There’s a little thing I do once every decade or so, when the time feels right and the mood strikes me: play a Monster Hunter game. I don’t do it for fun. I don’t do it because I want to. I do it because this is my job, and because I want to see what so many other people see in these games. And now, suddenly, surprisingly, I’m starting to get it, thanks to Monster Hunter Rise.
This started back in 2010, when I reviewed Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii. My main takeaway was that the game was so overstuffed that it was going to gum up the insides of Nintendo’s little white box once it inevitably burst. Tri buried me under an avalanche of menus, items, and poorly explained mechanics and systems, all in service of a rigid, repetitive quest structure that spared no room for any human element. There were no characters, no real story to speak of, nothing to really care about beyond the hunt, which wasn’t enough to hook me, even when playing with others. It was a role-playing game without an actual role for me to get invested in, only a cipher that I piloted through interchangeable missions. In all, Monster Hunter Tri struck me as a monumental slog.
Monster Hunter wasn’t quite a mainstream hit in America when Tri came out. It was massively popular in Japan, but it was still a cult thing here in the U.S. So it was very easy for me to not play another one since Tri; it’s not like readers were demanding coverage of these games, and whenever it felt like time to check in, I could simply assign a review to a writer who was actually interested in and knowledgeable about the series.
That started to change with 2018’s Monster Hunter: World. As expected, it was an instant smash in Japan, but also immediately sold better in the West than any of these games had in the past. It eventually became the best-selling game in the entire history of Capcom (which is honestly shocking), with American sales in the millions. The interest in World was so unmistakable that we ran multiple pieces about it here at Paste, the first time we really covered one of these games extensively.
And now, four years later, Capcom has brought us Monster Hunter Rise, exclusively on the Switch. It’s continued the global success seen by World, selling over four million copies in its first weekend alone. Between Monster Hunter’s explosion in popularity, the general lack of other new games right now, and the fact that it’s been a decade since Tri, it seemed like a good time to pop my head in, take a look around, and then, most likely, slowly back out with an insincere smile on my face when I quickly realized Monster Hunter is still not for me.
Well, that didn’t happen. I bought Rise the day it came out, started it up the next day, and have played it at least a little bit every day since. When I’m not playing it, I tend to think about it. I gave Monster Hunter Rise a chance, and oh Lord, I’m pretty sure I like it.
Monster Hunter really has come a long way from the days of Tri. Even on the Switch, which is significantly less powerful than the new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series consoles, the leap in technology since the days of the Wii is massive. And from a design standpoint, Capcom has clearly put in the effort to make these games more palatable for Western players; Rise is no less cluttered than Tri was, but it’s not nearly as overwhelming.
Part of my confusion with Tri wasn’t just the sheer amount of arcane business to deal with from an item and equipment perspective, but the way the game struggled with the Wii’s limitations to explain it all and make everything quickly and easily accessible. Rise could have been as obscure, but it does a far better job of telling the player what they can and need to do, and how to do it. That’s somewhat on the improvements in hardware since the Wii, but also the result of what I assume was a concerted effort to make the game’s labyrinth of menus easier to navigate and more informative. My eyes can still glaze over a bit when I see the rows of tiny icons that spread out across the three pages that make up my item box, but each of these items is explained succinctly in a common sense way. Rise also feels custom-built for the Switch’s Pro Controller, whereas even with the Wii’s Classic Controller Tri felt like a burden to play.
Rise still favors a silent protagonist, but they don’t feel like the void that the hero of Tri did. The player character has far more personality in their facial expressions, their vocal lines, and their animation, which, again, shows both how much the superior Switch hardware helps this game, but also how Capcom was more focused on the kind of details that can make a game feel warm and inviting. Rise’s central village of Kamura is also more vivid and human than the setting of Tri; yes, the game still depends on several stock character types, but they’re more fleshed out and relatable than the mannequins who milled about Tri’s fishing village. The focus on Buddies also gives Monster Hunter an extra jolt of heart and soul; my dog, cat and owl friends aren’t just helpful in-game, but give Rise a degree of adorable charm that Tri didn’t quite have, and without the schmaltz factor often seen with animal companions in RPGs.
Even the ways in which Rise hasn’t changed that much since Tri still feel improved from a decade ago. The quest structure can still be repetitive, but I now greatly appreciate how segmented it is. Most missions have a 50 minute time limit, but take far less time than that to complete; unlike pretty much every other role-playing game ever made, I can pick up Rise, start a quest, and know that I’ll hit a natural stopping point in under an hour (and often in under 20 minutes). Despite being a really long game, Rise doesn’t feel as much like a commitment as games that are more open-ended. That ease of popping in and out makes Rise a perfect fit for my schedule, where I have to juggle my gaming time with my other responsibilities for work and other interests that I try to get to every day. And Rise’s clear-cut, straight-forward approach to progress makes every minute I spend in the game feel important—which can’t always be said about other time-sucking RPGs.
I genuinely didn’t expect to enjoy Monster Hunter Rise nearly as much as I am, or to continue playing it past that initial weekend. Instead it’s become daily appointment gaming in a way similar to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, something I check in on for an hour or two every day, before hopping out without feeling any pressure to keep going. If this winds up being the last major game I undertake during the pandemic, it’d form a perfect pair of quarantine-era bookends with Animal Crossing.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.