Everybody who's been watching the international charts is aware that Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G (known in the West as Monster Hunter Freedom Unite) is a huge, huge success. The PSP game, which is a co-op action RPG that pits you as, well, a monster hunter, tearing up fields of dinosaur-like creatures, has sold over 3.5 million units in Japan.
The series hasn't seen the same kind of success in the West -- by any means. The company is hanging its hopes, then, on Monster Hunter Tri, the latest edition, which will debut in the U.S. in March 2010. Surprising many, the game was released for the Nintendo Wii, not the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 -- and it launched to extremely strong sales in Japan.
Still, other entries in the series have failed to translate Japanese popularity to Western success. Here, the game's producer, Ryozo Tsujimoto, discusses the series' shifting fortunes, the difficulties of developing a hardcore game with network support for the Nintendo Wii, and what sorts of design decisions help encourage the kind of social play that have turned this series into an enduring success -- and might turn the tide for the franchise outside of its home territory.
Now that the Wii version has come out in Japan, do you feel you made the right choice on platform?
Ryozo Tsujimoto: One of the reasons we think it was right to put it on Wii was that it was a good challenge for the director. It was something new to try out, to try and bring the spirit of Monster Hunter to the Wii, and keep that alive.
But still at the same time, how do you use the controllers to bring that feeling? The controls can't be unnatural. It has to be very natural and very intuitive. How do you realize that sort of feeling? So, that was something the director and the team worked a lot on, and tried very hard. We think that they've very successfully managed to bring that out in the Wii controls.
And how do you feel about its performance in the Japanese market since its release?
RT: Well, realistically, sales number-wise, we're doing well, but we don't want to be too quick on saying it was great or bad or anything like that. We still want to watch the market and see how it does. To be honest, we're still holding a lot of large events like the Monster Hunter Festas, and we're still doing a lot of promotion and stuff. We're not really done with it yet. We don't want to consider it done.
Another reason we don't consider it done is because it's a network game, and because you're playing online, you constantly have new people buying it, new people getting into it, new people getting online. And so we're just still looking at all the data. We're not ready to say it's good or bad yet, but it's all looking pretty good so far.
Are you doing downloadable content or any sort of events in-game, live team-type stuff?
RT: We're not doing downloadable content per se, but we do have event quests online. So, you can go online and play with other people and join in these special event quests that are only available for a limited time. For participating in these events, you can get specific items, weapons, or things like that. Up until maybe the end of the year? At least, we're planning that far. As far as our plans go, up until the end of the year, we will continue having these special events.
Monster Hunter has some strong fans in the West, but it's never gained the kind of explosive popularity it sees in Japan. What do you think of the prospects for Monster Hunter Tri in the U.S. and Europe this time?
RT: There are a couple things we've done that we feel help people get into it, especially people overseas. First of all, it being on a console, maybe that's something that Westerners are more used to, sitting in your house and playing online as opposed to the portable versions, where you actually have to bring in a machine and you have to get together. So, that in itself should open it up to a lot more people, because then you can be in your house, you can relax, and you can play at home.
Another thing is we've got this new single-player mode that we've actually put a lot of effort into -- whereas before you sit and you kind of have a quest, and you have another quest. But now we've got a good scenario to tie it all together, so now you can really enjoy it, feel like it's very natural to get into it. We teach you the controls very naturally as you're doing some quests. So, we can feel this way makes it easier for new players and beginners to get into this game.