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Why must Monster Hunter 4 be visually ugly?

by Marco Magnani on 04/11/13 05:18:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Browsing through some video game communities on the Internet, I've often read about people expressing such Hamletic doubts. Why is Capcom not developing a Monster Hunter entry for the powerful HD platforms? Why waste a series with such a huge potential on handhelds? At a first glance, these might seem silly, if not shallow, questions. In fact, they hide a dissatisfaction which is difficult to get rid of and, in my opinion, harmful for the industry as a whole. I took Monster Hunter as a primary example, but the same goes for IP like Dragon Quest and Pokémon.

The average Western video gamer wants everything, and very quickly. He (or she) is not used to waiting anymore, while accepting anti-customer practices that elsewhere would have shaken the industry; just think about entire portions of gameplay sold as DLC, or games that people are unable to play because servers crashed.

In the meanwhile, this type of video gamer has been amazed by those beautiful HD graphics. He asks himself, then, why a series as Monster Hunter still has to take the next big step, so to show gorgeous new assets, and perfect textures. He's wondering why, but he's not acknowledging the value the game brings with itself; he doesn't know all the elements that made the IP so popular among Japanese (for example, local co-op, a bit like Pokémon in the '90s).

I'm going against the grain: Monster Hunter must be as it is now. Monster Hunter is really becoming the emblem of those video gamers that are genuinely interested in the gameplay, more than any other visual frill. This (quite numerous) fringe of people is properly weighting the technical aspects of games, and at the same time dedicates time and passion to  this hobby --  they're not the same as gamers playing Farmville. Monster Hunter clearly shows that a not-so-beautiful game can attract millions of video gamers.

The plain truth is that Monster Hunter is visually poor because it has yet to be released on a powerful hardware (at least for what concerns mothership entries). Its history is closely related to the popularity gained in Japan, where Monster Hunter means handheld platform. Nintendo was smart enough to secure the IP on its devices, with a fourth new chapter slated for Summer on 3DS.

Previosuly, Monster Hunter was released on PS2, where it was almost ignored by Western video gamers. On PSP and Wii, instead, it built a quite dedicated following. Hence, Monster Hunter fans know well what the game has to offer: content and strategic action, not just graphics. Whoever is complaining about the visual aspect of Monster Hunter is underestimating the game itself, at first. Then, he is sending a distorted signal to software houses (by voting with his money) and to those who are reading his comments: in order to be enjoyed, a game must be inevitably beautiful.

Actually, Monster Hunter is not ugly. It's probably one of the best looking games on 3DS, as it was on PSP and Wii. It comes from technological limits, but also from creativity and a precise idea of how to develop gameplay. Many people don't understand that software houses cannot always offer the top of the top, under every aspect.

A brand new Monster Hunter for a powerful hardware might be partially, or totally, different: it would require much more effort, and a higher risk in terms of financial resources; then, it is not granted that Western games would care (Dragon's Dogma sold quite poorly outside Japan).

The reasoning can be extended to Dragon Quest, and to its presence on Nintendo handheld platforms. Square Enix's beloved jRPG has never been the top notch in terms of graphics, except with Dragon Quest VIII on PS2. The series is still the icon of the traditional Japanese role-playing game, and it will be as such, HD graphics or not. Being on DS, or 3DS, is not a negative thing; on the contrary, portability might be considered as an added value. On the same line, there is Pokémon; Game Freak has always been reluctant in substantially updating the graphics, and it's approaching full 3D only with the sixth generation. Pokémon has millions of fans because of the deep combat and breeding system, obviously not because every monster has its own individually animated fur.

Technological progress must go on, of course. However, handheld platforms always existed, and in fact co-existed with more powerful home devices and PC. In the '90s, we had Pokémon on Game Boy, Final Fantasy on PlayStation, The Legend of Zelda on Nintendo 64 and The Elder Scrolls on PC; they all shared the same era, and all of them can be considered masterpieces, even considering different technological baselines.

Some people must realize that there exist video gamers that care more about content, and they are not scared by a poor (or less beautiful) visual aspect. Luckily, Monster Hunter, Pokémon, Dragon Quest and many others are there, to remind us that we want to play sometimes, and not only just watch a movie.

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