A brief chat with the developers of Monster Hunter World
Back at E3 2017, we watched the pretty incredible-looking presentation of Monster Hunter World and left impressed. It looks like a fascinating mixture of what made the other Monster Hunter titles great with a few unique and interesting twists, many of them inspired by Western RPGs as well as by a desire to make the basic Monster Hunter formula appeal to a Western audience.
This might lead to fears about dumbing down or compromising Monster Hunter for the West, but we get the sort of opposite impression off what we saw - by allowing for more dynamic and immediate gameplay, the possibilities in any given combat encounter in Monster Hunter expand significantly - and all this while keeping the basic gameplay loop of hunting, looting and crafting that made the Monster Hunter series so popular to begin with.
At E3 we had a brief few minutes to put a couple of questions to Producer Ryozo Tsujimoto and Director Yuya Tokuda - veterans of the Monster Hunter franchise who seemed to spend a lot of their E3 painstakingly explaining to media from every country in the world how this technically is Monster Hunter 5, even if a number isn't actually in the title.
It was a brief chat, but we touched on the Westernization of the series, plus the new, streamlined gameplay. Here's what was said.
RPG Site: So, having seen the demo... well, let's say - imagine a sliding scale. At one end you have full action games, and at the other you have a turn-based RPG like Dragon Quest. For a while it felt like Monster Hunter was a little closer to the turn-based end as real-time games go. It'd be methodical, predictable, slow in some ways. This time the game seems a bit different... characters move fluidly and such. Do you think you've moved on that scale, closer to being more of a full action game?
Ryozo Tsujimoto: I don't think we feel like we've really moved ourselves on the scale too much. We still have our core RPG-style game loop of going out, hunting a monster, carving the parts, going back to the hub world, using those parts to craft new gear... and then you go out and fight bigger, badder monsters. That's still there are a key gameplay cycle.
The action itself is more fluid, like you said, and it's just a lot more... we've removed the stumbling blocks that might've stopped some people from getting started.
But I also think that once you get your hands on the game, you'll definitely realise within the first couple of hours that this is still a Monster Hunter game. The Monster Hunter-ness has not been lost - we've just made it fine-tuned, well-honed, sleek - ready to go.
Certainly what I saw looked particularly dynamic in terms of how it moved with the grappling hook and the hazards you can trap monsters with.
Yuya Tokuda: You've probably felt it's more dynamic because the world is more dynamic - it doesn't have the stop-start nature of crossing loading screens and such. The seamlessness of the world is also reflected in the player's actions now - your actions are smoother, and the actions in general are more seamless too. I think those two things really work well together. When you start with the concept of a seamless world, the older ones will just feel clunky and out of place in this new environment.
The environment is also so interactive now - you can actually use the environment to your advantage strategically. There's all kinds of things on the stage that are there for your use - be that setting traps or creating effects that are going to impact the monsters. It's all out there on the stage now, and that makes it feel much more interactive and rich.
Every few steps you take there's something you can do, or utilize, or try to strategically incorporate into your hunting actions. That feel of satisfying Monster Hunter action has been complimented by the fact that this rich environment is part of your strategy. That's, again, a much more dynamic feel.
A lot of people are talking about this as the Westernized, Western-focusewd Monster Hunter. We've had a sort of golden age for the Western RPG lately with games like Skyrim and The Witcher 3 - do any in particular stand out as an inspiration?
Yuya Tokuda: We don't get influenced by one particular title, but we do realise that there are areas where we can learn from what others are doing.
Take standards of controls for example, and what people take for granted with certain control options - it can be very different in each region. It's certainly true that Monster Hunter's control system is quite unique, and that might've been a hurdle to a lot of Western players to jump in.
They've just got some base-line expecations of how games control. If our game has been clashing with those expectations in the past that can be a real hurdle for them getting into the game.
We don't want that to be a reason for them not playing the game, so we have made a few adjustments. For example, radial menus are pretty common features in Western games for selecting items. Now, we have our face button scroller which has been in the series since the start, but it doesn't necessarily make sense for some Western gamers - so we've added a new radial menu where you can use the right stick to access a lot of items really quickly.
We've also made it so that - running is commonly assigned with clicking in the stick in the West and we've always had it as holding in a shoulder button. We have the option now of using the stick to run.
Those little quality of life improvements that make Western gamers feel a little bit more at home with the game... we hope that learning from Western games in general that way will help to make it a much more appealing prospect for Western players to jump in and get into the meat of our game.
But of course it's optional - people who want to use the existing controls, Monster Hunter veterans, they can use the existing control style as well.