The Monster Hunter series has gradually earned its way from being a very niche game with a cult following, to becoming one of Capcom’s most important releases. Monster Hunter: World was where it became a mainstream success, in part due to some thoughtful streamlining to the increasingly complex gameplay.
It is easy to point at the aspects of Monster Hunter: World that got simplified for newcomers, but it would be a mistake to ignore the legitimate improvements it made. Level design finally broke away from having each area being separated by a loading screen, and exploring became much more fluid when switching to a seamless mini open-world.
The combat mechanics may have become simplified, but there was no denying that World was a much smoother experience than Generations Ultimate 4. Now Monster Hunter Rise promises to find a balance between the best aspects of both experiences; the fluidity and ease of play of World, and the high skill ceiling technical action of Generations Ultimate 4. Does Rise succeed, or does it fall?
Monster Hunter Rise
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows PC
Release Date: March 26, 2021 (NIntendo Switch), 2022 (Windows PC)
Price: $59.99 USD
Monster Hunter Rise makes a very powerful first impression. The sweeping medieval Japanese setting accompanied with a rousing score is easy to get absorbed in. Kamura village is teeming with more NPCs than any previous entry before; all of them going about their day and having something to say.
The epic mountain ranges that rise up high above the shores and foreign traders are minor details that make the setting feel real. Wafting cherry blossom petals in Kamura village makes the place feel welcoming and whimsical, while the heavy and sticky air of the Flooded Forest creates a palpable atmosphere where you can feel the sweat of the characters.
The art direction proves that, in spite of the Switch’s meager specs, it is capable of arresting visuals and can pull off impressive graphics. This is made with a new iteration of the RE Engine, and the boys at Capcom have gotten very proficient with it- having made several games with it by this point. Their confidence is on full display, with over 30 distinct large monsters to hunt, across five biomes.
The level design has take a huge leap forward and upward; emphasizing on verticality and layered environments. Each of the settings is dense with flora, fauna, and hints of civilizations past. Thanks to the wirebug, hunters will be able to explore the land in ways the series has never seen before.
The draw distance is shockingly far for a Switch game, and the frame rate manages to stay steady for anything within a certain range. Rise employs a memory saving technique that reduces the frame rate to distant creatures. It is a minor distraction when playing portable, but looks terrible on a big screen.
Anything within the borders of the map is free to scale or explore, regardless how high the peak is. It is worth the trip since these maps are festooned with worthwhile resources, fishing spots, and even a few secrets. The day and night cycle and weather makes the hunts immersive, and adds a layer of authenticity to the world.
Monster Hunter games typically follow a basic formula; preparation in a town, setting out to the main hunting grounds where hunters have to survive with limited resources, and almost an hour to slay a beast. This usually involves having to scrounge the land for all kinds of components, and skinning the carcasses of the quarry.
It is an effective cycle that stays interesting thanks to the constant escalation with increasingly dangerous predators. These creatures become more complicated to fight, and become very involving. This is further compounded with multiple players working together to catch one alive.
The monsters are truly the stars of Rise. Each one is very different from the last, and comes with its own behavioral patterns. Watching their movements is crucial to any hunt, since animations in this game are deliberately drawn out and are extra weighty. When an avatar gets hit, it is felt thanks to the attention given to the animation and sound design.
The ways the monsters act is a stroke of creative genius. The far East motif is tied strongly to each of their designs and how they attack. A Tetranadon is not just a tremendous amphibian; it has characteristics inspired by Kappas and sumo wrestlers.
There are many of these creatures that are seemingly inspired by Japanese mythological creatures, or Yokai. The fearsome Magnamalo couldn’t simply be based off of samurai armor designs, its fiery breath is also evocative of the spiritual wisps that represent the souls of samurai warriors.
Rise‘s new monsters are full of little details like this. Combined with many of the classics, with some new tricks, this stands as the greatest line up of hunts the franchise has ever had. Just when you think you know an old strategy is about to work, expect to be surprised when there is a cheeky twist to force veterans to improvise.
To contend with this extensive gallery of monsters, a hunter is going to need the right weapon for the job. There are many different weapon types to choose from, and figuring our which is the right one for you can be overwhelming. Thankfully, we have made thorough explanations for beginner friendly and high level play weapons, which can help narrow the choice down.
Whether it’s a Great Sword or Switch Axe, every weapon brings something interesting to offer. Each one comes with its own gameplay quirks and gimmicks, making every option memorable and requiring different skill levels. No matter what, it is always worth exploring outside the comfort zone and to try new weapons.
Some of the hunts can become very tricky later into the game. This is true for solo play or in co-op, because some weapons are more effective than others. Going alone means having to bring the right weapon and items along. In a party, everyone will have to serve a role in order to effectively bring down an apex monster.
Some party members might have to tank a lot of hits and to maintain aggro, so that long ranged fighters can land their heavy duty but tricky to execute attack upon the back of a raging Zingore. Maybe luring the monster into a trap is the plan, or tricking the beast into a territorial dispute with other local beasts becomes serendipitous; improvisation is always an option.
One of the new features added in Rise is the ability to mount monsters and to briefly control their attacks. As amusing as it is to make these animals smash their heads into walls or each other, it isn’t something that can always be relied upon. Controlling these things during this state is understandingly difficult and chaotic. Don’t expect to win a battle with this, it is mostly for laughs.
