This is a review extravaganza- combining three old games into one post! I call it a Threeview! Grab a snack, it's a longer story than the story of Goblox.
Hunting games. They're a part of phenomenon out of Japan that appeals to the deepest desires of grinders, completionists and "trial and error" kinds of players. They are at once some of the most enthralling and infuriating titles available and they're incredibly difficult to get right. (Also, japanese game names are weird... the title of this entry is right at home with other japanese game titles.) Even worse, it's really difficult to convince somebody that they're actually fun when done right.
Luckily for PSP owners, they have 3 different flavors of hunting games to choose: Monster Hunter, God Eater, and Lord of Arcana. They each have their own take on the hunting game genre, and all have their own strengths and weaknesses.
The primary difference between Hunting Games and a typical action game or action-RPG is that the hunter games usually work on old-school trial and error and pattern recognition. Outside of that, planning and preparation are also necessary to succeed. In typical action games, you can usually use a "super move" or "rage mode" to utterly decimate foes in a pinch. Hunting games are more about tactics, positioning and coordination- especially in multiplayer- than your typical action game as well.
Lord of Arcana
is arguably the weakest and shallowest entry of the three and- ironically- is more like an RPG than its competition. It has less weapons variety, fewer things to kill and fewer quests to undertake and has a battle system that is both blessing and curse.
LoA puts you in the role of some nameless warrior from a nameless land who kills dragons for fun- pulling all sorts of badassery in the process. Then he/she gets abducted by some fire-alien thing who speaks about arcana and such and then shoots you into the sky and throws you down into some temple connected to a tiny town area in a kingdom known as Horodyn where its your job to take on the role as a defender of the place, killing monsters and breaking monoliths in this temple so you can become king.
Now before you start criticizing me for bias against the title- let me make this clear... The "story" of Lord of Arcana has less substance than the one that was used for Dragon Warrior- the first one on NES. It's largely inconsequential and is laughably pointless. That said, LoA is the weakest offering of the three.
It's battle system takes half of its inspiration from Grandia- where running into enemies on the map screen takes you to battle in a big, circular arena- one that you can run from and start at the beginning of the room you were in. Not only does this arena homogenize every fight, it removes certain strategic aspects of the other titles- such as when and where to pick your battles, when to retreat and when to lure something somewhere else. The upside to this is you know the camera won't screw you over in the heat of battle. That is, of course, if you're not locked on to anything that's nearing death.
This game adds too much RPG in to be a strong hunting game- yet it doesnt add enough RPG in to be a compelling experience that isn't mission-driven like it's cousins. At best, it could have been another Crisis Core, but doesn't even have the content for that level of RPG. On top of that, boss encounters always end with a QTE... These things just show up out of the blue and I'm not sure what their purpose is other than to give me a bloody scene while I wait to be told to press a specific face button... my eyes glued to the bottom area of the screen where they pop up.
Balance is another issue- weapons affect speed, stamina, attack power, whether you can block and whether you can cast magic. But there's only one dreadfully weak ranged weapon type (firelance) and the 4 melee weapons all seem to be too much limitation and not enough benefit. Your ranged weapon is so weak, it's not worth using for anything but fodder (even then it's kinda worthless.) Maces are slow to attack, but can put out good damage with charged hits, but they can't block and can't cast magic. Polearms make you move slow, run slow and take up plenty of stamina they hit hard, though. Two handed swords let your equip shields and they're slow and use stamina pretty quick... Swords are fast and let you block and cast magic, but their damage is really low... or so the game says- swords can put out damage more than anything else I've found due to multiple hits, high critical chances and I'm good at playing with affinities for attacking certain enemy types. Seems a little... one-sided to me on the equipment front.
What standard magic cards I have found are very lackluster and ineffective to boot and the so-called ultimate magics are pretty good, but fairly expensive to make- and rightly so.
Gameplay has a very action-RPG battle system feel where you have a basic attack combo button and a "special skill" button and a magic button, but still have to wander around a cave/dungeon looking to fight things.
Progressing is not only a matter of loot, but of levels. Your magics level, your weapon proficiency levels and your character- of course- levels. This aspect actually isn't bad. As you use a weapon more, you get better with it and can use it far more effectively in just one or two proficiency levels. This aspect isn't bad, but adding levels into a genre that has been primarily skill or planning oriented just doesn't seem right. It's like if you could level up your quarterback in madden to the point you could move him to the O-line if needed. It's just not right... and besides, all it seems to do is make me have more HP. Maybe I do more damage, but I can't really tell.
I haven't played this one through all the way, I admit. What I have played, though, is painful and just not nearly as fun as the others in the genre. I may actually finish it one day, but I see very little point when achieving nothing but racking a higher kill count in Monster Hunter or playing through God Eater again is actually more fun to me. The storyline should not be a draw... at all.
I feel like the developers tried to take a hunting game and shove it into an action-RPG and they aren't actually compatible with each other due to some glaring differences in priority. Had this taken a more classic approach of "go to dungeon- come back to town with money- get better equipment/stock up- return to dungeon- kill things for money" that it might have actually come out better for it. This is especially applicable in the case of the "ultimate magic" cards you can use that attack everything in your battlezone. This reeks of "action game get out of jail free" type thinking since you can't really tactically retreat to recover in this game. You're stuck running around, drinking potions in a long animation until you're better again or running away, meaning you'll start over from the beginning of the fight again next time you return.
Also, it's $20 on PSN as of yesterday- which is about as cheap as you can find it if you rely on GameStop for gaming needs (why would you?) unless you can find it uber cheap online (likely, but I'll not check for you)... probably due to low production numbers.
One thing to note: LoA is the ONLY full game on my PSP without a software manual. WTF, AccessGames...
Who would like this: Somebody out there will enjoy the RPG-ness of the title and there are shining bits sparkling somewhere in the depths of mediocrity this game has piled on. It's not BAD
per-se, but there are certainly more entertaining experiences out there for your money.
God(s) Eater Burst
is actually probably the hardest of the three and boasts an anime-quality story (take that for what you will) and is- by far- the most beautiful of the three entries. It's stylized look is wonderfully done- and I don't really like "anime-style" games too often.
The game usually allows you to bring up to 3 AI partners along for any mission, making it accessible and easier... This said, going solo is a very difficult task- harder than monster hunter and certainly more infuriating. The variety of monsters is decent enough- with certain monster types getting more variants than others with varying weaknesses to elements and damagetypes.
Its primary advantage over the other games is in customization, graphics and speed. You're always fast to move, and you always have a gun, blade and shield. This allows you to come prepared for multiple situations and the game loads quicker that MH and is better looking- though the areas where you explore and fight are admittedly much smaller. This small downside comes with a wonderful upside, however. Missions don't have painful loading screens as you move from area to area as the whole map you're on is continuous. All you have is the initial load for a mission (which isnt long for digital version.)
But the game really is on a higher tier with graphics... not that any of them are stellar on PSP to begin with.
Customization, though, is where it's at. This game not only gives you three types of blades (light, medium and heavy- essentially) but three types of guns (sniper, autogun and cannons) and three types of shields (again, light, medium and heavy) each with their own properties and tendencies- IE: light blades tend to do pierce damage while heavy ones do crushing damage and medium ones tend to sunder.
On top of your basics, you also get to make/customize your outfit from a rather large list of stuff if that's your cup of tea. This is purely cosmetic, though, as your shield determines your overall defense (and how effective blocking is versus how much stamina it takes to block) Then you can create and equip two upgrade modules that affect skills or damage. On top of that, you can create/upgrade your "control module" that affects what special skills or traits you get when going into "burst mode." Finally, you can create your own bullets.
Let me repeat this: you can create your own goddamn bullets. You can make a shot that sticks to the opponent and detonates a second later. You can make a bullet that flies into the air and fires downward on top of your enemies. you can make a bullet that fires other bullets! The capabilities of the bullet editing are unlocked as you progress and more damage and neat features mean they draw more out of your "Oracle Points"- basically your ammo- to fire. This is- by far- the coolest differentiating feature in the game to me.
Well, you know... outside of the fact your weapon can turn into a GIANT FREAKING MOUTH
that literally TAKES A BITE OUT OF YOUR ENEMIES
. This mechanic is how you harvest materials from your fallen foes, but if you happen chomp on some living enemy ass, you enter a souped up "burst mode" where you're stronger, faster and have certain special skills based on equipment for a short time.
The gameplay is more action-oriented with dashing, jumping and a lockon system that doesnt totally suck and can be set to toggle instead of hold-only (I'm looking at you Lord of Arcana.) MH purists would often argue that lockon ruins part of the experience- and it does in Monster Hunter where nothing is too fast to follow... But some of these creatures move around quite quickly and the lockon is more of a necessity than a convenience in some situations. The "aragami" here are quite varied and usually require different damage types to different areas to be quickly taken down. The advantage here is that, no matter your choice in weaponry, your abilities are still largely the same- sure, heavy blades can charge an attack, long blades can "cancel block" and short blades can "cancel dodge" but ultimately, being better with one weapon will make you better with any of them.
Who would like this: People who like hunting games in concept, but found Monster Hunter or LoA too slow, clunky or boring. It plays much more smoothly and allows a little leeway in how you play- allowing for both effective melee and ranged combat from a single player. Additionally, it doesn't have a medieval aspect and everything you fight is kind of fucked up so if those two aspects are your thing, then this game might be for you. Custom bullets and swords with mouths.... need I say more?
is the father/mother of Hunting Games.Even more, it LOOKS like the oldest game, by far. It's ugly, but oh-so-fun for us gaming masochists.
If you were to glance at this game for a few seconds, you'd think typical fantasy RPG setting, but in reality the feel is very much more... ancient.
It's almost as if cavemen, native americans, and medieval europeans and asians all squished their society together to bring quite a few different aesthetics. Villages have a much more tribal feel than the cities which come across and sprawling medieval wonders of engineering... and beer crafting. You can't forget the beer.
The tapestries that are typically shown on loading screens really bring this ancient feeling home. Add in the wildly varied styles of armor and weaponry and the very ambient nature of music until danger approaches and you have something to fit just about every aesthetic taste imaginable.
In fact, one of the unique pieces of Monster Hunter's setting is how... natural its treatment of sound is. You go out into the field and you're treated to what I always called an introduction room- the first room from the map next to the camp is usually some sort of vista or indicative of the level and lends itself very well to having a little "fanfare" so to speak. It gives this little hint of hopefulness of a successful hunt. Then it all goes silent after a brief moment and all you hear are your own footsteps, the sound of these herbivores eating grass... and the beating of the wings of your target as it swoops into your area. Then an ominous song begins to play as the monster sees you- starting off softly and eventually growing to be a loud, booming, frantic piece that prevents you from hearing your target's mate land on the other side of the area and get pissed at seeing you lop his tail off allowing you to possibly be overtaken if you get too single-minded on your target.
Very few games have that much atmosphere and instead cover it up with music to convey mood the entire time. If anything, the use of sound in MH is by far some of the best and does an amazing job of conveying the sort of emotions your otherwise-shell of a person might have. Then again, maybe I looked too deeply into that...
The choices in weaponry are tremendous (to the point I've forgotten many of them and do not wish to look it up) and they all have their own applications, strengths and weaknesses. Sure, lots of people default to longswords and greatswords, but a good bow is hard to beat in some situations and the higher end hammers are just damage dealing juggernauts. There's more than one way to skin a Rathalos, I tell you! Each new game seems to introduce a new weapon type and they all have special traits and abilities. Sword and shield, for example, allows you to use items without sheathing your weapon while hammers allow you to charge up an attack and lances can move while guarding or charge straight through fodder. For every situation, there's a weapon that can serve a role in any group.
The monsters range from strange parasitic worm creatures to dinosaur-like lizards to dragons and unicorns!
It's called a Kirin, to be fair... but it still looks like a damn unicorn.
