Way back when we still used paper and rolled dice, people enjoyed mathing out character power. It was never realistic to roll 18s for a character in D&D, nor frankly was it much fun, but everyone picked skills/talents that they thought best suited their needs. Not too many rogues with 2hnd proficiency, right? Even then, the stats were a small part of the game, the actual choices you made in any situation bore more weight. Negotiate with the brigands, target the kobold spell caster, search a room for traps. Character choices mattered so much as to the odd of success in future choices (ogre rogues aren’t going to do much dodging).
Computer games are similar, and games from the 90s really started adding complexity to player skill. Early games were nearly pass/fail, you were either good enough to avoid every source of damage or you died. More recent games allowed you to take more hits, or actively dodge. Some allow regenerating HP. This particular concept is the floor, the lowest point of skill were progress is still possible. The lower the floor, the more people can succeed. And as gaming has gone forward, it’s arguable that the floor has continually gotten lower, to make it more accessible. (See the whole EQ vs. WoW argument).
In the aughts, there was a desire to return to the difficulty of the past games, sort of relive those days. You get games like Ninja Gaiden, where while it takes a lot to die, there’s also enough complexity present to absolutely excel at the game and unlock more things. There’s a point where the improved player skill doesn’t provide more benefit (either in the game proper, or in PvP) and that concept is the ceiling. The higher the ceiling, again, the more accessible it is as people fell challenged by the content.
Monster Hunter is an eastern game, and whether we admit it or not, eastern games have much higher floors and often higher ceilings. “But what about this example of a hard western game?” Yes there are some, but % of whole, western games aren’t built for challenge in that sense.
The early Monster Hunter games had an abnormally high floor, and a moderately high ceiling, compared to other games. They were relatively niche in that sense, not so much because of the content, but because of the mechanics. Great games, no doubt, but not something anyone could consider relaxing.
MH4/Generations is where you can sort of pinpoint the drive for a wider audience. Some systems were streamlined, some focus on multiplayer, easier content to start, and quite a high level of complexity near the end.
World dropped the floor into the sub-sub basement. Ridiculously accessible, with a ton of streamlined components to allow people to get into the game rather smoothly. The whole Low Rank portion acts as a sort of tutorial, with many quality of life options (food, temporary boosts, better drop rates, etc..) Yet they also continually increased the skill ceiling. Nergigante was a massive wall of death, until you learned his patterns and how to dive. When you did, you could clear him in 3 minutes. Imagine taking more than 50 minutes to kill 1 monster, then being able to kill 3 in less than 10.
Rise further streamlines the systems, dramatically reducing the complexity of food for starters. Riding monsters adds more damage to the equation, and the whole vertical aspect with wirebugs is a super defensive option to get outta dodge. There’s barely a use for a Farcaster in Rise, where it was practically mandatory in World. Heck, the optional quests give you more than enough armor orbs to max out every single piece of gear’s defensive value with piles to spare.
This is the part where MH really excels. The difficulty curve of monsters is very well balanced against the type of monsters you have access. Low rank monsters, the skills on gear matter much less than just plain armor values. Kill a monster, look at the numbers, if they are higher, then you’re good!
High Rank things start to change. Skills start to matter, and you are going to want to stack certain ones to suit your weapon. Bow skills with a Switch Axe are not useful. Quick Sheath 3 turns on god mode for Long Swords but is useless for everyone else. Sure, armor is still important for the odd hit, but the skills matter more. By the time you get to the last 2 monsters, you’ve got access to the best armor values and some really good skills. But wait, there’s more!
If I was to build the highest defense value for Long Sword, each piece would have 76 but the skills would only benefit a Charge Blade. That would likely be enough to get through the content, but it would include a ton of deaths and a long battle clock. The game would be “complete”, but not the actual experience.
Instead, if you focus on the skills on armor and how they interact, you can get a much better experience. A decent Long Sword build would get me:
- Attack Boost 7 = +10 attack and 10% attack bonus
- Quick sheath 3 = super fast Iai attacks
- Speed Sharpening 3 = 1 stroke sharpening to stay in highest damage mode
- Weakness Exploit 3 = +50% crit chance for weak points
- Critical Boost 3 = +40% critical damage
On a weapon with good base critical chance (Nargacuga is 40%) I’m a walking blender. Attack goes from 50 to 150 per hit. With a few more tweaks, I can boost it further, but that’s the game’s long tail.
MH is built on the concept of monster attack patterns. It may seem somewhat random, but each monster has multiple signals to let you know what’s coming. Rajang can be walking death if you’re not sure what’s going on, but take him on a few times and he’ll go down real quick. Magnamalo, an enemy with some crazy AE attacks that seem to come from everywhere, has some very large tells in his attacks.
And the player themselves has some factor here, as each monster has a stun value, that increases as the fight goes on. Once you know those values, you can commit attacks that would normally put you in danger knowing full well the monster will be stunned instead. Attacking Teostra’s head is normally a bad idea, but if you know that 2 more hits will give you a stun, then do it. Those numbers naturally change as your gear increases (as you do more damage), so it’s really about keeping all these numbers in your head.
Combine both together and it looks like a veritable dance, with nary a movement to waste.
Monster Hunter has somehow find the balance to not only continually lower the floor of a game, and therefore make it more accessible to the general population, but also managed to keep a very ceiling to keep even the super number crunchers busy for a long time to come. I’m not at all saying it’s perfect, but when these games come around, they are often recognized for their achievements. I was a bit on the fence when I bought a Switch just for this game, but wow, I am absolutely not regretting that one bit.