I'm not sure if you're aware, but Monster Hunter is kind of a big deal. For most of us living in the West, we've been somewhat sheltered from the dragon-slaying action game that has been commanding the attention of eastern audiences for a good solid decade now. But, and thank god, Monster Hunter is beginning to make some serious headway in North America thanks to the excellent Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and 4 Ultimate.
Explaining what Monster Hunter is all about isn't an easy job. If you aren't familiar with it, imagine a game where one half of your time is spent fighting giant bosses that range from dragons to oversized rabbits in nail-biting timed missions. Then, using the resources you earn from killing (or trapping) those monsters, you build better gear to fight even stronger ones. The second half of the game is spent farming those materials, completing quests, and making preparations for the next big fight. That really sounds like an MMORPG, doesn't it? Well it should, Monster Hunter and modern MMORPGs have a lot in common. But where most MMORPGs are all about taking you through vast landscapes as you complete a million quests, Monster Hunter is more focused on these incredible boss fights. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, the latest game in the series, has over 70 different monsters to hunt—each one sporting its own moves and abilities, needing different tactics and strategies to take down. It's incredible.
But sadly, as much as Monster Hunter remains one of my favorite handheld games, there just isn't a huge market for it in the West. That means that, despite my endless dreaming, the franchise hasn't been as fully realized as I feel it could be on other platforms. Which is why today's article is all about rounding up the games that scratch that Monster Hunter itch in their own way.
Monster Hunter Online
Okay, remember how I just finished saying there wasn't really a Monster Hunter MMORPG? I lied, there is, but the catch is that it is only available to eastern audiences. Actually, if I'm totally honest, there are two different Monster Hunter MMORPGs, one that is still in development called Monster Hunter Online, and the much older Monster Hunter Frontier.
Getting into either game is going to require a pretty big effort. Monster Hunter Online is currently in closed beta and doesn't have any announced plans for a release outside of China. Crytek, the developers of the beautiful CryEngine that Monster Hunter Online utilizes, made the mistake of saying differently a few years back, but the statement has since been retracted.
Monster Hunter Frontier, however, can be accessed by those in Europe and North America, but doing so won't be easy. You're going to need to fiddle with things like VPNs so that you can bypass the restrictions that stop people from playing outside of Japan or Korea. It'll be a nightmare to figure out for all but the most dedicated Monster Hunter fans.
That said, doing so might be worth it. Frontier offers a vastly more expansive Monster Hunter experience than ever before seen. While the main series has always packed a sizeable roster of monsters to hunt, Frontier takes that to absurd levels. After all, the MMORPG has been around since 2007 and has 16 expansions under its belt.
Everything about the beautiful diversity of Monster Hunter can be found in Frontier, just with more. More weapons, more armor, more monsters. The only real problem (aside from playing a game that remains almost entirely untranslated on a fairly poor connection speed) is that, depending on what region's version you find yourself playing, you might be exposed to various levels of traditional eastern MMORPG cash gouging. But then again, if you're willing to take the time to spend a day or two getting Monster Hunter Frontier set up, that little obstacle likely isn't going to prevent you. Either way, these two options to exist, but, for most of us, they just serve to taunt us. Unless you're already a diehard Monster Hunter fan, these simply won't appeal.
Now, before you Monster Hunter evangelists crucify me for suggesting that Tera is a good Monster Hunter substitute, let me just say that this is a suggestion for people wanting a bit of a taste of Monster Hunter but in a more traditional MMORPG format. The thing is, Tera and Monster Hunter don't have a lot in common other than they both focus on combat that emphasizes proper timing and dodging.
But, if you've wanted to get a taste of Monster Hunter without buying a handheld console, this is a decent place to start. Tera is a pretty traditional MMORPG in just about every way. You'll pick a class, level that class, and complete a ton of really boring quests. But the thing that really sets Tera apart from the pack is the much more action-based combat. Instead of just standing in front of a monster and spamming abilities, you'll need to be constantly dodging their abilities and striking during their openings. This is best realized when fighting bosses or BAMS (Bad-ass Monsters) where the battle becomes an elaborate dance requiring a lot of strategy and agility.
Another "not-quite-but-close" Monster Hunter game is Vindictus, a free-to-play action MMORPG. Like Monster Hunter, Vindictus has a laser-focus on singular fights rather than exploring big open worlds and doing all that silly "questing" that most modern MMORPGs force you to do nowadays. Instead, Vindictus is all about the instanced fights where you'll work through a tightly scripted level working to hack'n'slash monsters to bits while collecting items to help you acquire better armor. It shares a bit of a similarity with Monster Hunter mostly in this regard, as the action is also heavily based around knowing combos and timing them properly to counter an enemy's own attacks.
However, Vindictus can also get very repetitive. It also fails to touch on the other aspect of Monster Hunter like gathering resources out in the field or researching the monsters before you actually fight them. In a way, Vindictus is a lot more straightforward. That said, if you're looking for something to jump into at no cost and get some quick and dirty action, Vindictus is a great game to look into. It is highly skilled based, meaning you won't be able to slack off just because your sword has got some sweet stats backing it up. Just don't be surprised when you become frustrated by how repetitive it can become after enough time.
Dragon's Dogma (Online)
I have a confession to make: I'll do whatever I can to champion Dragon's Dogma. That game is flawed but incredible. Even better, there are enough analogues between it and Monster Hunter that you'll begin to see how both games have influenced each other in their development. Now, while I'll forever sing the praises of the single player game that arrived on Xbox 360 and PS3 (with a PC version headed this way in January), there is also the MMORPG adaptation announced earlier this year to consider.
Right now, like some of the entries on this list, Dragon's Dogma Online seems perfectly content to cater specifically to eastern audiences and leave us English speaking folks well enough alone. A huge tragedy if I ever saw one. But, like the other games, a determined player should have no issue circumventing whatever measly barriers Dragon's Dogma Online has to prevent the rest of us from snooping.
If you never had a chance to play Dragon's Dogma, however, you should absolutely make that effort. I won't pretend that the game had some pretty glaring flaws, but it also managed to tell a bizarre and captivating story and package it up with some stellar combat. You had so much freedom in how to develop your two characters, and the other two that you would effectively "borrow" from others online was such a unique and interesting concept I'm a bit sad no one has "borrowed" it yet.
It shouldn't be surprising that, as much as Monster Hunter is a smash hit in the East, that all the games replicating it in some form would also largely be focused on Asian audiences. Which is a huge shame, in my opinion, because what Monster Hunter gets right is something that very few games ever have the will to tackle. That said, I will say that I was mainly looking to showcase games that took Monster Hunter and blended it designs more in league with MMORPGs, and in doing so did skip over some pretty incredible single player options. If you find yourself the proud owner of a Playstation Vita, be sure to check out Soul Sacrifice Delta or Freedom Wars, both of which offer great portable takes on Monster Hunter. Or, y'know, just play Monster Hunter. It's basically an MMORPG anyway.
What about you? Do you have any games that perfectly scratch that Monster Hunter itch? Think my suggestions weren't all that great? Think they were amazing (stop it, you'll make me blush)? Let us know in the comments!