Monster Hunter is a smash hit franchise, having sold millions of copies over its lifespan — 40 million to be exact — to devoted fans.
But most of those devoted fans are in Japan, and stewards of the franchise hope that Monster Hunter: World will be the true breakout hit to bring Western audiences to the action role-playing game. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate laid a solid framework for future success, as it was the first Monster Hunter title to sell one million units in North America and Europe. But that only happened in 2016, nearly 12 years after the first game’s release on PlayStation 2.
“A lot of Western players over the years, when we've been on portable hardware for the last few iterations, we’ve had a sizable following of people who said, ‘We want to play on our home consoles,” said Monster Hunter: World producer Ryozo Tsujimoto.
Along with simply bringing the series back to consoles, Tsujimoto detailed the quality-of-life changes that he hopes make the series click for more people.
“We've taken a broad look at what we can revise and change and improve in Monster Hunter,” Tsujimoto told Polygon during a preview at Capcom’s offices. “Like maybe the bits that were harder to understand or not as smooth. We can improve those things so that players who didn't get on with the series until now and weren't able to get past some outer shell of the clunkiness, or difficult-to-process information.
“We're trying to make it so that that doorway is wide open now.”
Some of those changes will be evident as soon as you equip a weapon. The third-person shooting controls have been retooled entirely, along with other standardized control elements from other games.
“We know that the controls for Monster Hunter have been idiosyncratic in the past and they've been more built upon legacy systems rather than having been designed from scratch,” game director Yuya Tokuda said. “So whether that be either the button used to dash, which is R1, you know, a bit unusual [for action games], and it's pretty industry-standard now to click a stick to run. You've got that option. The shooter controls for the guns are much closer to something like, comparable to other third-person shooters. So players will be able to transfer skills from other games a lot easier.”
“It's made the guns so much smoother that even the director was saying he normally only plays a couple of different sword weapons, but this time around, he's added the guns to his repertoire because they're just so much easier to get on with and so much more fun,” Tsujimoto said.
Other quality-of-life features include the scout flies, which travel as a glowing, green cloud of insects that home in on objects of interest, or follow a monster’s trail once you’ve picked up their scent.
“The maps have a lot of lot of verticality, and it could be easy to get lost if you aren’t careful,” Tsujimoto said. “So we wanted to include an assistant which blended in with the idea of a hunter's lifestyle, scraping up goo from the ground and being able to track the scent. But it isn’t like a UI GPS marker. It blends in with the world, and yet it functions as something which tells you, ‘This is where you should be going next.’”
Monster Hunter: World also won’t let players languish at the start. A common criticism of past titles is that Monster Hunter can take about several hours to get going. Changing that is something executive director Kaname Fujioka says they’ve taken to heart.
“We've put a lot more action up front so that even when you're opening with the story scenes and the tutorial scenes, they're actually live-action gameplay,” he said. “They get you kicking off playing the game much faster than simply watching cut scenes happen or, you know, talking to people and seeing pages of text.”
As to whether fans that have stuck with the series for the last 13 years will like the changes, Tsujimoto said early feedback has him confident in their iterations.
“We knew we don't want to make changes that will make people who are familiar with the series pick it up and say, ’Well, they've changed the game I loved,’” he said. “We want to make the game that you love better than ever and bring more people on so it's got even more fans.”
Monster Hunter: World is out for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on Jan. 26, 2018.