Diary of a Monster Hunter - Starting the Hunt
In Japan, there is no escaping Capcom's headline series, Monster Hunter. Board the train and you’ll find yourself surrounded by solitary hunters, eyes down, engrossed in portable slaughter. Journey to Akihabara and you'll come across groups of teens huddle together for multiplayer hunting, oblivious to inquisitive foreigners peering into their circle in hopes of glimpsing Japanese pop culture in its natural habitat. You cannot visit a video game shop without tripping over something MH related, as most stores are filled to the rafters with special edition software, spray painted consoles and feline hoodies. Supermarkets and convenience stores offer little respite, as branded goods and product placement line the shelves. Why settle for a regular energy drink when you can slurp your sickly syrup from a Monster Hunter can?
The series also pops up regularly in awkward, cross-cultural conversation. Inquisitive Japanese students, unsure of their English and suddenly afforded the opportunity to chat with a native speaker would often turn to MH in an attempt to establish common ground:
Q1. Can you speak Japanese? (It doesn't matter if they have already heard you speak Japanese, this one is a given)
Q2. Where are you from? America? (It's always America)
Q3. Can you eat Japanese food?
Q4. Do you have a girlfriend? (With new found linguistic confidence comes inappropriateness)
Q5. How old are you?
Q6. What is your hobby? (Video Games, of course)
Q7. Do you know Monster Hunter?
At this point you are fast friends and moments away from someone plucking a limited edition MH PSP from their bag. God I miss Japan.
Although I could not avoid it, I never succumbed to MonHan fever. I shrugged off recommendations from friends, lumping MH together with natto and train driving sims, being far too Japanese for my occidental tastes. I tested the water a couple of times - an early English demo for Tri at Tokyo Game Show and an hour or so of Portable 2 (Freedom 2 in the West) - but these short-burst sessions failed to leave a lasting impression.
Despite my MH avoidance, I've always been reluctant to completely write it off. I recognize elements that I enjoy in other video games and I'm a sucker for anything that promises hundreds of hours of gameplay. I love the fact that gamers are so passionate about the series, one that has tortured Western fans as much as it has rewarded those in Japan. It positively encourages conversation, providing inexhaustible fodder for twitter, blogs and forums.
I will finally get to know Monster Hunter a little better this summer, having purchased a copy of Freedom Unite (Portable 2G in Japan). Earlier this year, Lumines Electronic Symphony reminded me how much I enjoy having a handheld game that I can dip in and out of, and MH seems perfect for those evenings when the TV is spoken for or when I want to game in my pyjamas. It will also give my Vita a purpose at a time when there are scant few other games of interest. I'll be playing a digital copy of Unite on my NGP, where it runs smoothly and the PSP visuals do not offend.
I had hoped that MH would be an experience that my wife and I could share, as I already own a Japanese copy of Freedom 2 along with a PSP. I would download a second copy from the EU store and partake in some ad-hoc hunting, but it turns out that the game is not compatible across copies from different regions. I considered just buying two PAL versions of Unite but my wife didn't seem too keen; I'm as shocked as you are that not all Japanese people love MH!
I decided to spend my £7.99 on beer instead. Those drinks ended up being Asahi, a Japanese brewer and my former tipple of choice, which brings us nicely to my next reason for seeking out Monster Hunter. As I become further and further removed from my time living in Japan and the memories seem less real the more I reminisce, I do find myself drawn to aspects of Japanese popular culture that weren’t always of interest, as I try to maintain a connection to my former home. I think I'd be lying if I said that MH's popularity in the Far East hadn’t played some small part in my decision to give it a spin. I've also recently re-discovered the 8-4 podcast - 8-4 are a Tokyo based localisation company staffed by ex-journos and industry types - and they love nothing more than banging on about MH, which has further sparked my interest in the series.
So that’s my history with Monster Hunter and the reasons why, after all these years, I'm finally going to give it the chance it deserves. I'm hoping that this will be the first entry in a series of MH posts, as I chronicle my early adventures, victories and defeats. Once I've nailed down the basics and learnt how to hit an oversized lizard with a stick, I'll probably start playing online via ad-hoc party, so feel free to add me (talkingbook) if you are up for some co-op.