Espinas coming to Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak is a major deal, and here's why
I absolutely can't wait for Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak - I love Monster Hunter; it's no secret that the franchise is filled with some of my favorite games of all time, and I've played every game in the franchise since Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on the PSP. Well... almost every game. Monster Hunter: Frontier, the Japan-only MMORPG, is probably a blind spot for many series' fans in the west, myself included. I never got around to playing it while it was still online, partially owing to the fact that it was a subscription-based MMO that also required the use of a VPN to get past the region-lock in the first place. It was a lot of effort to go through to play a game that even the series' most ardent fans have always been vocal about its many faults. Yet despite whatever issues the game itself had, it was still home to many, many monsters you simply couldn't hunt anywhere else in the series.
There was one exception, of course. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite added 2 Frontier monsters to mainline, alongside the previously Frontier-exclusive biome, the Great Forest; Hypnocatrice and Lavasioth. Lavasioth has seen a resurgence in recent years, having appeared in Monster Hunter Generations/Generations Ultimate and Monster Hunter World; but Hypnocatrice has been missing in action since MHFU. Espinas marks the return of introducing previously Monster Hunter Frontier monsters to the non-MMO games in a big way, being essentially the mascot monster of Frontier as a whole. With any hope, he might be the first in a procession of previously-exclusive monsters getting a second chance at life, after Monster Hunter Frontier's closure in 2019.
While it's nowhere near as much of a point of contention these days as the series has continued to embrace faster-paced combat, with monsters balanced to compensate for players' increased mobility - back in the day, Frontier always had a bit of a stigma surrounding it. Yet regardless of how folks might have felt about the game, or maybe even still feel about it, it's undeniable that the game was a massive part of the series' history; a history that many players have never had a chance to experience. Dozens of monsters, many biomes, and even entirely unique weapon types in Tonfas and Magnet Spikes - with Frontier no longer accessible, it's important that its best ideas get preserved in one way or another moving forward.
Monster Hunter has always been at its best when it understands and embraces its history, while at the same time confidently moving forward into the future. Seeing older series maps like the Sandy Plains and the Flooded Forest being remade in Monster Hunter Rise, and now the second-generation Jungle receiving the same treatment in Sunbreak is a great example here. Bringing back old fan-favorite monsters, even if their mechanics would require extra work such as Gore Magala and Seregios, is another. Maybe it doesn't hit the same from the outside looking in, but Monster Hunter thrives on just how often the series is willing to revisit older concepts and ideas to make them feel new again.
On the same token, what about Frontier? It's exciting to consider the prospect of the mainline devs revisiting ideas from the Frontier team to make them their own. To see monsters for the first time in the west, revisited and revamped to better mesh with the series as players have come to know it in the years both before and since Frontier's Japan-only launch. Perhaps to see Tonfas and the Magnet Spike get a second chance at life in newer entries in the series, or to have Frontier locations remade in much the same way that Rise has reimagined other biomes from the series' history. Maybe it's putting the cart before the horse, but with Espinas' inclusion, it feels as if the floodgates have well and truly opened.
Maybe it's nothing more than a simple nod to a celebrated monster from the series' history; but with how long it's been since Frontier has been represented in the series proper, it's hard not to consider the possibilities. Certainly, it's easy to hope that it might be a sign of more in the future. Espinas' introduction to mainline Monster Hunter just might be sounding the horn to mark the integration of previous Monster Hunter Frontier concepts into the games moving forward, and I can only hope that's not just me reading into things.