The Pink Rathian doesn't waste any time getting in your face. Only a few moments after I loaded into the hunt for the first time, it was snapping, attacking, and shooting fireballs. I didn't even get a chance to find my bearings.
The battle with Monster Hunter: World's massive pink dragon is what you might call the final test for fledgling hunters. Like the Anjanath, it's a level above everything you've fought to that point, even the snarling Odogaron and the icy Legiana. Even if you've got a party at your back, the battle with the Pink Rathian is a knock-down drag-out fight to the finish.
If you're relatively new to Monster Hunter, as I am, the Pink Rathian will almost certainly kill you multiple times. Indeed, even with the help of various friends and random hunters, I still had a hard time getting over the hump.
My initial encounters were mostly defined by my getting completely rolled. Wearing a low-ranking Ingot Armor set and wielding a Flickering Glow 2 Longsword, I found myself taking massive damage from even basic chomps and tail swipes. I would hold my own for a while; but once the battle got more serious and the Pink Rathian started hitting harder, I would invariably go down.
Sometimes it would charge back and forth, knocking me down as it went. If it managed to get me, it would often get in two to three hits before I could recover, severely draining my lifebar and often killing me. This happened most in the narrow pit where the Pink Rathian would go to recover health, as I wouldn't have enough time to roll out of the way before it managed to get me.
This happened to me again and again, even with friends at my back. It would catch me with its charging attack; or it would get me with its poisonous tail attack, or it would simply crush me with a fireball. In the summary screens, which always shows a still shot from the previous battle, I could see the Pink Rathian framed by a massive explosion where my incinerated corpse used to be. I felt like that about summed up my experience with the beast.
After a while it became clear that I simply wasn't strong enough. I had to take a level in Rocky. I needed a training montage.
Unfortunately, I found the Pink Rathian to be a bit of a bottleneck. After checking on guides, I determined that focusing on high ranking Odogaron armor was my best bet as a Longsword user, but I wasn't at a high enough level where I could take on a high rank Odogaron in an optional quest or an investigation. So I had to go on random expeditions in the Rotten Vale and hunt it there.
It wasn't the most efficient method. While expeditions effectively afford you unlimited lives, the trade-off is that monsters will eventually leave the area. That's exactly what happened to me on my second Odogaron run: I had managed to sheer off its tail and was ready to go for the kill, but it disappeared on me. All my hard work for naught.
I was ultimately able to get half off a high rank Odogaron set, a pair of high rank Pukei-Pukei gauntlets, and an upgraded Dragonbone Stabber Longsword. In my inventory, I carried with me a Shock Trap, a Vitality Mantle, Mega Nutrients, and an array of potions. I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
The Final Showdown
If you were following me on social media the night of the big fight, you could tell that I was really wound up because I was busy posting animated gifs after each run. After the first two ended in failure—the second because an SOS respondent came in and immediately died three times—I couldn't help posting this:
So damn close to finally getting that stupid Pink Rathian. pic.twitter.com/rSUUcrB6rJ— Kat Bailey (@The_Katbot) February 15, 2018
Frustrated by the lack of support from my helpers, I decided to go it alone. The battle that ensued felt like something out of a show like Dragon Ball Z—the kind of fight that ends a massive multi-episode arc. It was the kind of battle where neither side holds anything back.
As I've said before, the really cool thing about Monster Hunter: World is the way that it makes you feel like you're in a desperate fight to the finish. It uses a handful of tricks to great effect: having your avatar be frozen by the monster's roar, making some elements of the environment destructible, having many of the monster's attacks hit like a truck. Battles take place throughout a massive multi-level arena, giving them an epic scope rarely replicated by other games.
What's more, Monster Hunter: World doesn't rely on traditional "video game" cues like health bars to give you an indicator of how you're doing. Your only indication of how you're doing is how the monsters react to your hits, whether they're shedding parts, and whether they're limping. With that, Monster Hunter: World's battles naturally feel more organic.
Right away I knew that I was getting the better of the Pink Rathian. After much trial and error, I had determined that it was best to run parallel with the Rathian and slash at its wings. Doing so meant that it would often charge past me when trying to counter, and it wouldn't be able to catch me offguard with its poisonous tail attack. More importantly, it made much easier to do the maximum amount of damage without clanging off its armor while also allowing me to take shots at its head.
Landing a heavy blow has a wonderful meaty feeling to it in Monster Hunter: World. Monsters will jerk back in agony if you land a strong hit, conveying the sense that you're making headway even without the aid of a health bar. The end of a Longsword combo is especially satisfying, as you will get that long slash followed by a dramatic sword sheath as your opponent reels back.
As I steadily chased the Pink Rathian around the map, I started to get confident.
It's not going to touch me. I'm going to solo it without fainting even once.
Naturally, that was around the time that I died.
That's the fun of Monster Hunter: You never know when a monster is suddenly going to be able to turn the tables and take you out. I don't remember what happened exactly, but I'm pretty sure the Rathian was able to poison me and get in a follow-up attack before I could retreat and heal. The next thing I knew I was in a cart headed back for case.
Of course, I couldn't just head right back into the fray. Monster Hunter is all about preparation, so I had to eat a quick meal for some stat buffs, then use Mega Nutrients and Well Done Steak to lengthen my health and stamina bars. It's enough of a break that you can reset, catch your breath, and get your bearings, the downside, of course, being that the monster also gets a chance to heal. Sometimes you will come across it sleeping as it gamely tries to recover its health. Often, though, it will roar in recognition, and the battle will be back on.
In previous battles this was roughly where I fell apart. I would run in, get careless, and suddenly have two deaths under my belt. Three deaths are game over. This time around, I was determined not to let that happen.
The Pink Rathian was visibily tired. It was huffing and limping, its wings shredded. Its attempts to breathe fire were ending in sad wheezes. But it was still dangerous. There were a couple occasions where I was nearly killed as it got a few heavy shots in, only narrowly avoiding death thanks to a timely Vigor Wasp or my Vitality Mantle—a cloak that could absord damage for a brief time. I was starting to run low on motions, and I had already expended my Shock Trap. I knew that if I fainted a second time I would be in trouble.
We were battling high above the ground on what looked like giant flowers when I was knocked off the ledge and flew multiple levels to the ground. The Pink Rathian crashed down next to me, and I was once again overwhelmed with the sense of being locked in a climactic battle. Finally, I slashed and the triumphant musical sting blared as it went down. The camera circled around my prize slowly as I just sat there, breathing heavily.
Experienced Monster Hunter players will of course say, "Congratulations. Welcome to the real game." But I don't think my victory should be minimized. The Pink Rathian is the gatekeeper, and it doesn't hold back.
I said earlier this week that my favorite games are the ones that effortlessly put me in the moment. A commenter took that to mean that I like "games that play themselves" or lack in-depth systems; but no, Monster Hunter: World has tons of interesting mechanics. I crave them. And yet, they all seamlessly come together in these battles that just look and feel awesome when they really get going. They really make the grind it takes to get to them worthwhile.
For now, other responsibilities are calling to me, and I will likely have to put down Monster Hunter: World for a bit to focus on other games. But even if I don't make it to the endgame content, I won't soon forget my climactic battle with my white whale. It will certainly go down as one of my favorite gaming memories of 2018.