It's taken a good decade, but Monster Hunter has finally become sustainable in America.
Until fairly recently, Capcom has shown some business-savvy reluctance when it comes to bringing this RPG series westward. But, as the sequels stretch on, the time between Japanese and American releases has been steadily shrinking—for us, "less than a year" still feels relatively brief. Released in Japan on November 28 of last year as Monster Hunter X (pronounced "cross"), Generations will be hitting American 3DSes this summer as a sort of "greatest hits" collection of the series' best weapons, maps, and monsters.
Don't be mistaken, though: Generations isn't a compilation. Keeping with the series trend of constant, tiny improvements, Generations does its best to highlight Monster Hunter's greatest content—all the way back to its PlayStation 2 debut—while further refining and, at times, completely overhauling systems and features for the sake of a less cumbersome experience. Enough has changed to justify a sequel, but the core Monster Hunter experience certainly hasn't: Just as before, you'll be tasked with sorting through a nearly endless amount of customization options to figure out the best way to approach an army of huge monsters. If you're the kind of player who enjoys having full responsibility dropped into your lap, felling a massive beast after a grueling battle brings about a sense of accomplishment rarely found in video games.
Still, Capcom has gone to some lengths to make Monster Hunter's steep learning curve easier to climb. "Prowler Mode," which puts players in control of the series' adorable feline race, stands as one of the biggest additions to Monster Hunter, and provides a nice comfort zone to gently ease greenhorns into the harsh world of man vs. beast. While playing as a Palico, you're smaller, faster, have infinite stamina, and nine lives (get it?) instead of the standard three. While I assume most returning players will overlook Prowler mode entirely, it simplifies the experience enough to give newbies a taste of what the Monster Hunter experience is like, without forcing them to do pre-game homework in advance.
The other massive change to generations comes in the form of weapon styles, which remind me a bit of Capcom's own Devil May Cry. To start off, there's a basic style meant to evoke the combat of previous games, and one that essentially lets you trade technical proficiency for the use of Hunter Arts: Passive and active skills earned through quests that can be used after filling up a meter through combat. The "Aerial" style, though, definitely feels like the biggest game changer. With it equipped, your standard roll becomes a jump, which you can essentially turn into a double-jump by bouncing off players' and monsters' heads. While it takes a bit of getting used to, I can definitely sense how it's trying to encourage players to jump on and mount monsters more often—a new feature from 4 Ultimate you could only perform by leaping down down from a ledge.
And Generations' "Adept" style definitely feels intended for the hardest of the hardcore—the players who memorize hitboxes, AI routines, and animation frames. This counter-attack-based style of play, which revolves entirely around striking back within a very specific windows of time, should definitely appeal to hunters who've already invested hundreds of hours in the series.
To be honest, most of the changes in Monster Hunter Generations amount to small tweaks, which won't mean much if you've never played the series—but if you have, they're absolutely welcome additions. In general, the most basic of actions have been streamlined to eliminate the unnecessary steps of past games: pre-battle meals, for example, no longer require memorizing three different variables, and you can now hold in the A button to carve multiple resources from a downed monster rather than tapping it over and over again. And while Monster Hunter still keeps its focus on loot, it's not nearly as picky about monster parts when it comes to building weapons and armor. While you'll still need specific rare parts, in many cases, recipes call for any parts of a certain monster, meaning you'll be less likely to find yourself fighting the same one over and over again for the sake of a single drop.
As always, I'm impressed with the mix of both small and big changes Capcom adds to the Monster Hunter experience, since they're not afraid to completely scrap an idea if it doesn't go over well—like the dreadful underwater battles from 3 Ultimate. Monster Hunter could go the same route as its many imitators by cutting down on the complexity, but the fact that Capcom has stuck with such an intricate and often intimidating design is definitely what makes this series feel so unique. With the fate of portable gaming systems still up in the air, hopefully Monster Hunter can maintain its momentum after the 3DS' demise.