Hitbox Review: Monster Hunter Rise - A steep climb

Monster Hunter knows exactly what it wants to be. A game about hunting monsters. Photo Courtesy Capcom

Release Date: Mar. 26, 2021

Developer: Capcom

Platform: Nintendo Switch

The “Monster Hunter” franchise has been around since 2004 and has always been known for its high barrier of entry. Developer Capcom has put considerable effort into making the franchise more accessible in recent years. There is still a massive hurdle for newcomers, in the form of countless tutorials, information screens, systems and combo lists. Players who can overcome the steep learning curve may find themselves enamored with the simple but compelling gameplay loop of “Monster Hunter Rise.”

Story is at best an afterthought in “Monster Hunter Rise.” Set in the small Kamura village, players embody a freshly certified monster hunter. An overarching plot involves the dangerous rampage, where hordes of monsters flood across the land, but the phenomenon is never fully explained and credits roll abruptly after a big hunt, without any real resolution, the rampage ostensibly still a threat. The game’s second post-launch content update is promised to include the game’s actual ending. No effort is made to disguise the fact that the only focus of this game is hunting big monsters, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that.

The monsters that need to be hunted are all suitably imposing, and each hunt is effectively a boss fight, taking around 10-15 minutes in most cases. “Monster Hunter Rise” features a selection of dinosaurs, dragons, birds and bugs, with more to be added in post-launch content. One standout is the khezu, a hideous fleshy dragon-looking monster with a long neck, no eyes and big teeth. 

Players hunt monsters to harvest parts, like horns, hide or scales, which they can use to craft weapons and armor. Taking on stronger monsters takes stronger equipment, and so the gameplay loop thrives. Hunt monsters, gather parts, forge equipment, hunt bigger monsters. This all works because combat is deep and satisfying. 

Players can choose from 14 weapons, each with its own unique systems. The charge blade begins as a sword and shield, which are charged by striking the monster, then combined into a comically large axe for a flashy finisher. Fighting with the hunting horn is all about mixing attacks to play notes that apply buffs to the whole party, very valuable in multiplayer. Other weapons include swords of different lengths and sizes, hammers, bows, guns, even a long stick with a bug on it. It’s very easy to switch weapons, so players are never forced to commit to a certain playstyle.

New to "Rise" are the palamutes, big dogs that will join players in the hunt. They're all good dogs. Photo Courtesy Capcom

The main story of “Monster Hunter Rise'' is told within the village quests, which are played solo, with the assistance of buddies. Buddies take the form of a palico, a bipedal cat that can talk, use tools and otherwise provide support, and a palamute, a big dog that can be ridden like a horse. Parallel to the village quests are the hub quests, which are much harder, feature much less story, and are designed to be played with multiple players. 

Monster Hunter is at its best when playing with others, unfortunately the game isn't very good at grouping random players together. Photo Courtesy Capcom

The implementation of multiplayer in the game isn’t great. Where in other games players might choose a hunt and then enter matchmaking, “Monster Hunter Rise” only offers lobbies, where players can group up and then select hunts. This works great for premade groups of friends. Unfortunately, without voice chat or even the ability to type messages, it is difficult to coordinate, or even to find lobbies with random players looking to clear specific hunts.

Without a story to carry the action, the world itself becomes a much larger part of the experience. The “Monster Hunter” world has a lot of personality. Palicos make up nearly half of the population of Kamura village, and their dialogue includes tons of silly meow puns. Every character is upbeat, and the themes of the game center on collaboration. Before each hunt, the player can order food, and skippable cutscenes play where a young girl and two palicoes sing and cook it up. “Monster Hunter Rise”always maintains a bright and silly tone, and focuses on hunters working together, it feels like a perfect foil to our world, caught still in the throes of the pandemic. If only COVID could be slain with a big hammer, as easily as the rathalos.

Beginning “Monster Hunter Rise” involves more reading than hunting, as the player is constantly faced with too many tutorials. The first few hours of the game are much harder to overcome than they should be. This game deserves a lot of criticism for its onboarding experience, but it’s worth fighting through it to get to the meat of the gameplay. This was my first “Monster Hunter” game, and though it took some work, I pretty quickly found myself constantly going on “just one more hunt.”