Monster Hunter is one of those series that either you get it, or you don’t. “What’s this game about?” The only reply can be, “Hunting monsters.” Imagine a game where you prepare your weapons, forge new armor, meticulously pore over your inventory, and then engage in a battle of attrition against an electricity-clad wolf until one of you falls. You use the environment- including its endemic life, such as bugs you can spread like caltrops, you use the very walls of the arenas in which you battle to avoid large, sweeping crashes of lightning and claws that would sear the flesh and sunder the bones of an ordinary person. You, however, are nothing ordinary: you are a hunter, and once you sink your teeth into Monster Hunter Rise, you’ll experience a game that utilizes three dimensional gameplay in an immensely satisfying way that will leave you coming back for more.
For those unfamiliar with the Monster Hunter series, these are third person action games with an emphasis on learning your opponent- typically large monsters that you need to track down and slay or capture. The series plays more like a series of boss battles, where you encounter a large foe, gradually wear it down, and break parts off of them to make their attacks less effective, such as cutting the tail off of a monster to reduce the range of their tail attacks, or damaging the head or chest so the monster has difficulty spitting fire at you. Monster Hunter isn’t like a beat ‘em up where you run in and mash buttons- you watch the monster, avoid attacks, and then use the openings in their attacks to use your own attacks. The general gameplay loop is that you hunt a new monster, and then take its fangs to make your new weapon and its hide to make new pants, and then you use those to more efficiently defeat the next monster you come across.
Now for those familiar with the Monster Hunter series, Rise does come with a wide variety of quality of life improvements just as its predecessor, Monster Hunter World did. Players can utilize the gyroscope of a Switch controller for more intuitive aiming, similar to the game Splatoon, but you can set it to always be on, only be on when you hold the ZL button, which is usually how you aim using ranged weapons, or turn it off entirely should you not like motion-controlled aiming.
Clicking to harvest herbs from a plant or ore from an iron vein is one in one fluid motion, rather than requiring you to hold the button down for multiple seconds to collect your items. Most of the changes are made so that players have to spend less time than ever before simply running around environments and looking at stationary hunters collect resources- get in, slay the monster, get out. There’s also the new Palamute, a hunting dog that you can ride into battle like an adorable steed, alongside the usual Palico partners we’ve had for many games in the past.
Some of the new additions are the wirebug Silkbind system- players generally have access to two wirebugs at any time. You can use these to jump into the air and fling yourself about like Spiderman, but you can also use them to perform powerful attacks during combat. Wirebugs both improve maneuverability in and out of combat and function as a cooldown system for powerful offensive and defensive options while actually battling a monster. Dealing damage while in the air or using a Silkbind attack to hurt a monster will eventually put the monster in a state where you can use the wirebug’s silk to harness and control a monster, allowing you to jump on a Tigrex to punch a Rathalos out of the sky, or just slam the controlled monster into a wall to knock it down momentarily. The new mounting system is a nice compromise of the one implemented since 4U, but giving you more control of what happens with a monster than Iceborne’s Clutch Claw gave you.
Rampages, a new type of game mode exclusive to Rise, is one part tower defense and one part hunt. Tying into the story, some kind of monster’s ability is sending monsters into a rampage all at once, and they all attack Kamura Village, the home base for this game. To defend the village, players can set up ballistae, cannons, even artillery weapons that can be used to repel the invading monsters. There are sub objectives that can be completed, which will unlock even more powerful tools like machine cannons and dragonators- the latter being large, drill-like spears that skewer monsters that mindlessly approach barriers and players. The entire goal of Rampages is to repel attacking monsters, don’t let the invaders destroy the gate into the village, and to take down the big baddie at the end, such as a powerful Elder Dragon or the wild Apex monsters that exhibit attacks very similar to Deviants from Generations Ultimate.
