Games Media Doesn’t Understand Monster Hunter

Monster Hunter World hit shelves last 2 weeks ago and is breaking sales records for the franchise left and right. Naturally, media outlets are all talking about the game. People are already complaining about the customization options. Some people are just complaining.

All I’ve played of Monster Hunter World was the demo. I don’t own a PS4 and I’m praying I haven’t been playing Monster Hunter for very long, but I’ve downed my fair share of monsters on the 3DS with friends. I don’t feel that I’m more senior than most players, and I understand that MHX might be the first Monster Hunter game for a lot of players, but I do feel a shred of insult when outlets like WhatCulture Gaming call MHX “Jurassic Park meets Dark Souls” when Monster Hunter has been around for longer than Dark Souls. Something tells me that these outlets just don’t monitor Japanese games (or probably don’t own 3DSes).

Then there’s this article from Forbes, of all places, suggesting that Monster Hunter’s worst affront is its treatment of animals. Now, obviously, the title of the article alone will incite a lot of discussions, not to mention where the author is complaining about the poor, innocent monsters that wouldn’t think twice about pummeling you into the ground.

If the author had bothered to cross-check with different Monster Hunter games, it is extremely necessary to kill monsters like the Gore and Shagaru Magalas because they were causing the local fauna to go berserk. Monsters like the Dahren Mohran attack skiffs on the desert. A good half of most Monster Hunter gameplay – and the bit about attacking the less threatening creatures – is about learning the ropes and maturing as a hunter before throwing you against the REAL threats to humankind.

At least this article (published in 2010, but still plenty relevant) talks in depth about the game clashing with his vegetarian beliefs, as opposed to just being sad that the player has to take out a random monster. I’m a huge animal lover myself and have been waiting for a Monster Hunter game that’ll let me bring home some juvenile Zinogre and ride it into battle or something. Monster Hunter Stories kind of lets you do that, but let’s be honest, nobody is going to talk about any of the 3DS titles. (Never mind that MH was more or less stranded on the platform for the better part of a decade. It’s like waxing lyrical about Dark Souls 3 while pretending the other two titles didn’t exist.)

There’s something to be said about Monster Hunter that some of these outlets don’t get – Monster Hunter, while being a game wherein you hunt the monsters, isn’t fundamentally about hunting monsters. (Hear me out, promise!) Every Monster Hunter game has been about a young adventurer starting their way around the world, learning how to survive, and weathering intense challenges. The adventurer explores their nook of the monster-infested world, helping out the locals where needed, like driving away some nasty that’s been attacking the locals, or spooking the local wildlife. Eventually, the adventurer encounters some primal force of nature, and depending on how good you are as a player, is humbled by it – and with the help of their allies (or some over-leveled buddies over multiplayer) learns to conquer it.

(Maybe it IS more like Dark Souls than I thought. At least the monsters give you a fighting chance!)

The monsters are representative of forces of nature – something of a theme in contemporary Japanese or Japanese-inspired works. Pacific Rim features Kaiju decimating the countries around the Pacific Ring of Fire, and the film can be seen as a sort of allegory of mankind trying to work around uncontrollable forces of nature like global warming and calamities. This rings true for a lot of Asian countries on the rim, particularly Japan, Hong Kong, and my home country of the Philippines that probably sees a Hurricane Irma-level storm at least thrice a year.

Godzilla is another famous movie monster that represents forces of nature – both natural and manmade. Most Godzilla movies start off with boats and sailors disappearing at sea, echoing fears of losing family and loved ones to storms and tsunamis. The original Godzilla and some of his cohorts are the results of radioactive mutation, something that Japan has had to deal with time and again, with the WW2 bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

You can see this theme in more modern games too – Pokemon and Yokai Watch, rivaling franchises in Japan, both feature monsters that have to do with calamities and natural phenomenon. Calamitous Pokemon like Groudon and Kyogre are avatars of drought and storms. Yokai Watch’s cast is more mundane, but also tackle “forces” that afflict modern society – there’s a Yokai that makes people becomes recluses (hikkikomori). Monster Hunter may not have as many direct allusions, as their route of monster classification more closely aligns with biology and ecology, but the scale of the battles brings these representations to mind.

In a sense, monsters are a way to give physical form to a phenomenon that may not necessarily exist in a form that is tangible to most people, and in games like Monster Hunter, the player is given tools to defeat this phenomenon.

Or I could be wrong and the game is entirely about killing poor, innocent monsters that would eat you given the chance. I dunno.

Monster Hunter World is currently available for the PS4 and Xbox One, and will be out for PC sometime in August 2018.