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  • Writer's pictureAdam

Monster Hunter Rise Strikes The Perfect Balance between Downtime, Destruction & Detail

Monster Hunter Rise has a comfy vibe. It’s coherently comfy in this instalment, which ditches the slightly more grounded edge of 2018’s Monster Hunter World in favour of a more relaxed and generally smaller scale experience, which also manages to dodge any significant compromises to the series’ well established gameplay loop. It’s a game that elegantly weaves together technically sublime encounters, pleasant preparation phases and a well-structured reward system. Rise fuses together these elements and adds a large drop of charm into the mixture, delivering a game that is not only one of the best titles on Nintendo Switch, but an important case study in how action focused games can enhance their experience by paying attention to the granular details of what comes between the fights.

The context of Rise is a lot more thoughtful than I would have expected. Rise has you defending the local ecology and your hometown from a lineup of highly designed creatures, who are each given even more context and personality than previous instalments, through cute little poem cutscenes that play out before your first encounter with each creature. Although this is a relatively minor detail when compared to other changes that Rise makes to the MonHun formula, this new way of the monsters being presented feels indicative of Monster Hunter Rises’s overall commitment to creating a more complete, detail-focused and perhaps even newcomer-friendly version of the game. Past games wouldn’t necessarily directly show you what to expect from the creatures you were facing up before engaging with them, but these neat little video packages highlight a monster’s entire gimmick before you even get within cutting distance.

These introductions help to contextualise and string together the sequences of combat and non-combat, making you feel like you’re truly heading out to dispatch a real menace each time that you do. It’s a nice touch, for as much as I enjoyed World and previous titles in the series like Generations and 4U, the narrative context and impetus to actually kill the monsters and tear up their surrounding habitat has always seemed to elude the series outside of some really nebulous justifications. Monster Hunter doesn’t exactly need to provide a reason, but I’ve always wanted just a bit more than what the series has provided in this area. Rise at least has the decency to say, ‘hey, this monster has this toxic trait’ before you go on your merry way to throw hands with them. It doesn’t completely eliminate the guilt and it could be a lot better, but it’s certainly affirming in some sort of way. It’s the sort of thing that most fans of the series would consider a ‘nice touch’.

There are many ‘nice touches’ like this that appear in Rise, and they do an excellent job of linking the two broad modes of play — action and downtime — in a strong texture that can be felt throughout the entire game. The addictive essence of Monster Hunter’s action is drip fed to you in frenetic bursts and juxtaposed with a strong commitment to downtime and everything that encompasses: flavour text, gathering, organising, planning, cooking, customising, and all of the other ephemera that goes into making it Monster Hunter. Carve up a monster and then carve away some time as you prepare for the next title fight. This is always how Monster Hunter has worked in some regard, but never has it felt quite so explicit than in Rise, where the unity between these two components is emboldened by the title’s unique identity. It’s not necessarily the Monster Hunter title with the most downtime, but it’s certainly a title where moments between hunts are highly valued and highly stylised.

Before and after hunts, during your primary downtime moments, you’ll be in Kamura Village, and this is where the game will dispense a lot of its charm. It’s a neat little microcosm of a fantasy Japan, with dozens of charming characters packed together in a small space, each serving an essential gameplay function. There’s the blacksmith Hamon, who beyond being a bit stern and silent, clearly has a deep passion for what he does in the craft of weapons and armour. His dialogue indicates someone who has been doing this for a long time, and he clearly has a complicated relationship with his son, who he stubbornly assumed would wish to learn his father’s trade. It’s not so much of a story as it is a fraction of a story, and not one that we necessarily see resolved, but it’s another one of those cute details that helps develop Rise’s sense of place. But it’s not just the blacksmith. Every villager has a ‘fraction of a story’ like this. From Kagero the enigmatic masked merchant to the adorably energetic post Palico Senri, none of the NPCs are merely perfunctory in nature; they all have a clear place in the village. They’re not the most detailed or inspired characters, and they’re mostly paper-thin in terms of depth, but sometimes paper is exactly what you need to draw upon. In most cases, the NPCs are more effectively designed than they are written, but there’s enough charming quirks in the writing of this title that gave me hope that future instalments might be able to drive it home even further when it comes to narrative detail.

