When I read about Monster Hunter Rise’s demo release causing Nintendo’s eShop to struggle and go under maintenance, I just packed all my hopes and immediately got on board the hype train. Playing a game so popular it caused “the internet to break” is an amazing selling point.
To be honest, though I’m a newcomer to the series, this wasn’t my first time hearing about it. Actually, it is kinda hard not to listen to Monster Hunter’s heroics adventures around here. I just happen to date an inveterate fan of the series, and since Monster Hunter Direct hit Youtube in 2020’s September, its release has been one of the most anticipated events for 2021. I’ve been practically brainwashed into liking it.
We’ve even been playing Dauntless in order to train my monster hunting muscles, as a provisory simpler free-to-play preparation. And after so many times hearing “Oh, you’ll have to play for Monster Hunter, they do this and that so much better”, I was shocked when we came to the realization that both I and my partner really hate the demo.
It’s hard to tell exactly why, but after meditating on the issue for a while, I’ve realized the simultaneous complete absence of key mechanics tutorials during quests and the misemployment of the few ones it offers is a big part of the problem.
I was struck by a huge fish out of water syndrome during this bafflingly poor presentation to a world that is still completely unknown to me due to its own lack of explanation. I got overwhelmed by the terrible design of the tutorials, felt completely lost on controls, and had no idea what was going on for the crucial first couple of hours. It seemed I just felt aimlessly into a world with no context at all and the demo simply doesn’t make an effort to be uninitiated-friendly.
You know, those posts that teach you best practices in a game tutorial? The ones that usually offer solid recommendations like blend the tutorial organically in the game, provide visual cues, offer a small amount of discoverability for the player, make messages unobtrusive, don’t interrupt the natural flow of the game, gradually add new mechanics and challenges, don’t generate unhelpful noise? Forget all that!
Monster Hunter Rise’s demo provides two styles of quests: slay monster quests and training quests. The “slay type” basically means “game”, and “training” means “tutorial”. For no good reason, they are two worlds built completely apart from each other.
On slaying quests, you pop out of thin air cluelessly on how to defend yourself in a world where homicidal creatures lurk in every corner. At least that’s how my overly impressed beginners’ mind remembers it. Also, for some reason, this is the first option on the title screen and will be literally labeled “beginner”. So, if you are a novice player, chances are you will select it right away.
After falling into this trap, and struggling for quite some while with close to no instructions from the game, I realized I’d probably just skipped the tutorial and had to go back to the title screen in order to do some training. This should fix my problems, right? RIIIIGHT?
Well… There is no way to put it lightly, but training quests are straight-up hell! It’s a 5 minute reading with 10 seconds of action. From the moment you put your feet on the training grounds, you absolutely cannot take a few steps without being fed a ludicrous overload of texts that are still completely unhelpful.
The majority of information is delivered via a heavily expositional dialogue or via pop-up screens filled with massive blocks of texts for you to read. The game hits you hard with it from the get-go and will make sure to constantly pause the action to feed another massive chunk every so often.
In my first time playing, I had no idea what the game was talking about since I was totally unfamiliar with the world around me, and I’d instantly forget everything I read the moment I closed the tutorial screen.
So, obviously, after exploring the region and traversing my way through the map, by the time I encountered combat I almost wished they just sent me a PDF file to my email so I can read on the run.
To be fair, the game has something like that. It’s called Hunter’s Note, and it kinda has everything I was expecting to learn from the tutorial. Unfortunately, it is buried under many layers of tabs in the start menu and it’s very impractical to use as an in-game first-hand source of information. There isn’t a single good reason why it isn’t better displayed nor eloquently mentioned. Seriously, it almost feels like studying before a test. Please, I’m begging, just put it as a hover text in a marked area on the map with some target I can swing my sword at!
There is a very obvious flaw in this system since it doesn’t offer valuable information at the precise moment you need it the most. Not only that, it still manages to get more and more convoluted and annoying!
Piles of texts just pop up outta nowhere in the middle of the action. If you are in the middle of a combat, chances are you’ll be smashing the A button so hard, you’ll skip it entirely, missing precious pieces of information, and having to backtrack, if you haven’t accidentally closed the tutorial window already.
There are even some graphic-narrative dissonances. Sometimes, probably due to some weird bug, Master Utsushi, the tutorial NPC guide will tell you to collect the spoils of your victory and carve the monsters’ precious parts. This would be a great thing to do unless the vestiges of my hunting decide to disappear during the dialogue cutscene.
To make things worse, it isn’t personalized to the class you’ve chosen. So it’s possible the game will give you visual advice for something that you can’t do. From my initial state of blissful ignorance, it’s just hard to tell if I’m the one inputting the commands wrongly, if I’m failing to meet certain conditions, or if the weapon I’m equipped with won’t do the work.
