With Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate arriving in just under a month on 13th February, alongside the New Nintendo 3DS XL and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D, these are exciting times for portable gamers. Whether upgrading to the new hardware or not, Capcom's latest hunting extravaganza presents another step-up for the franchise in its quest to enjoy success in the West.
As release gets closer we were lucky enough to speak to the game and series executive producer, Mr. Ryozo Tsujimoto, and creative director Mr. Kaname Fujioka, to learn more.
What influenced your decision to release this game exclusively on the 3DS, and not include Wii U this time around?
Tsujimoto-san: One of the key features of the Wii U version was online multiplayer, and this time we have been able to implement online multiplayer on the 3DS so you can play local matches when you're out and about or when you have a Wi-Fi connection you can play online, so we felt that the 3DS version was complete as it was with this feature set.
The Insect Glaive is a very unique weapon not only in Monster Hunter but video games in general, where did the inspiration for it come from?
Tsujimoto-san: Glad to hear you're enjoying using the Insect Glaive! We definitely wanted to add a weapon in the lineup of MH4U, so we obviously started out with some different ideas and when you get up to fourteen weapons you have to make sure the line-up is balanced so that two weapons aren't too similar to one another or have one that's pointless or one that's too powerful, ad they all have something unique about them when you play them. We kind of started off from the position of a martial arts staff which you'll have seen in lots of movies you have certain actions you can perform, but that wasn't really enough to bring it to the unique Monster Hunter level and as you'll see when you play the game the game focuses on the Hunters' relationship with the natural world; there's lot of creatures, not only the monsters, there are smaller beings. There's always been birds and insects and other things in Monster Hunter so it seemed like a natural fit to take something that's been a bit of a motif of the series and integrate it into a weapon. Right from the start of the series we had ideas about maybe the player having a bird they could send out to attack or perform other actions. That never really got off the ground as a feature but we've sort of come around full circle with the Insect Glaive, so that's where the inspiration came from.
We've worked hard to ensure that no matter what console they own nobody's at a disadvantage.
The New 3DS line offers more power than the standard 3DS systems. Are there any additional features on the New 3DS, and are there any performance improvements?
Fujioka-san: They're essentially the same experience on both the 3DS and the New 3DS. This isn't a standalone gaming experience where people will play it and that's it, we know they're going to be playing it in multiplayer, often in person. We definitely wanted to avoid a situation where only New 3DS owners could play locally with each other because of different features or different capabilities, we didn't want to split the base in that way, so it's fundamentally the same gaming experience whether you have the new one or not. Of course the New 3DS has some improved features such as the face-tracking 3D effect which is visible from a greater viewing angle, and the C-Stick and the additional buttons are something that's unique to the New Nintendo 3DS. In that sense it's a little bit smoother and easier to play on the new hardware, but as far as fundamental gaming experience go we've worked hard to ensure that no matter what console they own nobody's at a disadvantage or won't have fun playing together.
A key mechanic in this game is verticality. What drove you to include this idea, and did this element have an impact on which Large Monsters you chose to include?
Tsujimoto-san: The concept of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate that we had when developing it was to take the land-based action of Monster Hunter that's been a series staple and really re-evaluate it from the ground up and tighten up the experience. In doing that we wanted to bring a new level to it, so as you've seen the variable height in terrain is something that's a big new feature in Monster Hunter 4. Wherever we added that in it allowed us to create more dynamic and tactical hunting experiences for players, but since we've created areas with large differences in height between cliffs and valleys you can have even bigger monsters stalking those areas. Whereas before a monster that was this big would be so large you couldn't even get at it when you're standing on the ground by its feet, now you can get up there and give it a whack on the head. You can look forward to seeing even bigger and even cooler-looking monsters in the new game.
The structure of the world, its plot and the mission structure has been changed since Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate; can you talk us through this?
