Over the past year, I’ve played through a great number of new games, and been able to truly discover a diverse range of video games that I’ve truly been able to enjoy to help keep me afloat during these “unprecedented times.” Since I’ve been given the platform, I’m going to be writing about each of these games, and what specifically I love about them in: The Joy of Gaming, or TJOG, since I love acronyms that I can say aloud.
Every so often, my Twitter feed erupts into an argument about “grinding” in video games. Many older RPGs, such as earlier Pokémon, Dragon Quest, and Final Fantasy games, have hours of monotonous, repetitive gameplay – usually enemy slaying – required for plot and gameplay advancement. This has created a wedge between older and newer fans of the genre, as younger audiences are less willing to revisit older games as a result of this gameplay structure, and older fans perceive younger players as “weak” or “impatient” for being drawn away from an amazing game by the sheer thought of grinding.
But what happens when you have a game that is almost entirely “grinding?” What happens if you have an RPG with minimal plot and exploration? What if the entire game was predicated on just…killing enemies?
Enter Monster Hunter. Since its initial release in 2004, the Monster Hunter series has built itself a massive reputation worldwide, selling millions of copies and staking itself as an iconic franchise in gaming history. For this inaugural The Joy of Gaming, I’m going to talk about the iteration of Monster Hunter that I played – Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate – and what about it stood out to me in quarantine.
Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is a 2018 Nintendo Switch game that is a port of the previous Monster Hunter Generations for the Nintendo 3DS. I purchased the game on May 24th, 2020, when it was on sale for $20. In May, I was finishing up my remote spring quarter of college, and had not seen many people in person since returning from college in March. Monster Hunter’s multiplayer capabilities and emphasis on cooperation and teamwork to overcome massive dragons in combat seemed enticing, and it was on a pretty good sale, so I sprung at the opportunity to find a game to hopefully use to help pass the time. I spent small amounts of time playing with peers online, but ultimately, most of the gameplay was played solo, simply due to timing conflicts. And pass the time it did, because since May, I’ve accumulated 65 hours of playtime, and have progressed through most low-level Village Key Quests.
The gameplay loop is incredibly simplistic, maybe even the simplest one in modern video gaming. You hunt monsters, then use the loot from the monsters to craft more powerful armor and weapons. Specifically, Monster Hunter is best known for allowing you to hunt the monsters in a variety of fashions using different weapon classes. Generations Ultimate features 14 weapons: the Great Sword, the Long Sword, the Sword and Shield, the Dual Blades, the Hammer, the Hunting Horn, the Lance, the Gunlance, the Switch Axe, the Charge Blade, the Insect Glaive, the Light Bowgun, the Heavy Bowgun, and the Bow. I initially started with the Hunting Horn, but quickly switched to the Light Bowgun, as I found its ability to zone out monsters and inflict elemental damage to be useful. In Monster Hunter, you’re given quests to either slay or capture different monsters to track progression. The core gameplay loop revolves around you fighting these monsters. Each hunt for me lasted around 30 to 45 minutes, and the difficulty was not easy but not impossible. Most hunts felt manageable to me, even as a solo Light Bowgun. To me, the engaging part of the gameplay was pushing myself to avoid the telegraphed attacks from the monsters and punish. Rushing in and finding the opportune time to attack kept me on my toes and the lack of a visible health bar kept a level of uncertainty around gameplay. I was only able to tell the health of a monster from visual indicators, such as drooling, and it forced me to keep track of progress in stages, rather than in exact numbers.
Monster Hunter absolutely takes a hammer to the discourse about grinding by creating a game that is almost entirely grinding. You defeat these monsters for no tangible progression or rewards, besides the ability to more effectively hunt more monsters. You know the exact style of grind you sign yourself up for. However, the fundamental gameplay is so engaging that you can’t help but truly enjoy immersing yourself in the world to try and take down these mystical wyverns and dinosaurs. Also, the cat-like Palicos are very cute. That much can be said. Monster Hunter allowed me to feel accomplishment in hard work like nothing else had at the time. My spring quarter finals were mandatory Pass/Fail. I had very few other endeavors going on at the time. Nothing really motivated me and allowed me to feel a sense of accomplishment last May quite like Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate. I put work into a fight, and when I came out victorious, I felt as if I had earned it. I felt that the grind was worth it.
Do I suggest anyone buy this game? No, not really. Despite my glowing review, I must admit that the game, at its core, is a port of a Nintendo 3DS game. It shows its age in a variety of different ways that had since been rectified by Monster Hunter World on the PC. Furthermore, MHGU’s obsolescence is about to be permanently established later this March, with the release of Monster Hunter: Rise. MHR aims to be the best of the old and new Monster Hunter formula, creating an experience that aims to bring the majesty of World to the less powerful Nintendo Switch. During spring break, I have no other plans but to hunt.
As an enjoyer of both classical and modern RPGs, I recognize both sides of the “grinding” argument. I’m willing to grind for older games, but I am relieved when modern RPGs (Xenoblade Chronicles 2, we’re getting to you later) can alleviate any need for it. But I think that there’s a happy medium. Grinding isn’t “grinding” when it’s just playing the game. And nothing is more proof to that than Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate.
Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is available on the Nintendo Switch. Monster Hunter Rise releases in the United States on March 26th, 2021.