Each weapon in Monster Hunter basically controls like a completely unique character in a fighting game- the Sword and Shield plays differently from the Lance which plays differently from the Heavy Bowgun. Rise actually increases the variability among weapons by introducing a new Switch Skill system, that lets you change two regular actions of your weapon, and one Silkbind action, with new, unlockable abilities. A Bow player, for example, can use the charging sidestep to avoid attacks and deal big damage on your next shot fired, but it has a pretty hefty stamina cost so it could leave you without the ability to dodge a large incoming attack. Conversely, the Dodgebolt turns your sidestep into a short range melee parry attack that only boosts your next arrow’s damage should you successfully parry incoming attacks. Many weapons have Switch Skills that open up new avenues for gameplay or increasing the skill ceiling of a weapon.
The Silkbind actions each weapon has also open up additional avenues of gameplay. Outside of combat you use your wirebugs to zip around in the sky to reach destinations faster, but the wirebugs can also be consumed during combat to perform new attacks that aren’t too dissimilar to Hunter Arts from Generations/Ultimate, with some of the moves being returning arts from that game, like the Longsword’s Sakura Slash.
Outside of the new mounting system (Je suis monté) and Switch Skills, this is Monster Hunter as you know it. Players who skipped out on Monster Hunter World may find some of the new options jarring, as customizable radial menus give you easy access to much of your inventory, gathering items takes practically no time at all, now, and there’s still no need for things like Psychoserum and Paintballs to track monsters through the Shrine Ruins or Flooded Forest. However, these additional, minor improvements make the game much more accessible for players new to the series, and reduce the initial grind from game-to-game, which is much appreciated even from a veteran’s standpoint who started with Freedom Unite on the PSP.
For a game running on the Switch, Rise is very impressive, visually. The magic going on under the hood of this game cannot be understated, as while the textures are muddier than what you’d see from World on PS4 or PC, the characters and environments are gorgeous and aren’t the victim of slowdown in solo play, unlike many, many other games on the Switch. The music in Rise is fantastic, assuming you enjoy Japanese-themed soundtracks. Tracks like the Shrine Ruins encounter theme utilize a shamisen, shakuhachi, and an orchestra, giving it a very distinct Japanese sound. Each environment in the game has that same warm or bright approach to its tracks by these instruments, and it meshes with the orchestra in a very unique way. Even existing monster themes like those of Zinogre or Mizutsune have been given an eastern revamp, with chanting vocals included all throughout for maximum impact.
The single largest problem with Monster Hunter Rise is in its volume of content. There are both village and hub quests, with village quests being low rank tutorial quests that you play alone, and hub quests that you can play with your friends. Completing specific quests in village let you skip straight to the high rank hub quests, where the difficulty level goes up a notch as monsters hit harder and break out new attacks. Being able to skip right over the low rank quests in the hub does mean you get to skip a portion of the game’s content to jump straight into the harder difficulty stuff, and it won’t be long before you finish the final boss and the game, at current, ends on a cliffhanger with the promise of another hunt to come.
Rise has quite a good amount of content in its initial form, though some players may be irritated to discover that the Hunter Rank cap isn’t going to be unlocked until the April title update. More than likely due to 2020 being an unprecedented year for difficulties in basically every form of development, Rise shipped with an ending that ends on a cliffhanger, handing the player a virtual IOU for a promised final battle. Rise has 34 large monsters to meet in combat at current (World shipped with 30 monsters, if memory serves), and 3 powerful Apex monsters that you can encounter in Rampages, and more coming. As it currently stands, however, the Hunter Rank cap isn’t even unlocked which normally happens when players defeat the final boss of the multiplayer hub.
It should be noted, however, that even with Rise shipping without its “True” final boss that unlocks the HR cap, it still took roughly 80 hours to reach the end of the game, though there were a few hours spent trying out and experimenting with new weapons and skills. Monster Hunter games do tend to be quite the time investment, after all, so even without the title updates that add new monsters such as Chameleos and Apex Rathalos, you’re looking at a considerable investment to get to the end.
Overall, Monster Hunter Rise is a fantastic entry to the series. Welcoming enough for newcomers that they should be able to dip their toes in without getting overwhelmed, but featuring enough new options and gameplay elements that veterans should find a lot to enjoy as well. After all, what’s not to love about a game that lets you use two swords, fire a wire at a monster and Beyblade yourself down its back like you’re Levi from Attack on Titan? That’s a thing you can do with your Silkbind attacks in the game. Seriously, go play it, Rise is fantastic.