how well-honed its mechanics are. How they constantly interact and reinforce each other to create compelling gameplay, despite replaying the same content – same monster, same setting, same weapons and armour – over and over.

Monster Hunter Tri (2009), CAPCOM

I already dug into it a little bit there, but monster design is the second half of MH’s formula. Just as important to the series’ success and acclaim, Monster Hunter’s ‘monsters’ are the puzzles to the mechanics’ solution. This part should be a little shorter, but is just as important.

Monsters in MH are designed to accommodate the 14 weapons and their individual sets of mechanics. While this isn’t as impossible when each weapon closely resembles another, it still demands a wide variety of attacks and patterns to cater to each. Certain monsters may be designed for an increased chance of success with certain weapons, their ‘solution’ easier to find and achieve – for instance, hammers can be better for hard-shelled monsters – each one is nevertheless designed for achievable success with any weapon (assuming the player is up for it).

These designs directly connect to MH’s progression elements, which I started on earlier – the player’s weapons, armours and items. As each monster is designed with certain types of damage and weaknesses (both physical and elemental), they become uniquely suited ‘puzzles’, their difficulty reflected in the player: if the player is using a fire weapon against an enemy who’s resistant to it, the hunt might be a little tedious; as the player becomes more familiar with the monster or just their own weapon, the ‘puzzle’ reflects it.

Monster Hunter 3G, CAPCOM

Monster Hunter provides an infinite amount of solutions to an infinite number of puzzles like no other game I can think of. These are basic gaming tropes for the most part, but they make up an impressive engine of mechanics: gears that interlock, dependent on one another, moving each other along to create a sandbox of player agency and replayability (at least in the action-RPG realm).

I love it to bits and I hope Monster Hunter: World brings that brilliance to even more players.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed it, look out for one last and very untimely part on Monster Hunter: World sometime in the next week.

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