Review: Monster Hunter Rise
I’ve been a fan of Monster Hunter since I was introduced to it with Monster Hunter 3 on Wii, in part because of its straightforward and satisfying premise: killing giant beasts, making weapons and armor from parts carved from their corpses, and using those weapons and armor to kill bigger and fiercer monsters. I also appreciated how that was how you progressed. You can’t grind XP or find another way around a monster that’s giving you trouble. You have to gird up, build the right gear, and show your skills on the hunting grounds. And aside from some spin-offs, the franchise has stayed true to that formula.
The franchise has innovated incrementally, coming up with new settings, mechanics and weapon types, but the spirit of the hunt is there in every iteration. Being a rather challenging series, it struggled to gain a foothold outside Japan until relatively recently. The previous entry, Monster Hunter World, aimed to change that, being the first in the series to more specifically target the Western audience. It had a more detailed and important story, a slew of quality-of-life changes to mechanics, open hunting areas with no loading zones between sections, a modern graphics engine, and, perhaps to the detriment of some hardcore fans, a generally lower difficulty (with some exceptions – I’m looking at you, Fatalis!).
And now the time has finally come for another entry: Monster Hunter Rise, now available on Nintendo Switch (A PC version is planned for early next year). Some may be concerned about the move to a platform seen as less powerful. But with the franchise being particularly popular on portable systems (especially in Japan), it could be a perfect fit, if it presses all the right buttons. Strap on your Hunting Horns, Gunlances, and Bowguns folks, and let’s get into the hunt to find out if it does.
Rise takes place in a small Far Eastern-style town known as Kamura Village. Somewhat of a departure from past entries more often featuring a more Western medieval style setting or mixture of both styles, Kamura Village is a 100% Japanese inspired village. Everything in it reflects that, from the buildings and attire of the characters, right down to this game’s Canteen being a tea shop serving dango instead of the usual haunches of monster meat, stew, and brew.
In a departure from Monster Hunter World and return to the rest of the franchise, Rise is relatively light on actual story. Most of it is lore and background, but what is there is still more detailed than many previous entries, with fully voiced cutscenes (in English, Japanese, and the Monster Hunter world’s own language).
It all starts with the player, just about to become an official hunter. The village elder explains some of the village’s history and how every 50 years (and 50 years ago) it was attacked by a horde of monsters in what came to be known as a “Rampage.” You learn that you are actually being trained and cultivated for said rampage, and your ultimate goal (at least for the Village Quests) is to eventually defend the village from said attack and defeat the monster believed to be the source of the attacks.
Because of how much more central the story was to the game in World, if that was your first Monster Hunter game, you could be a bit disappointed that there is less emphasis on story here. However, I personally feel it strikes an excellent balance. What is there is still well crafted, and for veterans of the series, Monster Hunter has always been about the battles, the depth of its combat, and the high skill ceiling it offers. Rise also offers one minor improvement from the previous title in that all the characters have names instead of being referred to by roles or titles (“The Admiral”, “The Handler”, “The Field Commander…”)
In short, I think the story in this game hits a sweet spot of giving you just the right amount of info and lore to put you in its world without distracting you much from what you’re really here for: killing (or capturing!) monsters.
The Hunt Begins
Now we’re into the meat and potatoes (Or was that dango and tea?). Let’s just cut to the chase to keep this from getting too long! Having covered the story, I can honestly declare that Rise is a nearly perfect marriage of the best elements of World and those of past entries in the series. That’s a pretty bold claim, but hear me out. Be prepared though, we’re going to be comparing to Monster Hunter World a lot here. There’s little avoiding it. Tons of game elements, including the user interface, fonts, and core art style all come almost directly from World, even though Rise is built on a different engine.
Since it’s freshest in people’s minds, let’s start with what World brought to the table. World added a considerable number of combat mechanics to the game, plus even more in the Iceborne expansion. The most notable elements would be the Slinger and the Clutch Claw.
The former was a sidearm used to launch projectiles, some of which previously existed as thrown items. Rise ditches this and brings us back our Tranq, Flash, and Dung Bombs. While the Slinger is debatably a more flexible way of delivering those items of old, for all the other ammo added for it there’s a problem of it being hard to know when to use what and just how much it actually matters. It’s more for the player to keep track of as well, since you mostly have to collect the ammo in the field.
The Clutch Claw is a device many World players had a love/hate relationship with. It enabled combat mechanics like softening a monster’s hide and point-blank slinger-blasting a monster in the head to make it slam into walls. The effects gained from it were powerful and fun, but also created an obligation to use it. It was also not very easy to use and at times just didn’t work right. Occasionally it would pass through the monster part you were aiming at to hit something behind it.
Rise‘s new Wirebugs offer a solution to much of the above. Wirebugs are so called because they effectively create these little wires you can utilize to leap and dash, grapple and mount monsters. The mounting system is also totally changed from the rest of the series, and it’s a ton more fun. When you mount a monster, rather than attacking it directly, you take direct control of it. You can force one monster to attack another, or you can “launch” the monster you’re riding to perform a wall-slam move. This takes what is probably the best element of the Clutch Claw system and makes it much more fun.
I can’t stress enough how cool the Wirebugs are. Rise offers much more open hunting grounds and this is supported by the bugs. Possibly inspired a bit by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the wirebugs give you great mobility. You can launch yourself at and then climb and run on walls, allowing you to go almost everywhere with ease. You can use it to dodge in combat. It grants incredible freedom not ever seen before in the series.
