Diving into Monster Hunter Rise can seem almost discouragingly overwhelming at first. The game boasts a wealth of layered systems both mandatory and optional, and the myriad tutorials tend to convolute the learning process rather than help it. Once the basic gameplay systems start to click into place, however, Monster Hunter Rise becomes an engaging, thrilling action RPG to get lost in. It refines the tried-and-true Monster Hunter gameplay loop in clever ways, and the end result is something that both fans and newcomers to the series can appreciate.
Monster Hunter Rise retains the slow, deliberate movement that the series is known for. Weapon swings feel remarkably weighty and stop the player character on a dime, forcing the player to time attacks carefully during any given fight. Dodges are similarly slow and lack invincibility frames, preventing the player from abusing dodges whenever an attack is incoming. This restrictive movement is challenging yet rewarding to come to grips with, but Rise also makes a concerted effort to provide the player with more movement options. One such option is the Palamute, a wolf-like companion that can be mounted on to traverse the environment more easily and escape dangerous situations. Considering how much environmental traversal the series has, it’s surprising that the games haven’t implemented this kind of easy-to-use animal mount system until now. The speed at which the Palamutes travel makes navigating the open maps feel seamless, and in a game where monsters frequently flee from the player character, it nice to see a feature that offers a bit more control over how and when the player can continue each fight.
The arguably more substantial movement addition is the Wirebug, a tether of sorts that allows the player to zip through the environment a limited number of times. The environments in Rise have a noticeable degree of verticality that appropriately accommodates the Wirebug feature, and zipping onto a nearby mountain to grab hidden items feels like a natural evolution of Monster Hunter’s exploration elements. What really sells the Wirebug, however, is its combat utility, as the player can use it to more easily dodge incoming attacks and strike a monster from above. The Wirebug takes the calculated combat of Monster Hunter and enhances it with a degree of freedom and player expression that hasn’t really been seen in the series before. It’s a wonderfully versatile tool that increases the depth of combat without sacrificing its deliberate pace.
This added combat utility is nothing without compelling enemies to fight, and Rise succeeds with flying colors in this regard. Each boss monster has a varied pool of attacks that require different responses from the player, and these extensive move sets more than justify the amount of time these battles take. The average monster takes anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour to fell, and a whole host of unique events can occur within that timeframe. Every so often, a monster will flee from the battle to rest, giving the player ample time to stock up on necessary resources and providing a welcome period of calm between the intense action of the monster hunts. Oftentimes this leads to the monster simply wandering around in another location, but it can also lead to the monster falling asleep or feeding itself, granting the player an opportunity to launch a highly-damaging sneak attack. Other times, it can be found wrangling with another monster on the map, which leads to another of Rise’s new additions. When this happens, the player can ride one of the monsters and control it, which may lead to an intense and unpredictable fight with the opposing monster or an opportunity to inflict extra damage on the monster the player is currently riding. It’s a novel and thrilling feature that only adds to the impressive sense of dynamism given to each monster. These details make the monsters feel less like scripted encounters and more like actual living, breathing creatures with a sense of self-preservation. It’s a unique approach for video game boss design even today, and the fact that these dynamic fights happen so often in Rise is nothing short of impressive.
As good as these elements are, the game noticeably suffers from a lack of approachability. The beginning of the campaign is a slog to get through, with paragraphs upon paragraphs of tutorial text to sift through along with a slew of busy, unintuitive menus to get accustomed to. To some degree, the complexity of the menus may be a necessary evil, as the overwhelming number of systems in Rise would be incredibly difficult to condense into an easily understandable series of menus. A larger effort to streamline the menus should have been made though, especially when considering that the player is forced to navigate one of these menus in real-time whenever they collect an item that exceeds the maximum carrying capacity. Fumbling through the menu during these scenarios is a chore, and it becomes especially painful to deal with in the middle of an intense monster battle. The tutorials are, in some ways, even more baffling, as they are frontloaded with terminology and jargon that the player likely won’t understand the first time they read it, especially if they are new to the series. What’s even worse is that some of the game’s systems are actually simple to grasp in practice, so instead of overwhelming the player with terms like “Permabuffers” and “Endemic Life,” the tutorial could have said, “collect insects to boost your stats” instead. The series is over a decade-and-a-half old by now, so it shouldn’t be unreasonable to expect more streamlined tutorialization at this point.
Overbearing menus and tutorials aside, Monster Hunter Rise is an exceptionally solid action RPG that offers a staggering amount of content and replay value. Its additions feel tasteful and well-considered, and it demonstrates how valuable keen attention to detail can be for an experience. The game may be difficult to grow accustomed to, but it’s well worth rising up to the challenge.
Score: 8 out of 10
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch