My twelve year old son is spending a good chunk of his summer holiday playing Monster Hunter World and frankly, I’m jealous. It’s pretty, it’s exciting, and he’s making everything I’ve struggled with since 2004 look so darned easy. I want another go… I think. But not on that one – I can do without paying money to officially embarrass myself. I need something a little smaller… more familiar…
This train of thought leads me to the PSP game Monster Hunter Portable 3rd (later remastered for the PlayStation 3 with additional 3DTV support and cross-format save compatibility), a game that sold almost five million copies in its lifetime – not too bad for a title released in one country on a “failed” system, is it? It’s not too bad for me either as this rampant success means I can and do pick up a copy for peanuts without any trouble at all. Compared to the rest of the Portable (or Freedom, depending on your location) series Portable 3rd’s a bit of a sideways step, choosing “Different” over “More”. The case includes a thick manual – almost seventy pages long – crammed with text and diagrams that assume absolutely nothing about the reader’s prior experience with the series, explaining every icon, symbol, setting, and even giving example weapon combos too; I really did become a better player for reading it through. Another little boost for newcomers comes via Portable 3rd’s character transfer capabilities – or rather, the lack of them. As someone who hadn’t invested MMO quantities of time into the previous entries this truly fresh start meant I wasn’t beginning the game on a back foot and, even if only for the opening quest, I was going to be struggling with the exact same crummy equipment as everyone else. It sounds a little selfish to say this but I do like how “cut off” Portable 3rd is from the rest of the series – a little bit like an evolutionary dead-end (I consider the equally import-only Monster Hunter 2 to be much the same thing): I can’t even pretend I could keep up with World’s constant updates and all of that juicy paid DLC, and the scientific dissection of the other older releases by people who know these games better than I ever will is just… I just know I’m doing it all wrong before I even start. It’s exhausting.
It’s also not my problem any more because Portable 3rd has dropped through my letterbox, my PSP is fully charged, and now my son and I are sitting on the sofa, playing two very different Monster Hunters together and apart.
As I’m starting a whole new game the first few quests are as predictably straightforward as they’ve always been: Gather a few things, walk around a bit and get used to the first area, maybe kill a few herbivores for raw meat – the usual sort of easing-in busywork. The Misty Peaks region I’m standing in is about as familiar to me as the dark side of the moon and as pretty as it looks I have no idea where anything is, so the only thing I can do is run around at random, manually checking any and all suspicious flowers and shrubbery for item-crafting materials. During this bewildering stumble of an expedition I catch my son casually grabbing a few herbs off the ground as he walks past a leafy outcrop his scoutflies have highlighted for him, and his UI politely informs him these have automatically been converted into potions. I am beside myself with elderly annoyance. Why are there no blue mushrooms in this recipe? Why did the game do it all for him? Why didn’t he have to stand there and get hit by sodding vespoids as he gathered items like he’s supposed to – like I’m doing?
Before I realise what’s happening I find myself channelling the spirit of Bakk Inm’dae, spouting verbal garbage such as “You know in these older games we have to mix those ourselves. By hand. Well not by hand but in a menu by hand… menu.” like a cave-dwelling witch complaining about such modern fancies as penicillin and basic personal hygiene.
My speech about Ye Olde Tymse is predictably met with the well-practised silence of a child being Told Things.
So I press on, oblivious to my imminent defeat. “In my game there are combos for these things! Multiple ingredients! It takes knowledge and skill!” I say, choosing to conveniently forget the handy menu I can open – the one that lists all of my currently available crafting recipes and even highlights the items I have the ingredients to make – for the purposes of my already feeble tirade.
“Mum, that stuff’s just annoying!” he insists as he spends more time doing exciting things, swinging from vines and launching himself onto the backs of enormous creatures, than he does scrambling around in the dirt as I might just so happen to be doing for paintberries.
“It’s not annoying , it’s crafting!”
“You just open up a menu and click on some things!”
“Yeah but…” dammit. I may have lost the argument but I can still quietly celebrate my complete and total victory over a pack of wily mushrooms and head back to Yukumo village undefeated… ish.
Portable 3rd’s central hub is a nice and compact place to prepare for a hunt as everything’s either already out in the open or just one door away and it’s all split neatly down the middle by a single straight path. It’s quick, easy, and even I can remember where to find things, and I have said “Where’s my phone?” whilst holding my phone more often than anyone ever should. I look over at my son’s game of Monster Hunter World, with its gorgeous skyscapes, busy people, and what appears to be a dizzying tangle of lifts for stairs for lifts – and honestly, I’ll take Yukumo. Well… apart from one small detail…
He’s now moved over to his elaborate cat-run canteen, all giant fiery ovens and dangling sausages, and the incredibly meowscular (I sadly can’t take credit for that brilliant word) cat chef is busy slicing up a steak the size of a house with an actual sword. My stomach rumbles.
“So where’s your cat chef mum? What do they look like?”
Ah. I panic a little as he innocently skewers my manageable little Yukumo’s major flaw.
“Well, Yukumo’s unique in that it doesn’t actually have any sort of cat chef at a-”
He looks at me like I’ve just told him I honestly believe the sun is made of cheese – a Monster Hunter game without a small army of cats preparing a pre-hunt meal? Unthinkable. I plough on. “What it has instead is this relaxing hot spring.”
He glances over to inspect this nigh-heretical replacement and I demonstrate a few of the amusing animations that can happen while you bathe, splashing the water around and floating on my back.
“That’s a shame.” he says as he considers adding some more ethereal floating jellyfish to his magnificent private room as a pair of felyne musicians soothingly play the harp next to a bed fit for an emperor.