As a bonus, this means finding all kinds of hidden items, stat boosting “permabuffers,” places and resources, and scenic spots. Just be careful not to use up your quest time limit exploring! And for those who prefer to follow the path, our Felyne friends known as Palicoes bring new friends. Palamutes are new dog-like creatures that help you out like Palicoes, and can be ridden to get around faster.
There’s also a brand new type of battle content in Rise in the form of “Rampage Quests.” These Rampages are introduced in the story and are, essentially, Monster Hunter’s take on tower defense. You have to repel waves of multiple large monsters at once led by a stronger one. There are various installation sites around the area where you can place ballistae, cannons, and other types of siege weapons. Some of these are automatic and others are controlled by the player. The monsters have less HP than usual but you face several at once, making for a very intense and challenging experience. I didn’t know about theses quests prior to playing and I have to say, it is a really fun addition to the franchise.
Rise also takes aim at players overwhelmed by the sheer number of moves many of the weapons have with a new “Switch Skill” system. These skills swap out or alter certain attacks or abilities of each weapon to suit your preferences. It keeps your skill set leaner and allows you to focus on a particular play style. Alternatively, you can change your Switch Skill to better fit the monster your fighting or whether you’re solo or grouped.
Even the essential NPCs in the game have seen significant improvements and tweaks. For example, the rarely-used Armory vendors are gone. Instead, you go to the smithy and select “Forge with Money” for the gear the armory used to sell. The Canteen, where hunters go to eat, has been vastly simplified. Gone are complex menus and recipes, and now you simply pick three flavors of dango rice balls. Each one corresponds to specific Food Skills that have been a staple of the series. The great news here is all the randomness is gone, and you can straight up pick the skills you want. Fantastic! A Hunter’s life has never been more convenient.
Getting past the inevitable comparisons, the classic skill-based combat you know and love is all here. Every weapon has seen updating and balancing, and feels modestly improved in just about every aspect. If you’re a regular and avoided a particular weapon because you felt it was clunky or difficult, try it again. If you’re a fan of your helper buddies, the Palicoes and the new Palamutes, I have good news. For the first time, everyone gets to bring one with them, even in a full group. This is mainly so you can keep the mobility of the Palamute. However, they also fight, so it makes your monster battles a lot more fun with Hunter’s Best Friend.
Of course, hunting is more fun with friends and obviously, we have that here. At first I was a little bit irked by Rise’s return to the separate Village (solo) and Gathering Hub (Multiplayer) quests. However, there are reasons for this. The Switch, being portable, is less likely to be online all of the time, so unlike World, you have to choose to be online. Further, Switch also has local wireless, so you can strike up a hunt with that guy on the bus. My issue at first was that World didn’t have separate quest lines for solo/multiplayer. Instead it offers scaling based on player count. Capcom did address the main concern I had here.
As you progress through the Village quests solo, you can take on special challenges. If you do, it will increase your Hunter Rank, or HR, so you still make progress on both sides. This means you don’t end up having to re-do a lot of quests you’re probably over-geared for when you go online. This is a very welcome improvement to the classic system.
Hunting in Style
Now, it is true that the Switch is not as powerful as its peers. However, these limitations can be mitigated significantly by skilled developers. Many games today, on modern consoles and PCs, tend not to be as optimized as in the early days. The Switch’s possibly unexpected popularity, though, has led to some high profile developers saying “Challenge Accepted.” And Capcom clearly did. For the Switch, the visuals are impressive, and clearly better than most people expected. It’s a technical achievement; aside from less visual clutter like grass and rocks, It looks very solid.
This does mean a lower frame rate than many players may be used to. Some of the VFX and the texture resolution are not as high as what you get on World with a high end PC. That is not a fair comparison though, as the Switch was designed to be portable. Also, the characters and gear still look great. What’s important though is that the frame rate is consistent, never dipping below its target, and the rumored Switch Pro coming in the future may change the ball game.
The art style itself is essentially identical to World, which is a good thing. The gear from monsters that also exist there is all present as well and looks the same. Charge Blades, however, were actually upgraded from their introduction in World. Certain visual elements that were the same among most of the Charge Blades were made unique to each weapon in Rise.
As far as sound, Rise introduces a slightly controversial new feature: Non-silent protagonists. While hunters have always had a variety of voice selections, it was just yells and grunts previously. Now hunters have a full array of voiceovers in all supported languages (Plus the Monster Hunter language). Some people will really like this, and some may find it annoying. Fortunately, there is an option to change how often the hunters speak, or you can turn it off entirely. They really did think of everything!
Finally, we come to music. Well, it’s a great time to be a monster hunter, because the music is fantastic. For monsters that are returning, their themes are the same as World with improvements, and the new music is exceptional. Sign me up for a soundtrack CD please. The village and the canteen even have Japanese vocals, and really everything just sounds wonderful.
While professing myself a fan of the series, I didn’t have the highest expectations going in. Like many who saw Rise‘s announcement, I thought to myself “There’s no way this could be as good as World.” As you may know, we reviewed both Monster Hunter World and it’s expansion, Iceborne, both of which received our illustrious 10/10 score. But it’s really hard for me to find any significant flaws in this game at all.
Monster Hunter Rise thus exceeded every expectation I had. It’s just as, if not more fun than World, and that’s saying a lot. Whether you are a veteran hunter or you’ve never laid eyes on the series before, you owe it to yourself to at least try it. It is absolutely among the best games on the Switch. It’s also a technical achievement for the platform and a system seller. You could wait for the PC version, but why? Play Rise now, and play it again then if you’ve got a gaming PC. A game so nice I’d buy it twice!
Review copy provided by Capcom for Nintendo Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.