Tsujimoto-san: In addition to re-evaluating and revitalising the core action the story was something we also wanted to really beef up this time. Previous games you've had a base, town, or village and you've done one quest after another and that's how the story progressed as you come and go out of your base and into different areas. We really wanted to have more of a sense of adventure and discovery this time around, you won't just have a single place where you pick up quests, head out and come back, you'll visit different places and meet new people, you won't have that sense that people may have had where they were just going into the same place over and over again. There will be new vistas to discover and a lot more new characters to meet outside the original plan that you start in, so you can look forward to some larger adventuring.
So it's a much larger overworld this time rather than a single hub?
Tsujimoto-san: Yeah, it's a larger world, there's more villages for you to visit. If you like one better than another then that can be your base and you can start your quests from there. It's a bit more player freedom in the sense of where they might set their gaming experience. There's a lot more stuff to see and as the story progresses you will find more places to visit and more villages to utilise.
The Shakalakas Cha-Cha and Kayamba were a driving force behind the plot of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, can we expect a similar role for the Felynes in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate?
Tsujimoto-san: The support Felynes are being rebranded as 'Palicoes' this time around and they don't have such a central story aspect, they'll be involved a little bit but not as much as Cha-Cha and Kayamba were. They're part of a system where you can bring these support characters with you out on quests; you can bring two of them with you with one being yours that you can customise, and the other one can be a different one, perhaps one you met on StreetPass from another player and you can even collect them. They're very much involved in the gameplay but not so much a story element this time. The differences, if you like, were that Cha-Cha and Kayamba were unique characters, and the Palicoes are kind of in a category of their own rather than being a character. You can enjoy collecting them, customising them and you can even rename them, for example my main support character is called Fujioka, and he gets to help me out on quests just like at work.
What was it that made you decide to use Felynes as the Hunter's companions instead of Shakalakas this time around?
Tsujimoto-san:We've had the concept in mind of Monster Hunter as a kind of communication tool and of course one of the main aspects of that is you get together and play it – or you play it online – in order to help each other. So we've had online play before, but StreetPass is a very unique way of connecting with people; we really wanted to utilise that this time around. As I said before Cha-Cha and Kayamba were unique characters before and if everyone had him with them all the time it would be a bit strange to see clones of him. The Palicoes are there to be something that's a bit more customisable and collectable. We had the Guild Cards before that you would exchange with people but now when you StreetPass someone you'll get to see not only their Guild Card and Hunter Rank and so forth but also this Felyne that they've expressed themselves a little bit with. You'll then be able to have that as part of your collection of StreetPass Palicoes. If you find one that's dressed in a certain way or has certain skills and you think they might be fun to have on a quest, you can bring it out with you; it's just an additional way to expand the community of Monster Hunter and have another unique way to communicate via the medium of Monster Hunter.
StreetPass is a very unique way of connecting with people; we really wanted to utilise that this time around.
We do know of course though that Cha-Cha and Kayamba were very popular characters, players haven't been shy in expressing how much they love them and so we didn't want to have them be completely absent . We have some DLC quests with their own mini storylines, and we do have one or some where Cha-Cha and Kayamba might appear and get up to their usual tricks to find a certain mask or something and you can help them out. You won't take them on the quest with you – they're no longer part of the gameplay – but you may have the chance to meet them again at some point. They're waiting for you somewhere…
The game is full of costumes inspired by different games such as Mario and Metroid; are we to expect similar content in future instalments in the series?
Fujioka-san: We've put out various videos showing the various collaborations we have in mind, and we've announced everything that there is concerning collaborations, but we think it'll be really fun for players to get their hands on them when they do come out and see the details that they have. It's not just a visual skin that we've pushed out, you'll have a lot of fun using them when they come out. For example (spoiler alert!) the famous sound that plays whenever Mega Man dies will play whenever a Palico dressed as him runs out of health, and his shooting sound effects are also incorporated. For Metroid Nintendo kindly lent us the Super Metroid sound effect library, so the sound she makes when she shoots and when she jumps will be from that game.
