Monday, September 29, 2008

What I'm Playing: Monster Hunter Freedom 2

This is not my sort of game. That's not to say I don't like, I do. But I would never have picked it up unsolicited.

What happened is my son played it first and then became insistent we all play it, since it has a multiplayer co-op mode.

Monster Hunter is not my kind of game for several reasons:

  • It takes a long time to learn. There are a number of training "quests" as well as a slew of different activities you can be involved in (and need to learn about) in the village before you can effectively play the game. There are even "books" filled with information provided for you within the game to help you understand the game mechanics and environment.
  • There are innumerable little upgrades and tweaks you can (and must) apply to your character and his weapons to make even moderate progress in the game.
  • Individual quests can take up to 50 minutes to complete, never mind the 10-15 minutes needed to prepare for the quest.

Be that as it may, my son insisted. I relented. And I am now well on my way to being completely addicted.

It is easy to see why Monster Hunter is so popular in Japan. It is essentially Pokemon for the older set. (Older as in over 15; not older like me necessarily!) The game is not only replete with options and configurable details, it is also graphically gorgeous. The landscapes are rich and evocative. (This is all the more amazing when you examine them carefully because -- despite the power of the PSP hardware -- the real magic is in what simple graphical tricks such as two overlaid moving images are used to create this visually rich canvas.)

There are even details to the game with no (at least apparent to me now) purpose beyond adding to the ambiance. Cats cook for you (with individual names and coloration), pigs follow you around (why? I don't know), and a bird occasionally perches on your bedpost. The cooking matters, but the name and color of the cats has no bearing on your quests. And the pig and the bird are -- as far as I can tell -- purely decorations.

At its most basic the game is just a quest, with collection, upgrades, and incrementally more powerful "boss" monsters. But oh what a quest! I would never have had the patience to get through the initial learning curve if it hadn't been for my son's prompting (and instruction). But having got through it, the game is entirely absorbing. I am losing two to three hours a week battling my way to a higher ranking, learning the ways of the monsters as if they were real world threats, and reveling in my victories -- much to my wife's dismay.

I can't recommend this game if you are short on time -- you need to dedicate at least several hours to get into it. But if you have the time, it is quite a ride.

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