Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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New England Gamer
May 2010

A Hunting Tradition

Like most folks trying to break into the tightly-gated world of gaming journalism, I'll take just about any work I can get. When I'm not writing my columns here, or otherwise working a normal job, I do as much freelance work as I can find. As of late, this has meant writing a lot of guides and walkthroughs. It's funny, because growing up I remember reading such guides and thinking how cool it would be to write those, to get paid to play a video game. Well, having lived the dream I can report that it's a bit more lackluster than I imagined. I'm not complaining, of course. I have had some enjoyable experiences writing guides, but overall it's incredibly time consuming and really manages to drain a lot of the entertainment value of gaming. Having to stop every six seconds to take a screenshot or to write down some minute detail is not fun. It's work, plain and simple.

My latest and most painful bit of work has been with Monster Hunter Tri. In case, you haven't heard, Monster Hunter is just about the most popular game in Japan at the moment, and the latest entry recently hit North America to rave reviews. Many have called it the best game on the Wii, not that that is saying much. I know for a fact that their play experience was different from mine. Monster Hunter, you see, is the sort of game you take your time with. You're supposed to invest dozens, even hundreds of hours into it, tinkering and experimenting with weapons and skills. The goal, as the game's title suggests, is to hunt monsters; and this is not easy work. The bigger baddies are tough as nails, and genuinely require the aforementioned time to beat. Many encounters run close to an hour as a rule. You can't rush in to Monster Hunter. And yet, that's what I had to do.

I wasn't given a strict deadline with the game, but I was still working on the clock one and as a result, those elements that are supposed to make the game challenging and fun just made it frustrating. Every time that I would spend an hour trying to kill a monster just to fail, felt like nothing more than a waste of time. How was I supposed to make timely updates to my guide, if I would spend entire days just trying to get past a single boss? As a result, my life for the past few weeks has been Monster Hunter. After all that time, after basically breathing and eating Monster Hunter, I am very much sure that I never want to play it again.

Because for all the good elements of the game, all that really comes to mind are those that need improvement. The game's camera, for instance, is lousy. You work with it less than you fight with it, and when you have a dragon ten times your size barreling down on you, you don't want to fight just to see the thing. The controls as well, while not broken, are at best clunky. They feel unnatural, and many of my mistakes were simply because, acting on mistaken instinct, I pushed the wrong button. To my understanding, this is a long-running issue with the Monster Hunter games. It's one of those titles that consistently gets away not fixing its mistakes because fans cry foul, as if changing anything would make the game less.

In many ways it reminds me of Demon's Souls. Demon's Souls was a brutal, multifaceted game that required hours of devotion to conquer. The baddies you fight are huge and unforgiving. If you make any mistakes you are always punished for them. But unlike Monster Hunter, Demon's Souls was a well-made game across the board. The controls worked well and felt natural. It didn't try to pass off bad design as being a necessary part of the game, or as adhering to some gaming tradition.

That is the trap that Monster Hunter is falling into, and it's the same problem that has wreaked havoc on the Japanese gaming industry in recent years. Japanese developers have not been doing as well on the western market as of late because they have failed to move forward. Japanese role-playing games especially, play almost the same as they did fifteen years ago. And while some gamers might be satisfied with this sort of tradition, the rest of the world has veered off in a different direction that, in their failure to adapt, is leaving them behind.

Monster Hunter is very much indicative of this. The game was designed a certain way initially and the developers and fans refuse to change it, even if it means making it better. The consequence is that while it may be fine as it is, it will never grow. It will always be a part of an eastern gaming culture that grows less and less in tune with the rest of the world as time goes buy. There was a time when Japan was the center of the gaming world. Games like Monster Hunter are the reason it's not anymore.

Read more by Stewart Shearer

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