Review: Monster Hunter Rise

Monster Hunter World surprised new and long-time fans alike by being the first mainline title to launch on a console first since the Wii title way back in 2009. It managed to streamline a lot of the series mechanics that became welcoming for newcomers and quickly rose to not only the best selling in the franchise, but Capcom’s best selling title overall. Many fans, however, still longed for a handheld experience and were hopeful that an entry would eventually make its way to Switch. Those hopes were finally unveiled last September when Capcom announced Monster Hunter Rise for the Nintendo Switch. It became the ideal scenario for those who wanted to play on the go and those who wanted to relax at home, with Rise seemingly bringing a ton of old and new reworks to the latest entry. Now that it’s finally available, it feels like Rise is the definitive collaboration of both new and old mechanics that Capcom was aiming for.

The story of most Monster Hunter titles is about as simple as one would think. There are monsters on the rise and it’s up to a hunter to stop them. This time around the main hunter is a member of Kamura village which suffered a great calamity fifty years ago to an event known as the rampage. Signs that another is about to begin have settled upon the village and they’re looking to their sole hunter to help be the strength to fend off the onslaught of enemies coming their way. While still a new hunter, they decide to take up the role and gain full support with all the villagers who are ready to help as best they can to become a fire up machine that won’t let any rampage destroy their village.

At its core the hunting loop of Monster Hunter Rise is most similar to titles that came before World. There’s the village area where players take on single player quests, and the online hub where friends can team up and hunt together. All fourteen weapons return and allow players to pick their favorite, select a quest and head out to hunt the latest big monster. Once in a quest players usually have around fifty minutes to complete the challenge set before them which is almost always more than enough time. After being defeated a hunter will carve the monster for parts, earning more for completion, and can go see if they can craft new gear to help them get stronger. Since there’s no levels of any kind in Monster Hunter, the only way to get stronger is through better equipment and simple skill fighting each individual monster. Outside of regular hunts, arena and challenge quests also return, which challenge players to use pre-set gear in order to take down monsters quickly in order to earn unique rewards for special gear. While arena and challenge quests are entirely optional, they do offer a unique way to take on fights alone or with allies.

The Palico in many titles has been a hunter’s trusty ally in combat by supplying support and their own slew of attacks to oncoming monsters and just being utterly adorable little cats. Now there’s not just Palicos, but also the trusty Palamute that players can take with them into a fight with their own brand new unique advantages. These helpful Palamutes are adorable canynes which not only attack the monster alongside the hunter, but act as a mount that can be ridden through maps at a quick speed in order to get to locations quickly. Palamutes can even drift for higher speed boosts and sharp turns, in addition to being their own weapon while the monster is on top of them for a small attack combo. Hunters playing along can take two companions with them, but while online every single hunter for the first time ever can also take either a palico or palamute with them to hunt with friends for a total of eight characters on the hunt. This can often make for rather chaotic visual effects while beating on a big beast, but creates a much welcome mix up to strategy. Most of the time the Palamute is the better choice given its speed, but the Palico offers plenty of advantages with its many skills.

In addition to every fan’s favorite returning weapons and skills, there are also a slew of new abilities players have at their disposal with the help of the wirebug. This is a handy creature every hunter carries with them, allowing them to throw out the little insect using a powerful silk and send them flying in different directions. If used against a wall, the hunter can scale it for as long as their stamina lasts to reach higher areas to explore. After being used the bugs must restore themselves which takes time depending on how they were used. Its biggest advantage for weapons is in combat, where each weapon has two silkbind attacks at any point. These powerful attacks allow weapons to do big damage numbers, dodge, increase their attack power and much more depending on the type making for a fantastic new combat approach for every single weapon. The attack-based skills are also important for another brand new way to mount monsters unlike any in the previous titles: Wyvern Riding. After a monster has taken enough damage from either silkbind attacks or aerial hits, they will become rideable creatures. Once riding them using the powerful silk, the monsters are completely under control and are able to attack and lunge based on the hunter’s commands. Time riding the monsters is limited, but they can be used to fight one another to dish out big damage or slammed into nearby structures in order to be knocked down and made vulnerable. This is the most creative the mounting mechanic has been since its introduction in Monster Hunter 4, making for fun and creative scenarios such as monster jousting with two hunters or picking up a monster on the way in order to fight the real target of the hunt.

Every Monster Hunter title previous to World split up maps into sections which required short loading screens to go through. World ditched this in favor of a seamless world that could be freely explored all together. Its one flaw was that the maps were rather incoherent at times and not fun to navigate. Monster Hunter Rise most fortunately does not have that problem. The entire map is displayed in the bottom corner at all times, with no need to open up a full map unless wanting to search for something in particular. Monsters are also always displayed on the map so they’re always quick and easy to get to. The maps also have actual worthwhile exploration, with the ability to climb up mountains and other sturdy structures making for ways to easily get around quickly in any direction. Tie this in to the Palamute for transportation and getting across a map is quick and painless. Each area feels more distinct and enjoyable to explore without the need for any sort of guidance to monsters at all.