Tri even introduced a prehistoric cat creature and Freedom Unite has a sort of rattlesnake-scorpion-bat creature (Nargacuga, for those keeping track) There's even a big pink gorilla... he attacks and roars with gastrointestinal problems.
No, I'm not making this up.
The fact is, Monster Hunter is full of dangerous, awesome and quirky creatures and has by far the largest variety available in hunting games. What's more, they've all got at least two sets of armor and one weapon of each type.
But where it truly shines is the shear amount of content they've crammed into the game. any given monster may have at least one variant (though some have 2 or three) which acts differently, resides in other maps and has different weaknesses. Each variant will yield its own armor (which may just be a color-variant of the original with different skills and stats or it may look entirely different) Each variant has weapons associated with it. There are something like 10 different maps, and on the order of 60 or so monsters. The texturing is pretty muddy (just load up the old Monster Hunter for PS2 or MH Tri for Wii and you'll notice just how much clearer the textures are) and I can only seem to fault that they needed room for all that content.
The best part about the game is that it doesnt really DIRECTLY tell you anything except a little tip here or there (IE: Sonic Bomb + kutku = free hits or a quick heal). Its up to you to discover strategies and see what weaknesses a creature has by- interestingly enough- inspecting the properties of equipment it makes. If a monster makes a firey weapon and the armor you can make from it has awful water resistance- guess what its elemental weakness is likely to be! Water! It's an ingeniously simple way of divulging information about your enemies.
With MH Portable3, they've said they wish to up the visual quality and have hence cut back on some content while bringing in mostly new creatures and locations- based loosely on Tri.
Unfortunately, the game plays exactly the same as it has since 2004. Some minor things have changed, but it is largely the same game. It has simple, yet deep, intricate fighting that necessitates a slower pace not many prefer these days. All characters are fairly samey even with skills as differentiators.
Who would like this: I don't know. People who normally respond to grinding and completion rates as a challenge find the "grind" boring in MH, while I- a man who can't stand grinding- absolutely love Monster Hunter. If you're Japanese, you probably like it, too.
My conclusion is that, ironically enough, the most Japanese-looking game of the 3 is probably also the most Western-friendly. Gods Eater Burst is a solid title that takes the fundamentals of monster hunter and dresses them up for a fun outing. It allows for AI partners, but it is justifiably difficult to warrant having them. It has a story that- unless you like anime tropes- won't really engage you, but its nice to see some effort to place meaning behind what you're doing. It really isn't any worse than other games with "storyline" that is largely inconsequential to gameplay. Of these three, I'd recommend this one the most often, especially to those who don't play with others much. I'd say this says something considering I've put thousands of hours into the Monster Hunter series on the whole and still play occasionally.
Monster Hunter is the essence of Hunting Games, but really has lots of room to grow considering how many iterations it's had. Its pacing is fine, but it really needs better resource management to remove that pesky "loading" screen that rears its ugly head every time you change areas. I mean, I can somewhat understand on a PSP, but the Wii? It's not a powerhouse by any means, but Tri wasn't exactly cutting edge either and the areas were pretty small to begin with. This should be fixed on PS3/PSV iterations of the series, it really should be. (Bet it won't be.) Outside of that, I'd say quicker introduction to hunting significant stuff would grip more western gamers and- for the love of God- no more 2% drops! Of these three games, I'd recommend this one sometimes- basically for anybody who likes good ole fashioned couch multiplayer and tons of equipment choices.
Lord of Arcana is a game that should have decided what it wanted to be before it got out into the world and became a muddled mess of ideas without any direction to really go. It's not really that bad, as I've said, but it has some balance issues that aren't ultra glaring if you're not a min-max type and it has plenty of promise, but it's firmly in the middle- an ultra-mediocre title. The most important thing that's wrong with it is that it- quite frankly- has no character at all it's derivative in many ways and areas it tries to be different in usually end up being somewhat frustrating as a result. It tries to be too many things at once and ends up being nothing impressive. This is, unfortunately, an all too common thing to happen with games Square Enix is involved in lately. Would I recommend this? Only if you have the other two and are dying for another somewhat similar experience. Otherwise, money is best spent elsewhere.