No matter the hardware or the game there comes a point in every Monster Hunter where the player must Hunt Monsters, and I have decided I am going to use bows to carry out this monumental task. Bows look cool. Bows feel cool. Maybe they can make me look and feel cool too – if only these damned monsters would stay still…
Meanwhile my son’s taking a quick break from his favourite dual swords to test out World’s wide variety of alternative weaponry in the game’s dedicated practise area. He can see his damage output with every swing like some crazy PSP modder, and the top of the screen’s covered in an ever-changing whirl of move names, combo trees, and button prompts as he batters a giant lump of wood with a range of spectacular moves. He’s switched to bows now – my weapon – and handles one as if he’s been using them for years.
I’ll show him.
I don’t. I get mauled by… by everything. I can’t point the camera where I’m shooting and when I can whatever I’m hoping to skewer hops to the side juuuuust enough to avoid my arrow, the not-dino equivalent of waving a middle finger in my direction.
The words “When I started playing Monster Hunter” leak out of my mouth, a sort of reflex reaction to feeling old and doing badly at something a pre-teen is excelling at so effortlessly.
To my son’s credit he politely waits for this latest tale from The Before Times to meander to its creaky conclusion.
“When I started playing Monster Hunter (which I’ll have you know was on the PlayStation 2. An imported PlayStation 2. And we needed to buy a dedicated attachment to plug in the back just to go online. Which I did.) you didn’t use the buttons to attack at all – you had to use the analogue stick to mimic actions like sword swings and reloading bowguns.”
“That sounds quite cool” he says, effortlessly launching himself into the air before crashing down to earth during another impressive insect glaive combo, “but it must have been kinda awkward.” He switches back to his favourite dual swords and leaves the practise area after inadvertently demonstrating greater skill with weapon types he picked up a few minutes ago than I have ever shown with ones I’ve spent entire evenings reading up on.
“Y-yeah… it was.”
Another day is another chance to shine, and this session my not-so-little guy’s re-killing Zorah Magdaros, Monster Hunter World’s volcano-sized elder dragon. The little sod’s only doing it for fun, he doesn’t even need or want the various materials the quest awards upon his impending victory. Meanwhile I have been forced to admit that as cool as Monster Hunter’s bows look in my many art books I really can’t use them even though my hunter’s life literally depends on it, and so I spend the last of my zenny on something a little simpler – a basic longsword.
And the reason why I had to buy a basic longsword? Well… I might have done something as silly as sell all of the starter equipment in my item chest to pay for the barely-better-than-stark-naked gunner armour I had been getting thrown around in up to that point – it seemed like a good idea at the time, as if I was making a serious commitment to a particular style of play.
You can’t use gunner armour with swords.
I am now in my underpants trying to poke kelbi with a big shiny katana (I thought it was a good idea to start with something harmless and work my way up) and while there’s no denying how undignified this is I’m still doing better than I ever was with a bow – so much so that I’m now on the final starter quest, trying to steal royal honey from under the nose of a greedy Arzuros.
My son peers over my shoulder at the epic battle that’s about to unfold. I can do this. I’ve been practising. I’ve got enough healing potions to probably-maybe be OK. I can impress my son…
“Why are you in your pants?” Sigh. I explain. He pats me on the arm. His respect for me has just left the building, wearing tiny hunting short-shorts.
We both stare at the bear-like Arzuros, still chewing honey in the middle of the forest. I’ve got this. All that’s left to d-
“I’d grab the honey and run”
It pains me to say it but I should have listened to his advice instead of being so thoroughly and quickly cut to ribbons the only fight I left in me was the one to resist the urge to apologise to the poor beast for wasting its time.
I might have failed to mention this to my son.
I AM NOT DONE WITH THIS BEAR.
I pick the same quest. I know where the Arzuros lives. I know how they attack. I am going to win.
And I do (eventually)! That honey-loving ball of claws and fur is now my hat – MY HAT – and I’m now tearing through baby-level quests with all the confidence of somebody who got lucky once and has no idea at all about the trouble heading their way.
That trouble has a name: Qurupeco.
Monster Hunter’s family of unpredictably bouncy comedy bird-wyverns are usually the first real test of skill in the standard quest line, and Qurupeco’s battle’s made even more difficult by its ability to call in other equally dangerous monsters to the fight any time it likes.
I find this interesting bit of trivia out the hard way, taking on what I thought was a quest to kill one (1) Weirdy Bird-Monster and finding that damned bear rushing in to take an enthusiastic bite out of my poor hunter’s side. Needless to say I spend an awful lot of time rolling around on the floor here, and my supply of healing items runs out.
“Do you want me to take over for you mum?”
It’s an innocent question asked by someone who only wants to help, even though I’m pretty sure he’s never held a PSP in his whole wyvern-slaying life. No. I am going to do this. Me. I am going t-
Before my stubborn thought has reached my lips my much-battered avatar collapses to the floor for the last time and I turn my PSP off in shame.
This is Monster Hunter, and Monster Hunter is not something I’m prepared to give up on, not this time. I make sure I’m carrying all the right gear. I read up on Qurupeco’s “tells” and carefully take note of every single move.
I end up killing it so easily I don’t even come close to being in any kind of trouble at all. I did it! I turn to my son, filled with all the pride of a toddler who’s just run a rainbow’s worth of crayon across a wall. “Look! Look! I did it!”
“That’s nice mum” he says, not taking his eyes off the TV. He’s chopping up a Teostra, a late game elder dragon that’s mostly fire and teeth, to battle music from Devil May Cry as part of a special event designed to keep skilled World players busy. Typical.
Me? I settle back down with Portable 3rd and carry on playing until my hand aches and the battery light on my PSP starts to blink.