Exploration in maps isn’t just for show in Rise either, as it offers significant benefits to hunters willing to go a little out of their way before or during a hunt. Endemic life as it is now first appeared in Monster Hunter World where it could mainly be collected and added to the player’s house as decoration to be enjoyed. Now endemic life plays a much larger role as almost every single one offers some sort of beneficial help in combat. The main life known as spiribirds is the most notable, being small glowing creatures that offer permanent buffs for the fight that increase health, stamina, attack or defense depending on their color making them worthwhile to collect before heading right into the monster’s den. Other endemic life offers a slew of abilities such as temporary stats, the ability to give the monster a status effect, make them chase the hunter down to a different area or even just outright attack a monster if placed correctly. Endemic life is a brilliantly-executed optional mechanic that exists throughout a map, making it feel like an easy way to grab some help on the way to a monster and gain the advantage in any situation.

Kamura village itself is home to everything a hunter could need before setting out for a hunter with many familiar but new changes to returning mechanics. Hinoa is one of two wyverian twins who offers quests for single players to take on, while her sister Minoto handles hub quests. At the canteen hunters can eat Dango to give them boosts to health and stamina while also gaining bonus effects in combat. Eating before a hunt has been streamlined in a way that makes it easy to eat, in addition to save favorite meals for easy repeat eating sessions. The smithy and buddy smithy offers equipment for hunter and companion alike in order to gear up before heading out. The merchant offers a variety of items for sale which increase as players progress through their quests with such items as ammo for ranged weapons and potions. The hunter’s house is also in the main village area and can be decorated with various items earned throughout play time. The buddy plaza is where the furred friends stay when they’re not helping on hunts with places here to hire additional companions, train them up stronger, send them on their own meowcenary quests or get them geared up. The argosy also stops here and players can speak with Rondine in order to send their buddies out to get items or make trades for rare goods she finds on her journey. Just a boat ride away from the buddy plaza is the training area, and the only zone that requires a brief loading time to enter. Here players can try out their weapons in actual combat before heading to a fight, including wirebug skills and climbing in a safe environment. Those online can even train here together, in order to practice beating on a monster as a team.

The largest new combat mode in Monster Hunter Rise is the Rampage, which acts as a unique tower defense styled mode that puts hunter management skills to the test against wave after wave of enemies. The rampage begins with hunters, solo or online, setting up different kinds of guns or traps for the monsters that will soon be upon them. This includes manual ballista guns, automatic NPC hunters on guns and special characters that can be summoned periodically throughout a fight. Deciding where to place these as vital, as hunters will be running back and fourth throughout the map when the rampage begins in order to best find a way to put a stop to the monsters coming. There are three main types of monsters that will be encountered; stalkers that focus on hunters, targeters which use ranged attacks, and gate crashes that exclusively try to tear down walls and destroy everything in their path. There are also special enemy types such as the major threats or apex monsters that act as the final boss of the last wave and must be taken down or repelled in order to complete the rampage. This mode is an enjoyable mix up in gameplay, at least when online. The solo play of it is slow at times with just one hunter taking on the onslaught, but when online with friends it becomes a fun and chaotic tower defense management that’s tons of trial and error in the best kind of way.

Since its very first entry, multiplayer has been a key element of the Monster Hunter franchise, and of every title available, Rise is the one that makes it feel the most atmospheric and like hunters actually work together. For the first time every hunter can actually see one another in every area of Kamura village which might seem silly, but is significant given that the only place hunters could previously see one another outside of hunts was the online lobby itself. This means players can enjoy exploring the village together, taking photos or just going about all their tasks without long loading screens or having to leave. Hunters can even still do their single player quests while in an online hub, and while that may seem silly, it makes for a nice option if someone is waiting for friends with an online lobby or just needs to do some single player content real quick. There’s also the new hunter connect mechanic, which is essentially like creating a player guild of sorts with friends. This lets players create a private lobby where they can set play times and join up to hunt with friends quickly and easily even without having to directly communicate it. Creating regular lobbies is just as simple, but this is a nice option for those who play with large friend groups and want to be able to get together even if unplanned.

The visuals for Monster Hunter Rise are gorgeous and it’s easy to call it the best-looking third party title on the Switch. Rise runs at a surprisingly stable 30fps even when playing online with other people, with connections being extremely consistent and the only drops witnessed being personal internet disconnects. Even handheld mode runs smoothly whether playing online or solo, with the visuals not suffering any noticeable major downgrade either. The soundtrack is fantastic, with the heavy Japanese focus shining through in every village theme and many of the monster ones as well. As it is right now the story is missing a proper finale, which is jarring even knowing that it’s coming later down the line in a free update. The beginner are also better than they’ve ever been before, but often could explain things more clearly.

Closing Comments: 

There’s no series quite like Monster Hunter, and Rise further sets itself apart as a shining beacon of how to make some of the best action combat available. While World may have set the stage for a truly next generation Monster Hunter, Rise has gone out of its way to perfect what it started and make a much more fluid and enjoyable experience. Everything loads quickly without much time to wait, the combat and movement feel more graceful than every before and exploration actually feels like it plays a major part of combat instead of just being forced while chasing down a monster. Every little detail outside of this is a wonderful addition that helps create a world that feels like people actually live in, with Kamura Village being one of the biggest highlights in the entire franchise. Monster Hunter Rise is a must-have for Switch players looking to dive into the meaty action, delivering on an amazing experience that will last for some time to come.