And, OH MY GOSH, can we talk about how desperately attention seeker Master Utsushi is? This is one of the worst tutorial elements that is evidently detrimental to the overall experience. Even though exploring nature is one of the greatest activities the game offers, during a training quest you can’t just go off script, wander around the woods, follow the watercourse, peacefully vibe on a peak, or freely scout the remains of a fallen village.
This guy is a tremendous party pooper and will ruin everything by constantly popping up on your screen, ringing a bell, and screaming into your ear every five seconds. I am not even kidding, it is exasperating! It almost feels like the game is haunted by some version of Mortal Kombat’s “Toasty!” guy on a broken loop. Calm down, pal. Just leave me alone for mere 10 seconds. I really don’t want to see your convoluted PowerPoint presentation right now!
Repeating the training sessions until you get it is of no help either. Because, since you are presented with a low-level enemy, chances are your pet companions will finish them almost immediately while you are figuring out what to do. Or you will just one-hit-KO them the moment you draw your weapon by accident. You’ll basically be forced to troubleshoot through the unfair difficulty of slaying quests in order to crack this code. Unfortunately, the demo doesn’t offer that many opportunities.
Though you can play with 14 characters, you are actually limited to 30 tries. So, you either choose between play-testing them all or getting comfortable with a couple of playstyles. Although, fear not, the demo offers no sense of progression. So it doesn’t make sense to get too invested in one particular character. There aren’t enough “try credits” to master all heroes, and there aren’t incentives to make you replay a single character over and over again.
There are no long-term collectibles, crafting, upgrading, or customization. You can only have a real sense of what the game could be if you are an experienced hunter from other titles, and even so, you may leave feeling the demo of Monster Hunter Rise is just a shell of a former self since it is stripped from the core content and the perks that make it remarkable.
In practice, the demo of Monster Hunter Rise isn’t the most enlightening experience. It has moments of extreme exposition and hand-holding that doesn’t seem purposeful. On the other hand, it plainly leaves you with your own devices trying to make sense of way too many new things on your own. It simultaneously treats you like an illiterate gamer that never played anything before and makes a big deal about collecting local flora using the “A” button, while also assuming you are a Monster Hunter connoisseur and self-schooled combat master.
Monster Hunter Rise’s demo commits such simple, avoidable and unforgivable sins. I mean, it all could be so easily corrected with a tiny hub world where you can dress up with the weapons you want, test them in a dummy before getting into the “real game”, accompanied by some short tips on-screen to help you perform basic combos. You know, just like Hades’ Skelly or Dauntless’ Training Ground. This isn’t the invention of the wheel, it is just a bit of common sense.
To sum things up, the demo feels like running in circles and chasing tails. There is way too much text, but it all fails to make you better informed and more knowledgeable of the game’s mechanics. Most of the essentials are deeply hidden on the start menu in a practically unusable manner. There isn’t a sandbox version of stages that helps me figure things out by myself, without some NPC constantly yelling off-screen. At the end of the day, I felt it was just partaking in a pointless exercise.
From a newcomer perspective, all the Monster Hunter Rise demo achieved was to alienate me from the experience. In reality, it made me want to quit playing it and wait for the release of the actual game, where hopefully I’ll have an engaging story to get involved in and actual challenges that appear within a reasonable learning curve backed by a progression system. The gameplay as a whole is heavily impaired by its tutorial and overall limitations. It’s saddening that most of the pitfalls could be easily prevented with a more polished presentation.
Nonetheless, while Monster Hunter Rise’s first impressions weren’t striking, at the end of the day it is just a demo. And even though it managed to cut down part of my expectations for the game, it didn’t cause irreparable damage. We can always hope for the final cut to be well developed.
Or just train really hard using paratexts, fan-made guides, and playthroughs. Though it isn’t ideal to feel you have to pause your gaming session so you can google how to play it correctly.
Nevertheless, I do hope the demo manages to provide much-needed feedback for some future patches, fixes, and updates. Well, actually, while I was writing this text, it’s been reported that Capcom’s Japanese Twitter account addressed that some other small bugs will be fixed on the definitive version of the game. So… let us hope for the best?
I guess I’m just spoiled by Hyrule Warriors’ demo. It was a perfect segue from ‘Breath of The Wild’ to ‘Age of Calamity’. It offered me an introduction to a genre I wasn’t quite familiar with. It fed me with sensible small bites of new information that felt like baby steps progressions. And the icing on the cake was a compelling prologue to the story that ended on a cliffhanger that just made me more excited to play the actual game. Monster Hunter Rise demo does none of that. But it may leave you wanting to replay Monster Hunter World!