More than three years after Monster Hunter: World, a new entry in the series will finally arrive on the Nintendo Switch on March 26. Monster Hunter Rise will be the first title in the series built from scratch for Nintendo’s current system. While Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, an enhanced port of a 3DS title, made it to the West in 2018, fans had to wait until the fourth year of the system’s life cycle to get an all-new monster hunting experience.
From my time with the publicly available demo and a private demo at Capcom’s Osaka HQ, in which I hunted the new monster Somnacanth in Frost Islands and tried out the robust character customization options for Palamute and Palico buddies, Rise appears to have been well worth the wait.
See unedited gameplay of Monster Hunter Rise in the video above.
I would like to start by reemphasizing how great Rise looks on the Nintendo Switch. It shouldn’t be overlooked that Rise is simply one of the most impressive titles you can find on the system, both from a graphical and technical standpoint. While the likes of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Dragon Quest XI may have been ported to the latest Nintendo, Rise is one of the few examples of dynamic open environments specifically designed for the Switch, besides games like Nintendo’s own Super Mario Odyssey or Game Freak’s Pokemon Sword/Shield.
What makes Rise such a great match for the Switch is its focus on fun, fast-paced action. The newly added Wirebug mechanic allows you to swing through the environments and run up walls, which really changes the way you fight and explore. This new system has been compared to Breath of the Wild’s ‘climb anything’ philosophy, and while I think that comparison doesn’t really do either game justice, swinging and climbing through an environment instead of carefully examining monster tracks does feel right at home on Nintendo’s console/handheld hybrid.
A balance to satisfy all hunters
[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=monster-hunter-rise-concept-art-somnacanth-and-aknosom-armor-weapons&captions=true”]
From what I’ve played, I feel the most impressive thing about Rise is that it seems to have found a balance that welcomes new players while satisfying veteran hunters. New systems definitely make things more inviting, and a decrease in focus on preparation is hard to ignore – but Capcom never seems to forget what it is that makes Monster Hunter so special in the first place.
Weapon types still have astounding depth, for example, which makes them just as rewarding to master as before. However, with an improved Training Area that allows more customization, and a reduction in the amount of materials necessary to upgrade, switching weapons and ultimately finding a weapon type that suits your playstyle should feel more tempting.
Eating chef Yomogi’s sweet Bunny Dango at player hub Kamura Village (or after leaving on a quest like in World) and collecting as many Endemic Life creatures as possible allows the player to head into battle with more buffs than before. Don’t want that? Feel free to ignore some or all of the stat boosts to create a challenge according to your own preference.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Capcom%20never%20seems%20to%20forget%20what%20it%20is%20that%20makes%20Monster%20Hunter%20so%20special%20in%20the%20first%20place.”]
Cohoots, Kamura Village’s beloved pets, will automatically highlight the locations of monsters on the map the moment you enter an area. While you don’t know the identity of a monster until you actually encounter it, not being able to find your target should no longer be an issue for the less experienced player. That doesn’t mean that exploration is dumbed down. Both Shrine Ruins and Frost Islands offered plenty of side routes and hidden secrets. Especially if you’re after the Endemic Life, expect to take plenty of interesting detours before heading into battle. The verticality the Wirebug adds to exploration is great as well, and it makes exploration feel genuinely different from previous entries.
[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=every-monster-in-monster-hunter-rise-announced-so-far&captions=true”]
Loss of stamina and weapon sharpness may be some of the most typical Monster Hunter aspects that are still intact, but here too Capcom has come with ideas to prevent newcomers from getting too frustrated. You won’t have to worry about stamina while riding the Palamute (your new dog-like buddy), for example, and you can recover stamina and sharpen weapons while mounted.
These are only a few examples of how Rise attempts to blend the needs for every type of player into one game. While it’s too early to say whether the team has managed to find the perfect balance, what I’ve played seems promising. Director Yasunori Ichinose acknowledged to me in an interview that receiving a perfect score from both fans and newcomers is an impossible task, but he said he wants each type of player to be able to find at least one thing to love.
