Is there any video game series simultaneously more dynamic yet static as Monster Hunter? The core of each entry in the main series seem fairly uniform and straightforward across the board, yet the unique mechanics (some might say gimmicks) introduced in each iteration offer something new and different.
One of the reasons the series has endured for so long and garnered such a loyal fanbase is its willingness to experiment with the formula juuust the right amount to make each game feel like a new experience, while never straying too far from its roots.
It’s amazing what a difference in gameplay a seemingly tiny tweak can do, and for that reason it’s difficult to come up with a definitive list ranking each game since everyone has their own preference in play style which heavily biases their picks. But with the release of Monster Hunter Rise on the Nintendo Switch quickly approaching, now seems like a fitting time to look back on the series’ history try to make a compelling list of its highs and lows. Although, let’s be honest, Monster Hunter‘s lows makes other game’s highs look low.
So without further ado, here are the best entries in the Monster Hunter series:
7. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is an expansion of Monster Hunter Freedom 2 (which itself was an enhanced version of Monster Hunter 2) and is the definitive version of that game. While the original debuted on the PlayStation 2, MHFU was released to the PlayStation Portable and iOS.
Many players view Monster Hunter Freedom Unite as a huge improvement over Monster Hunter Freedom. It is true that, as sequels go, MHFU did not disappoint. Featuring new monsters and weapons, it is and was worthy of the Monster Hunter name that built upon the original Monster Hunter well. But, did it do enough to dethrone Monster Hunter 1 / Monster Hunter Freedom from its throne? I’ve got no problems with acknowledging when a sequel handily outdoes its predecessor, but I’m not convinced MH2/MHFU really wowed players enough to take the crown from the first game in the series that truly pioneered the Action RPG genre and put the franchise on the map. MHFU is great, but not great enough to prevent me from paying proper respect to MHF.
6. Monster Hunter Freedom
Monster Hunter 1 started it all on the PlayStation 2. Then Monster Hunter G refined that experience on the same system. And finally, both 1 and G culminated in the birth of Monster Hunter Freedom, which successfully brought that magic over to handheld systems like the PSP and iOS.
It really cannot be understated what a watershed moment Monster Hunter Freedom‘s release meant for portable gaming. It proved that a game of this scope could not only function on a handheld system, but could thrive on it and almost singlehandedly carry the system by virtue of being available on it. This game is what made Monster Hunter a staple in Capcom’s library, at least in Japan. We all know how fickle Capcom can be with its franchises. The second a new series shows any sign of underperforming, Capcom will abandon it without so much as a second thought. Monster Hunter 1 and subsequently Monster Hunter Freedom survived that cut, which paved the way for the entire franchise to survive another day long enough to be the powerhouse it is now. That deserves major respect.
5. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate
Some might argue that Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate doesn’t qualify as an entry in the “main” games of the series. I understand that, but for me it sticks so closely to the formula that I consider it to be one of the core titles. It’s not a spin-off like Monster Hunter Stories. It’s essentially a Greatest Hits collection with some extra seasoning sprinkled on top in the form of special abilities called Hunting Arts and other fun additions like playable Felynes.
Available on the Nintendo 3DS as Monster Hunter Generations and on the Nintendo Switch with the added Ultimate tagline to its moniker, it’s a solid game for any Monster Hunter fan. But, that’s the thing. At the end of the day, while packing loads of content and boasting the biggest roster of monsters than any other game in the series, it’s really a love letter to longtime fans. I’m sure there are exceptions and the game brought in tons of new fans to the community, but by and large Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate probably doesn’t appeal to a broader audience all that much.
And while storytelling and world-building (so far) hasn’t been a primary focus of the series, MHGU still noticeably lacks anything in the character and plot department. Which is fine, that’s what it’s going for. But what it’s not going for is being the number one game on this list.
4. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
I’m not gonna lie. This is where the list starts to get difficult to narrow down. I really, really, reaaaaallly like Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.
It’s kinda been forgotten over the years, but third entry in the series was overshadowed by Monster Hunter 4 and later on World. And now it feels like it’s kind of the black sheep of the Monster Hunter family. Not that people outright hate it or anything, but it doesn’t get much airtime and its sales weren’t anything to wrote how about by Monster Hunter standards – despite being available on the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS (granted, the Wii U wasn’t exactly a rosy place for third party developers like Capcom).
But I think of it fondly. Its online multiplayer was amazing for its time, and I don’t care what anyone says – the introduction of underwater combat, while a bit clunky at first, is actually very well-done once you get the hang of it. I’ll never forget the way it felt to dive into a lake and see a whole new world to explore underwater.
I love that feeling in games when you see something and think to yourself “Can I really do that?” and then you try it out for the first time and see that you really can. Monster Hunter Tri and 3 Ultimate give you that feeling on more than one occasion. Quite honestly MH3U holds up very well despite its age and it will always have a special place in my heart. But… in the interest of objectivity… MH3U was eventually outdone. More than once.