The aesthetics of Rise go the furthest in communicating this aforementioned ‘texture’ that lifts the whole game up. Everything from the creature and weapon designs, to smaller elements such as the new painted artwork for each creature, does a remarkable job of making everything feel fresh, even in a series that has shown only incremental changes to its overall structure in its 20 year history. It’s probably well known at this point that the new monsters take a lot of inspiration from classic Yokai mythology, transforming the ethereal powers into the evolutionary characteristics of organic creatures. These new creatures such as Aknosnom and Goss Harag are fantastic new additions with some of the most inventive designs the series has ever seen, and all of the veteran monsters look just as fantastic as ever.

The food that you can eat to get some buffs before going out on the hunt is now headlined by ‘Bunny Dango’, Monster Hunter’s take on the traditional Japanese sweet mochi dessert. The last few titles in the series have had elaborate chef platters of meats and vegetables prepared by the felynes, but it feels fitting that Rise’s primary buff system is this local delicacy, given the game’s very specific locality elsewhere. The idea of mixing and matching different flavours and colours of dango to form one delightful, power-enhancing skewer isn’t in any way a new concept, but it suits this entry in its iconographic simplicity. Flavours and colours of dango correspond to highly specific buffs and without even thinking about it, you’ll quickly gain a feel for which colour and flavour profile is going to get you what you need. It’s a cute way of displaying what would otherwise exist as a boring menu, and it’s the kind of thing Monster Hunter Rise excels at.

Then of course, there’s the Palamutes and Palicoes. Back when Palamutes were first announced when the game was revealed, I was already formulating ‘Palamutes are the new best thing about Monster Hunter’ think-pieces in my head, and I’m glad to say such speculation feels justified. I spent far too much time on that initial customisation menu creating the perfect look for my Palamute, Vincent. I settled on making them look quite edgy, because nothing says edgy like a dog that holds a weapon in their mouth.

Riding my Palamute elegantly into battle is an experience that matches the quickened pace that Rise is already encouraging with the new wirebug mobility options and streamlining of certain items and animations. If you’re looking for a more traditional Monster Hunter experience, I would recommend ditching the Palamutes for a more tense build-up to encounter. But if you enjoy fun, then like me you might not be able to imagine future Monster Hunter games without the Palamute, or at least a similar steed. The ability to drift with the dog transforms chasing after monsters into a pretty hilarious game of Mario Kart and honestly — who doesn’t want more Mario Kart in other games? Outside of their vehicular utility, Palamutes, much like bunny dango, lie at the heart of the idiosyncratic charm of Monster Hunter Rise. Much like the Palicoes of yore, they’ll follow you everywhere, receive pats on the head, and even wait patiently in one spot for you if you ask nicely. There’s enough customisation options to make everyone’s Palamute look fairly unique in appearance, and the fact they’ll be with you in a good amount of your hunts will cause you to grow a bond with them fairly quickly, and not even in a rudimentary mechanical sense: I’m talking about a real bond.

All of these small details funnel well into the aforementioned structure of Rise, which will see you going back and forth between hunts in a variety of exciting locations and Kamura Village over many hours of gameplay. Although this title is certainly a lot shorter than others in the series (but with a roadmap for further content updates), it’s still a testament to the quality of Monster Hunter Rise’s downtime zone that I didn’t get bored of it, even after clearing most of the game’s content. I was excited to return to Kamura Village just to hang out.

There’s a lot more to say about where Monster Hunter Rise excels — including the monster hunting of it all — but in the fast moving world of video game discussion, this is already well-trodden ground. Rise evidently lands a perfect soaring kick when it comes to developing its hunting gameplay. But when I take even a cursory glance at the parts of Monster Hunter that aren’t about hunting, it becomes clear to me that Monster Hunter’s layer of charm is growing as well. I would like to see later games in the Monster Hunter series continue to lovingly spread this personality, and perhaps even sprinkle some more narrative detail in amongst the chaos. There are so many glimpses of brilliance in Rise’s downtime that I just want more of it for the next one.

I understand that these small requests are not necessarily what a lot of fans of the series are looking for as a priority. Monster Hunter Rise is still an immaculate action game first and foremost, and in spite of everything that shines about the ‘non-action’ parts of this instalment, the hunts are ultimately what continue to draw me into it. Despite this, the details that surround the hunt are important too, and they certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.


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