Sonic is famous for the fact that whenever he is hit he drops a load of rings with the classic sound effect and that happens in this game as well. With Isabelle, her speech is in Animalese which is again taken directly from the source material. They're really detailed and really fun little collaborations, and whilst we've announced everything that we have the real fun is yet to come when people get their hands on these. Something also that we've done which we haven't previous is to have non-Capcom designers to design items in the game for us. For example Tetsuya Nomura of Square Enix has personally designed some items and armour. For many of the unique designed armour we have people from outside Capcom working on their own designs, which is a first for us.
Can you tell us about the extensive DLC on offer, and whether it'll all be free as was the case in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate?
Fujioka-san: Similarly to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate we've got a selection of free downloadable event quests, and we've also got something new called the 'Episode Quests' (NB: this may not be the final name in the English version of the game) which is as we discussed before quests which have a small storyline happening with certain characters. Those will all be available for free after the game comes out. There's loads!
Has Nintendo been supportive of the development of this game?
Tsujimoto-san: Yeah, they've been very open in lending us an ear whenever we need help, whether it be a technical issue or we need to consult them on whether or not we're allowed to use their assets in the collaborations that we've done. They've been really supportive of the whole project.
Are there any features of this game that will particularly appeal to a Western audience, and are you hopeful that this can be a breakthrough entry for the franchise?
Fujioka-san: I think the biggest feature that we've certainly had a lot of requests for from Western users has been online multiplayer, so that's something that's in the Japanese version too but I really think it'll resonate well in the West. Japan is a very different environment for gaming, it's quite tightly packed in terms of population and it's very common for people to be close enough to be able to get the chance to play local multiplayer, whereas in the West there are so many more different countries to deal with, a lot of which are considerably less densely populated, so users may not be able to met up with someone else who has a 3DS. Online multiplayer is a perfect fit for the Western market so in that sense it's a key feature that we hope will bring the series to new heights in the West.
We've also seen with the previous game on the Wii U a lot of communities forming in each country. This is a game where we're really happy to see the community thrive, and we really want to encourage this and help it grow. The online multiplayer is something where I would like to ask, as a request from me to veteran Monster Hunter fans who are getting the new game, that you'll be the teacher that the new guys need, in turn helping to grow the Monster Hunter community. There are a lot of games out there with a lot of intimidating environments, and I'd really love it if the Monster Hunter online environment became a really friendly learning place for people to get together and maybe even improve their single player game by having the help of veterans online. That's something that I'd really like to encourage and I hope there are a lot of vets out there online who will show the newbies the ropes and make themselves new friends and new community members to play with. The lobby system is essentially the same as before, you can create rooms with passcode to keep certain people out or share a code with your friends so they can join you directly.
I'd really love it if the Monster Hunter online environment became a really friendly learning place for people to get together.
The game's already out in Japan, but are there any surprises we should expect to see after its release in the West?
Tsujimoto-san: Surprises? Well, as you say it's been out for a while in Japan, but some of these collaborations that we've made are going to arrive first in the Western versions, they're not included in the Japanese ones. That's something that no-one in Japan has seen in action and Western players will definitely be excited to see how we've tried to respect the characteristic of the original designs when creating them. The West will be the first market to see these in action, so we hope you look forward to seeing them!
Are you able to say whether your team's attention is now turning to Monster Hunter 5?
Fujioka-san: You know, Monster Hunter isn't a game that just gets released and the it's forgotten, it's got a very long post-release life with events and such. Even though Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has been out in Japan for a while as soon as we get back home we're going to Monster Hunter Festa, which is an event that's happening even though the game's been out for months in Japan. So at the moment we're very much focusing on the extended post-launch activities in Japan and the upcoming release in the West, and we're seeing how we can bring the game to as many people as possible, so we've got our hands full with 4 at the moment thank you very much!
A huge thank you to Tsujimoto-san and Fujioka-san for speaking to us, and be sure to check out our Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate preview for our thoughts on the game so far.