This is a column by Kat Bailey dedicated to the analysis of the once beloved Japanese RPG sub-genre. Tune in every Wednesday for thoughts on white-haired villains, giant robots, Infinity+1 swords, and everything else the wonderful world of JRPGs has to offer.
Before Dragon's Dogma became a surprise success, the common refrain was that it was Monster Hunter for westerners. The developers expressed surprise, but given the presence of large, roaming beasts and Capcom's role as a publisher, the comparison was perhaps inevitable.
Now though, the shoe is very much on the other foot. Over the weekend, Capcom released a new trailer for Monster Hunter 4, and the whiff of Dragon's Dogma was unmistakable. It's not just the fact that you can grapple with monsters, but the overall feel of the whole presentation. All it's missing is B'z and his beautiful, completely nonsensical lyrics.
On the whole, Monster Hunter seems to be going for the faster, punchier feel of Dragon's Dogma, home of castle-destroying snake monsters and other beasts. In both the new trailer and last year's trailer, the main character can be seen hopscotching across chasms and swinging across ceilings. He clings to a wall while a dragon-like Tigrex tries to torch him from below. He scales a sheer cliff in pursuit of a beast that looks like a cross between an orangutan and Stitch from Lilo & Stitch fame. And, of course, he is clearly seen hanging for dear life on the back of a dragon while stabbing for all he's worth.
Monster Hunter battles have always been 'epic,' but this latest trailer seems to put more emphasis than ever on such setpiece moments. It suggests a faster, more action-oriented approach than the more conservative, tactical games of the past. In short, it already feels a lot like Dragon's Dogma, even if the latter didn't have a whole lot in the way of platforming (that I can remember, at least).
While Dragon's Dogma moves at a much faster clip than Monster Hunter, it's not exactly God of War or Ninja Gaiden. Against the larger monsters in particular, both caution and critical thinking must be exercised to avoid getting ripped to shreds in certain order. But it's a long way from the tactical glories of Monster Hunter, where the weight and the swing of each of the dozen or so weapon types can completely alter the approach one takes to a monster battle. Of the action games on the market today, Dark Souls matches the breadth and depth of the weapon selection in a Monster Hunter game.
That Capcom is touting Monster Hunter 4's setpieces tells me a couple things. One is that they have been paying attention to the non-fans who have groused about the series being "slow" and "boring." The other is that they read the Dragon's Dogma reviews, which mostly praised its accessible – not to mention punchy – battle system. Granted, Monster Hunter 4's development team was probably moving in this direction well before May, but I wouldn't be shocked if the game's fan reception accorded to Dragon's Dogma pushed Capcom in this direction.
Now, if you think I'm saying the sky is falling over a trailer, I'm not. If anything, Monster Hunter was probably due for a change of pace after a half-dozen similar looking spinoffs. I think the challenge for Capcom is in livening things up without sacrificing the depth that has characterized the series to this point. i think one model is probably Dragon's Dogma's gryphon battle – a tense duel in which various body parts must be sliced off before tackling the whole. Think of that, but with a much wider array of weapons, more complicated monsters, and true co-op. Done properly, in other words, Monster Hunter 4 could potentially bridge the gap between two excellent battle systems in Dragon's Dogma and the third-generation Monster Hunter games.
Another element of the trailer that I find potentially appealing is the possibility of finally getting a real open-world Monster Hunter game, which is hinted at in the rather expansive zones shown in the trailer. If Dragon's Dogma expansive world showed anything, it's that the artificial boundaries imposed by loading times has been holding Monster Hunter back to some extent. Monster Hunter's vistas have always been glorious, but the invisible walls of the zones can't help but rob them of some of their power. A real open-world Monster Hunter would probably be more feasible on a home console like the PlayStation 3, but who knows? The Nintendo 3DS is a relatively new platform, and Monster Hunter 4 is already one of the best-looking games to appear on the system to date.
I would say that this is all part of an attempt to make Monster Hunter more palatable for global audiences, but I'm not sure that's a priority for Capcom at this point. Rather, the quick, more setpiece-oriented approach and the (hopefully) open world seem like a natural evolution for the series, with Dragon's Dogma serving as an early testbed of sorts. As with anything else, it will probably be met with its share of criticism from the true believers. But as someone who felt the series was getting a little stale, I look forward to seeing what Capcom has up its sleeve.
As for the relationship between Dragon's Dogma and Monster Hunter, it's probably only going to get stronger. Capcom was apparently happy enough with the sales of Dragon's Dogma to give it a sequel (or two), meaning that there's more where that came from. In an ideal world, there will be mutual give and take between the two franchises, with both games growing stronger as a result. Of course, we all know that it's not an ideal world. But it's nice to dream, isn't it?
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.