We are currently in what I would call a “gaming renaissance”. Games are now more accessible than ever. Everyone now can, and is most likely engaged in a game every day, be it a casual game like Candy Crush or games that will probably make you throw your controller across the room, like Dark Souls. However, with this increased accessibility, there is an increased incentive for game developers to lower a game’s difficulty to make it accessible to the widest demographic.
The lowering of difficulty in recent games seems to be apparent to many gamers as well, as there are tons of memes telling people to “git gud” or how every single game is labelled “like-Dark Souls” when it has a higher difficulty. There’s also the fact that every single thing done in a game these day is awarded with an achievement.
What sets Monster Hunter apart from most games is how brutally challenging it is. It is, in my opinion nothing like the stupidly hard Dark Souls where you don’t even know what you did wrong most of the time. Monster Hunter manages to balance out its difficulty with its reward, and its difficulty never feels cheap. There’s always a proper amount of difficulty for your level of skills and you always know what went wrong when you get smacked in the face by the monsters.
The difficulty of Monster Hunter comes in various layers and each of these layers serve to ramp up the difficulty, but at the same time, these layers serve to balance each other out.
First, the difficulty obviously comes from the monster itself. The monsters in this game comes in various forms, there are the cool and magnificent wyverns, the challenging elder dragons and many more. Each and every one of these monsters have their own unique trait and attack animations, which means all of these monsters come with their own attacks that make it difficult to take down. There could be a monster that is swift and fast, requiring you to count your opportunities to hit the monster; some monsters on the other hand hit like a truck but are slow, requiring you to always be alert when the next big hit from the monster will be and to take appropriate actions before the monster hits you. How they balance this difficulty presented by the monster comes from the weapons.
In Monster Hunter, there’s a large variety of weapons to choose from. Each of these weapons have their own play style, ranging from the fast and swift dual blades to the bulky yet strong Great Sword. Now, with each of these weapons present their own difficulty, like how the Great Sword feels extremely bulky or how resources must be managed when you use the Bow, especially since your specialised arrows can turn the tide of a battle with paralysis. However, with each of these weapons having its own difficulty to master, it also affects how you approach the monsters you’re facing. For example, if you’re using the bulky Great Sword, it is harder to fight the swift and nimble Nargacuga but will be perfect for going against the slower, more elegant Rathian.
One thing that really serves to ramp up the difficulty of Monster Hunter is how the character just isn’t as nimble or as flexible as most action games heroes like Dante from Devil May Cry or Kratos from God of War. Any true action oriented game usually empowers the player to the degree that they’re basically god. Double jumps, dash, blinks, teleports are all just common features in a typical action game. In Monster Hunter however, your character’s movement is extremely limited when compared to other action games, dodge roll takes stamina, and recovering after getting whacked by a Monster often takes multiple seconds. This limited character movement serves to ramp up the difficulty, but at the same time it makes the game much more engaging when you have to constantly think about your next move.
Now at this point, you may be thinking Monster Hunter is just another Dark Souls but I think that cannot be any further from the truth. This is due to one single thing, the quest system in Monster Hunter; which serves to teach you the basics of the game slowly without being intrusive. They pulled off the “Megaman tutorial trick” extremely well which is covered by Egoraptor in his Sequelitis series, which you can check out here.
The game essentially forces you to figure out its mechanics on your own instead of having tutorials spitting out tons and tons of dialogue to you. In Monster Hunter, the way to progress through the game is to complete various quests with increasing difficulty, but you usually start off with some gathering quests, which teaches you the mechanics of the game that involves gathering items for upgrading equipment and to craft items. Then, the game slowly progresses and the quests usually require you to hunt some of the smaller monsters which teach you the basics of combat, before finally requiring you to kill a big monster. At this point, you either get stuck because the bigger monster is too hard or you get through it easily, which either way, you learn something along the way.
As the quests progress, there will be a time when you hit a brick wall, and you cannot progress further. This is the part of the game where you need to grind and kill some of the weaker monsters to upgrade your equipment while gradually learning the mechanics of the game a little better. At the same time your skills become much more refined, allowing you to go to greater heights.
Ultimately, the progression system in Monster Hunter is what makes the difficulty in the game feel perfectly balanced as you grow naturally alongside the game’s difficulty curve; rather than having the game just throw a big boss with tons of health and hits like a truck to arbitrarily up the difficulty, which just feels like a cheap excuse for a difficulty spike. Monster Hunter manages to balance difficulty, challenge and fun perfectly, and that’s what makes this game so special.
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