The other new mechanic in Rise that is a game changer is the wirebug. This is functionally like a hook shot, but has lots of combat utility since it opens up more attack options. It connects to surfaces for wall-running, and greatly expands mobility in a way never seen before in Monster Hunter. Mastering the wirebug can lead to a crafty hunter to scale almost any peak within the area of play.
A quality that has been a pillar to the Monster Hunter experience has always been the combat and how methodical it plays out. Rise carries this tradition, but also builds upon old tricks by having alternative skills that can be equipped. These abilities usually come at the cost of a wirebug charge, and each has their own stats.
Going toe-to-toe with these behemoths can be intensely clenching. This is not a Devil May Cry game despite the combat depth. Movement in Rise is designed to be much slower than other Capcom action games. This is to make every action taken matter, and to make players consider every motion they consider with some thought.
Carefully managing stamina is important to be able to quickly gain some space from large sweeping attacks. Like always there is no lock on mechanic, and the onus on keeping eyes on the threat and having to avoid or guard against danger is on the hunter. It becomes second nature due to the weighty and slow combat.
The appeal of Monster Hunter‘s gameplay is how much responsibility it puts on the player, and Rise maintains this flavor. If there is any useful information, it will always be tucked away inside the game itself. Rise becomes a deep hole to get lost in, as its systems are intricate and numerous.
Monster Hunter Rise in general is a game rife with tons of stat screens and menus. It can be overwhelming at first, but after a while it would be hard to imagine Rise without them. The interface has been refined and carefully organize in a way that there is no confusion over anything.
All armor pieces are organized into their sets, and weapon crafting trees highlight available options. The designers took this a step above, and implemented a notification feature where anyone can be notified when a marked weapon or armor can be made when they have the necessary items.
Everything is clean and free of clutter, since many collected items are automatically sent to the item box. There are many settings that allow auto-crafting to reduce the amount of downtime while exploring. Even fishing and mining no longer require a rod or pick-axe, which clears up inventory space for more useful items.
There is a greater respect for the time of the player in Rise, and yet it still manages to be a profoundly deep action game with endless ways to approach any given situation. Catching monsters alive is more intuitive now thanks to more obvious visual cues that suggest a weakened monster, and the handy notebook keeps track of their weaknesses.
Like in World, Palicoes are friendly cat like beings that can help out in a hunt. Rise expands this by establishing different classes that can lead to these felines being healers, scroungers, or fighters. If one isn’t enough, hiring an entire gang of these kitties is an option. This is especially helpful when playing solo or offline.
Palamutes are every hunter’s best friend. These dog-like animals are more than just a loyal companion; they are a very efficient means to get around large areas. When given the option of which animal buddy to take with into online hunts; palamutes beat out the palico every time. They offer so much helpful utility and mobility, that everything else deserves to be in the litter box.
Playing Monster Hunter is always most enjoyable with others. Using teamwork to slays these creatures is very satisfying, and thankfully the online mode is very stable and easy to use. Unfortunately, there is no voice chat options of any kind. Even the repugnant Nintendo app does not offer any voice chat functions at all. Expect to use something like Discord to get around this.
The only other feature that is lacking is what Rise laughingly considers a “story.” Kamura village is attacked regularly, and the player-character is a hunter who helps the defenses of the village gates once in a while during “Rampage” sequences. These set-pieces are tower defense style, requiring different turrets or traps set-ups before an oncoming siege.
If that sounds less than basic, that’s because it is. There is some dialogue with some characters in some instances, but it is nothing substantial in terms of character development or a driving narrative.
Rampages will have hunters contend with many of the biggest threats at the same time in an enclosed area, where these panicked and desperate monsters charge toward the village gates. A lot of the experience will involve slinging from mounted turrets like Spider-Man, and setting up explosive traps in an attempt to gun these monsters down.
The rampages do offer a breath of fresh air from the standard Monster Hunter cycle. It proves how flexible the core games’ mechanics are, can be applied to alternate modes to add a bit more value to the overall product, and are a blast with other players joining in on the brawl.
For a Switch game, Monster Hunter Rise looks a cut above most, but it also sounds incredible. Capcom has a very good track record when it comes to their sound design and music. Through out their history, they have produced some incredible sounding games, and Rise continues the tradition.
The rousing battle themes sound romantic in the classical, “adventurous” sense of the word. Grand strings that crawl and rise with multiple crescendos, and operatic vocals boom with grandiose majesty. Even Kamura Village has a very epic ambient music track that manages to feel relaxing, like a calm before an awesome storm.
Whooshing tail whips from a Great Izuchi, to the crumbling of stone from a Barroth crashing into a mountain; the weight of these monsters are felt from the sound. Even the player avatar has a hilariously over the top voice, spouting the most adorable lines since voice acting became mainstream on the PlayStation 2.
Monster Hunter: World represented a paradigm shift for the franchise, and Rise has expanded upon it by bringing back some of the complexity and outrageous aspects that got lost in the transition. The flashy and intricate costumes and insane weapon designs are back, but now you can ride a dog into battle.
Being able to wall-run and leap into an aerial attack like a ninja speaks to the inner child of us all. This is that long lost childhood dream when kids used to fantasize about being ninjas and fighting dinosaurs. Monster Hunter Rise nurtures this half forgotten dream some gamers had growing up.
The dream is realized, and is unbelievably polished and tight. Capcom made not only an incredible entry with Monster Hunter Rise, they made one of the most must-own Nintendo Switch games ever produced. This is not the kind of game played for the story, it is played for the experience and immersion of the world.
Monster Hunter Rise was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review code provided by Capcom. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.