3. Monster Hunter: World
Calm down. I love Monster Hunter: World. We all do. Yes or yes? Nobody’s here to argue that. In the same way we should all hold some reverence for Monster Hunter Freedom, we should also strive not to diminish World‘s seat at the table. World is another example of a revolutionary pioneer in the franchise. What Freedom did for Monster Hunter on portable systems, World did on consoles.
In fact, World took it a step further. Freedom deserves credit, but let’s face it. It still remained kind of a niche title with somewhat limited appeal. For better or worse (I’d argue better), World expanded Monster Hunter‘s appeal to horizons I never even thought possible. And, in my humble opinion, it did it without sacrificing too much of what made the series so beloved in the first place.
And look, I don’t think sales are the only barometer of success, but… Monster Hunter: World sold nearly 17 million copies worldwide. These are numbers unheard of outside of Super Mario and Grand Theft Auto. This is in a different stratosphere of success, do you understand? So I have nothing but love for World.
BUT. Buuuuut. It’s not the best in the series. It comes close. But it has enough drawbacks to prevent it from being at the top. Yes, the Quality of Life improvements were much needed and appreciated. Yes, the aesthetics are just jaw-droppingly beautiful at times. Yes, the slinger mechanic is a welcome addition. It gets a lot right.
However, long-time fans were correct to point out that the monster roster was underwhelming to say the least. The lack of G Rank (aka Master Rank) at launch was another blow to series veterans. It’s understandable why some fans worried it was watering down the fundamentals too much to cater to casual players. We don’t have to completely agree in order to understand where people are coming from. There were valid concerns and critiques. A lot of fans just didn’t want the series to lose what made it special to them in the first place.
Regardless of how good Monster Hunter: World is, it does lose some points for its lack of balance.
2. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
It feels weird to say that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is better than World given what a success World has been, but I feel like it’s a defendable statement. For one, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was an inarguable success in its own right. As much credit as MHW gets for drawing in casual players, I feel like MH4U technically did it first. Maybe we’ve got things confused. MH4U could’ve been the real franchise builder that opened the door and paved the way for making MHW‘s success possible. It was World before World existed, and it did a better job at balancing the old with the new.
MH4U was the first game in the series to sell over 1 million units outside of Japan. It’s easy to forget that Monster Hunter may have been a household name in Japan for years, but was only a niche title among Western audiences not very long ago. MH4U changed that. It lodged Monster Hunter in the international zeitgeist and created an awareness of the franchise among Western players that gave Capcom the confidence to go all in on World.
And truth be told, with over 700 hours logged in it, it’s not only the Monster Hunter game that I’ve played the most – it’s the single game that I’ve played the most of all time.
Everything about Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate just feels right. I hate to overuse the word balance, but that’s just what it is. The pacing felt natural. The story actually held something resembling weight for once. The online multiplayer was just godly. I honestly have nothing but fond memories of MH4U and I struggle to think of any legit criticisms. Maybe it could’ve used some more QoL improvements when compared to newer titles like World and Rise, but that’s just nitpicking since it already made some changes to make itself more accessible to a wider audience.
To be honest, if it weren’t for the next game on this list, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate would still currently be the definitive Monster Hunter experience for me.
1. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne
Okay. I understand that Iceborne is an expansion pack of Monster Hunter: World, so why didn’t I just lump it in with World as a single title? The answer is simple. The difference between Monster Hunter World: Iceborne and the original base release of Monster Hunter: World is so noticeable that it feels like a totally new game and experience when taken as a whole. Iceborne adds so much to World and addresses so many complaints of the original release, that I feel like we have to make a distinction between the base game without Iceborne, and the base game with Iceborne.
Keep in mind that, while legit, the complaints about World were primarily minor gripes. It really just required some tweaks here and there and some extra features and monsters to push it over the edge. And that’s exactly what Iceborne does. Like I said before this list started, a seemingly tiny tweak can make a big difference when it comes to Monster Hunter games.
The adjustments Iceborne made to World may appear small on the surface, but they dramatically alter and enhance the entire package and lift it to even greater heights. A little extra effort goes a long way in bringing that balance to the equation that the base World game was missing. I think complaints from longtime fans about World were warranted and reasonable. But with the Iceborne expansion, those complaints should be virtually non-existent. If there were any doubts about the future of the Monster Hunter franchise or whether or not its creators were selling out their roots to only appeal to casual players, Iceborne not only lays all of those concerns to rest. It defiantly dares players old and new alike to rethink their preconceived notions about the series and hold on for the ride of their lives as it singlehandedly moves the franchise in a bold direction that somehow bridges the gap between past, present, and future. And that’s why it is currently the best Monster Hunter game on the market.
Will Monster Hunter Rise top it? Time will tell. Judging from the demo alone, it’s safe to say that Monster Hunter Rise is also moving the series forward at least on the handheld front, and it so far seems to be maintaining a healthy balance between what hardcore veterans crave and what newcomers can handle.
Monster Hunter Rise arrives exclusively on the Nintendo Switch this March 26th.
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