A good example might be the Palamutes. These new comrades enrich both the exploration and combat of Monster Hunter, while at the same time functioning as an additional layer of creativity and communication. From fur color to ear shape and eye color, the character creator allows for plenty of freedom. Creating a unique Palamute in addition to your own character and a feline Palico almost makes it feel like you are creating a whole family.
See the robust customization options for Palamutes and Palicoes in this video.
There’s plenty of petting, hugging, feeding, handshaking and whatnot available in the field as well, and let’s not forget about the cute Cohoots, which you can pet, feed and dress too. Combine that with the fact that Kamura Village can be entirely enjoyed in multiplayer, and you have a game that could potentially be enjoyed without actually going hunting. Hunting areas could even be used to hold Palamute-back races, with specific Endemic Life functioning as checkpoints one needs to pass. I’m not saying that this will be the next Animal Crossing or Mario Kart. But like Ichinose says, there appears to be something to love for every type of player.
Great variation in both monsters and locales
[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=monster-hunter-rise-locales-official-art&captions=true”]
Rise’s maps are said to be approximately the same size as World’s locales, but they seem to have been designed with a different philosophy in mind. Whereas World’s areas were dotted with narrow paths and caves with low ceilings, Rise’s environments generally appear to be more spacious, giving the player plenty of room to swing around and use the acrobatic Silkbind Attacks during battle. While I have to admit that there appears to be less visual variety within each map, diving in to attack a monster from far away with the Wirebugs feels great.
As you get used to swinging around with these tamed bugs, you’ll start realizing just how much of a game-changer they are. Once you get the hang of the controls, you’ll be jumping over obstacles and reaching the tops of temples or waterfalls without losing momentum. You start with two Wirebugs equipped, but you can find a third one that will temporarily allow you to swing even further.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=the%20team%20investigated%20the%20possibility%20of%20increasing%20the%20amount%20of%20Wirebugs”]
Ichinose told me that the team investigated the possibility of increasing the amount of Wirebugs you can befriend; however, with more than four Wirebugs equipped the game soon became too easy, which is why you’ll start with two Wirebugs and have a temporary maximum of three throughout the game.
Both Shrine Ruins and Frost Islands have an obvious Japan-inspired setting, with atmospheric stone lanterns and snow-topped torii gates leading to lonesome shrines and temples. It was cool to see that the type of Endemic Life you encounter seems to differ between maps as well, a puffer fish-like creature being an example of something I have only come across in the Frost Islands area.
Interestingly, Flooded Forest – the third map that Capcom has revealed – shows a ruin that looks inspired by South American cultures rather than Japanese or Asian. With Sandy Plains and Lava Caverns revealed after February 17’s Nintendo Direct, it seems that the full game will contain a great variation of locales.
[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=monster-hunter-rise-concept-art-and-yokai-comparisons&captions=true”]
The same can be said about the monsters. The comeback of monsters like Tigrex, Pukei-Pukei and Tobi-Kadachi will add plenty of variation, while new monsters like Magnamalo, Tetranadon and Bishaten bring an authentic flavor to Rise’s Japan-inspired world. Most of the new monsters were inspired by yokai, the ghosts and spirits of Japanese folklore, and Capcom went the extra mile to include attack patterns and intimidation methods based on these inspirations. Being attacked by a Tetranadon’s open-hand strikes or dodging the persimmon fruit Bishaten throws at you should create an experience that is both challenging to play and engaging to watch.
Fighting Somnacanth in the Frost Island area was cool, but as my character in the demo was already wearing Somnacanth armor, I felt a bit over-equipped. During battle Somnacanth will often stand on its tail, which makes it hard to hit its head. It has some brutal physical attacks such as a slam from high above, and an attack in which it slides across the water on its belly at devastating speed. Its breath attack puts the player to sleep, which I imagine could be fatal if you were to fight with lesser equipment. This attack has a pretty long range too, but you should be able to see it coming when it starts charging.
