Monster Hunter Rise Review
A scaled down adventure
2018’s Monster Hunter World was a revelation for the long-running Capcom series. Since 2004, the franchise has increasingly become a curiosity that scored big in Asia (especially Japan) but struggled to find a home in the west. However, Monster Hunter World changed all of that. Those who had been long-intimidated by the series, or didn't own a Nintendo console, suddenly found themselves encouraged to jump in. World scaled up the action of previous Monster Hunter titles and made itself a game that was helpful in onboarding new players. The increased production and accessibility made it the high point in the franchise thus far. So the looming question with Monster Hunt Rise was: can the game go back? Can Monster Hunter roll itself backward and create a smaller, more niche entry much as the series did before?
The game isn’t bad. It often borders on being good. And it feels unfair to compare a game that’s designed to be a portable experience on Nintendo Switch with one that was running on the PS4/Xbox One - yet Capcom doesn’t do anything to dissuade you of that comparison. It’s not trying to sell a lower-tier Monster Hunter game, it’s just trying to sell another one, so those comparisons can’t help but come up and they always break badly for Rise. Rise manages to be sound mechanically - it’s a Monster Hunter game and delivers on those merits. But visually, narratively, and in terms of scope, it comes up short.
You play as a newly deputized Hunter. The village elder advises you that an old event called “The Rampage” seems to be on the verge of occurring once again and the village needs all of the heroes it can get - that means you’ve been called into service. You settle into a life of killing monsters, harvesting their parts, taking their parts to the smith, and upgrading your gear - wash, rinse, repeat. There isn’t too much else to go on here. The game is broken up by star levels, of which there are six. The missions to progress to the next star level are marked as Urgent Missions, which supposedly advance the story. I say supposedly because they don’t do much of anything. There are no beats, no development, it’s all pretty straightforward. Monster Hunter Rise is more interested in its gameplay than anything else.
That gameplay is still solid. The act of you and a squad of teammates, taking down monsters has been the linchpin for the series since its conception and has always held up. There are two kinds of missions in Monster Hunter Rise: village missions, which are single-player and include the story-progressing Urgent Missions, and hub missions that feel more like opportunities to revisit monsters in order to collect the missing parts needed to forge your gear. The networking is pretty great. You can just set your mission up as a public match as it begins and the game will throw people into your quests. You can also find a buddy board and join quests easily as well. This kind of fluid match-making takes away a lot of the stress of facing down monsters that may be overpowering or difficult.
The act of using the courier to make a lobby so you can play with friends is a bit of a bigger ask. Monster Hunter World was a bit of a complicated mess when it came to setting up multiplayer and Rise is just as clumsy - perhaps more so. There are guides all over the internet about how to get into a lobby and set it up - not a great sign for your multiplayer game.
Chasing down monsters and dueling it out is still fun. The game is still very insistent that you dodge a lot (especially if you don’t have a shield) then strike quickly when you’ve found the weak spot. I did start to find the grind of fighting the monsters getting a little tedious as Monster Hunter Rise struggles to find interesting ways to smooth out its pacing. Luckily, the game can keep its momentum going with some cool new mechanics. First, you have Wirebugs, which is a refinement of the Clutch Claw from Monster Hunter World’s Iceborne expansion. The second addition is that of the Palamutes, the dog-like mounts that join you in battle alongside the traditional Palicos (your cat-like hunting buddies.) The Palamutes and Wirebugs combine to add a level of mobility that the series hasn’t seen before.
That solid and familiar gameplay would go further if it was buoyed by a more interesting world and design. I thought I would be all-in on Monster Hunter Rise’s blend of its monster-filled fantasy world with Feudal Japan, but the style never hooked me. Maybe that’s because the setting feels less fleshed out than Monster Hunter World. So much of World was designed to be jaw-dropping, not just in terms of beauty but in scope as well. The humbler size of Rise means there’s less organic discovery, less joy in exploring the world. The locations of forests, tundra, and desert all feel too familiar to stand out. Each location only feels like set-dressing in Rise, whereas World blended the scenery in with the action.
The game runs well, but again, this comes at the expense of the world design. The framerate of monsters in the distance was rather abysmal at times, another reason why I don’t think this game looked very good. Instead of creating intricate environments that feel alive, Rise is trying to push the Switch hardware and offers environments that feel flat, with poor resolution and fairly devoid of life (excluding the monsters). Still, I’m thankful that the game runs well while in combat - even in handheld mode of the Switch.
Monster Hunter Rise had an impossible task. Having to follow up the high point of a storied franchise on a less-powerful console is something no studio would enjoy. However, simply hand-waving Rise’s shortcomings is a disservice to Monster Hunter World. Rise isn’t a worse game because it fails to be big and intricate, it’s because it doesn’t learn some of the important lessons World did in terms of building an interesting environment or ecosystem. Instead, it returns to the status quo with some quality of life updates. And if that’s what you’re here for - godspeed. Enjoy the thrill of slaughtering monster after monster - with friends or on your own. For the others who entered the series with Monster Hunter World and are eager for more, you’ll have to keep waiting.