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Monster Hunter producer Ryozo Tsujimoto outlines the series' western struggles

Matt Leone has written about games for three decades, focusing on behind-the-scenes coverage of the industry, including books on Final Fantasy 7 and Street Fighter 2.

Like Madden, Worms and Colin McRae games, Monster Hunter's identity has long been tied to a specific country. In Monster Hunter's case, that means Japan, where the beast-slaying four-player co-op adventure is one of the industry's most popular games. But the same isn't true in the U.S., and producer Ryozo Tsujimoto recently explained the challenges in trying to make the franchise work over here.

"When you look at the history of the Monster Hunter franchise in the west, you can't really say that it's been a huge success," he said in an interview with Polygon.

According to Tsujimoto, the main issues come from a game design that can't bend without breaking, taking feedback that works worldwide and the portable gaming culture in the west. Clearly, it's in Capcom USA's interests to make it work, since the game's mass success in Japan means there will be sequels for years to come, ready to be localized. But making it work is not always as easy as it sounds.

For instance, Tsujimoto said he doesn't like thinking about how the development team could change the franchise to better suit western tastes. He prefers to think about it as a game that's the same everywhere, and if the team started altering it, that would run the risk of losing what makes the series special.

"We don't see it as, 'We made Monster Hunter for Japanese audiences,'" he said. "So it's hard to say that we could make Monster Hunter in a specific way [if we wanted to target western players], because if we change what it is at its core, it's no longer Monster Hunter. It's a different action game."

Though, he said, western feedback can influence the series' direction as a whole. In the upcoming 3DS version of the game, which originally went on sale in Japan over a year ago, the development team added a lock-on camera angle to make it easier for players to track large monsters, in part because of western feedback.

"One comment we often heard from users, and especially western users, was that even though Monster Hunter's an action game, there was a lot of focus with previous games on adjusting the camera to make monsters appear in the field of vision," said Tsujimoto. "So we implemented something called the target camera, which allows the camera to automatically lock on to large monsters that are around you. Although we didn't implement this feature necessarily for western users, western users' opinions and voices were definitely heard and they did influence our implementation of this feature."

Perhaps a larger issue blocking the series' western success is the player culture in the U.S., with the audience either preferring different types of action games or not finding opportunities to play games in small groups in public — troublesome given Monster Hunter's focus on local multiplayer. It's the latter of those two that Tsujimoto said is the hardest issue to overcome.

"When you look at the history of the Monster Hunter franchise in the west, you can't really say that it's been a huge success."

"In Japan, because of the way the country is — it's very compact and people are all together; they ride the trains together — it's just really easy for them to be in an environment where they can play multiplayer together easily locally," he said. "Whereas if you come to America or one of these bigger countries, people are spread out; it's just harder for people to get together and play."

Tsujimoto said it's challenging to see a direct link between this and whether the game is more popular in large U.S. cities than rural areas, though, and that it speaks more to the culture of the U.S. as a whole, where players don't tend to congregate to play portable systems in public. Outside of Japan, he noted that the series tends to be popular in Taiwan, Germany and France due to their portable gaming culture.

Despite the challenges, he sees one positive sign for the future of the franchise in the U.S. — he's noticed that the series' fan base has grown with each version of the game released here, giving him hope that the trend will continue to the point where the franchise can make a significant impact in the future.

With 3DS and Wii U versions of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the way next month, allowing players to cooperate and save data across the two versions of the game, Tsujimoto said he thinks the development team has created the "best environment possible" for players to try the franchise's multiplayer this time around.

"There's never going to be a better time," he said.