Because of my strong equipment, I wasn’t required to watch its attack patterns as closely as most players will need to, and my advantage made it hard to imagine how difficult the monster will be on a first hunt. That being said, designed as a mixture between Western and Japanese mermaids, the Somnacanth oozes personality. Its devil-like looks and mesmerizing singing voice are a unique mix, and a cute, otter-inspired backstroke swimming style gives it a whole identity of its own.
The Rampage – an event in which numerous monsters attack Kamura Village at the same time – will be the main focus of the story. This should further enhance the Japan-inspired setting, as the event is based on Hyakki Yako, an ancient Japanese myth in which a horde of yokai parade at night. As can be seen in The Game Awards 2020 Trailer, you’ll be preventing monsters from invading the village from a fort, utilizing cannons and ballista. The newest trailer from Nintendo Direct showed the twin quest maidens Hinoa and Minoto joining The Rampage, the ability to mount monsters at the fort (more about mounting monsters later), and Apex monsters that look different and appear to be stronger than regular monsters.
A game focused on Capcom’s expertise
At its core, the battle system itself feels very close to previous entries in the series, and I mean that in the best possible way. Here too, Wirebugs are the biggest game-changer, allowing for extra mobility and last-moment dodges. Heavier weapons that take more time to swing around especially feel easier to maneuver, thanks to the increase in mobility. Silkbind Attacks make for cool special attacks that give each weapon type an additional layer of personality.
A succession of Silkbind Attacks can bring monsters to a mountable state called Wyvern Riding, another new feature of Rise. It’s cool how one new system directly connects to the next, although a monster can also be brought to a mountable state through an Endemic Life called Puppet Spider (which lets you fire out strings of web that restrain it) or by having two monsters attack each other. I love how during Wyvern Riding you never completely feel under control. The monster’s animations show how it’s trying to resist, and it can be difficult to head precisely in the direction you want. You can almost feel how the hunter is pulling the Silkbind strings with full force.
From a gameplay standpoint, Wyvern Riding is pretty straightforward, with a weak and strong attack, the ability to evade attacks and the option to launch the monster into walls to have it damage itself. The Mounted Punisher – a special attack unique to each monster – can be unleashed if you manage to fill the Wyvern Riding gauge within the time limit.
What makes Wyvern Riding interesting is the strategic layer it adds to the hunt. When riding a monster, simply launching it into a wall for big damage is one option, but you could also use it to bring a second monster to a mountable state and ride that monster to attack your original target. Common open world solutions like luring one monster to another and watching them fight until one becomes mountable make for cool emergent situations in addition to the game’s already robust main action.
Most weapon types have been slightly tweaked but feel largely the same as before, the Hunting Horn being the obvious exception. With each attack corresponding to a different note, various melodies allow for stat buffs, but in previous games the player was required to memorize these, which made the Hunting Horn an interesting yet intimidating support weapon to use. While the main philosophy behind the Hunting Horn hasn’t changed in Rise, melodies have become simpler and note combos displayed on-screen have become much more handy.
This is just another example of how Rise streamlines the experience while keeping the core intact. With all these tweaks in one game, my impression is that Rise feels more like an action game than any other Monster Hunter title. That doesn’t mean that the series’ layered RPG elements aren’t still a big part of the experience, but it feels like there is more freedom in the degree to which you want to engage in them.
I can understand that for some fans this new balance can potentially sound a bit worrying – the reduced amount of materials needed to upgrade weapons and armor, and the removal of Hot Drinks (an item previously necessary in cold areas) are some of the more controversial changes for the Monster Hunter fan base. I’m personally a bit sad to see the Scoutflies and monster tracks that World introduced gone. However, in the end I am confident about the direction in which Ichinose and his team are heading: a game that prioritizes enjoyable action above all else. Action is Capcom’s expertise after all, and Rise might just be the purest action game in the Monster Hunter series.
Monster Hunter Rise will be released on Nintendo Switch on March 26. For more Monster Hunter Rise details from this month’s IGN First, be sure to check out our Somnacanth Quest gameplay video, an in-depth interview with director Yasunori Ichinose and a gallery that shows how its monsters were inspired by Japanese folklore.
Esra Krabbe is an editor at IGN Japan. Shenmue is pretty much all he talks about on Twitter.