Monster Hunter Sees True Monstrosity in the Player Themselves
The Monster Hunter games are exhilarating fun. There’s little out there like the deadly clash between yourself and these vicious, powerful beasts in Monster Hunter Rise. Likewise, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in Monster Hunter Stories 2 as you grow a bond with your own monster, using its power to defeat enemies. I won’t argue that these games aren’t a blast to play, and that they make for some great entertainment. I just feel a guilt that takes me off-guard whenever I play them. One that leaves me horrified with myself.
I’ve just recently started dabbling with the series (hence my recent examples), and I found myself pretty absorbed in the combat of Monster Hunter Rise. It’s fast and brutal, at least with my equipment setup. You spend a ton of time staring down your enemies (got to be face-to-face for a lot of weaknesses), creating this intimate ferocity in the combat. I tend to hide behind things or stab butts in most games, but here, you have to face things head-on.
It’s a brutal fight to endure, too. Monsters fight aggressively and intelligently, rushing back and forth across the battlefield to take advantage of their fast movements and size. They have powerful abilities that will crush you flat in only a few hits. Meanwhile, you’re practically on top of them trying to get in a few strikes. Tying them up to get them stuck in one place for a minute. Piloting them if you can harness their power for a moment. It feels close and bloody (even without actual blood). It’s genuinely ruthless in action.
You’ve got healing items in Monster Hunter Rise, though. Other tools that can wear enemies down. Can respawn a few times. Monsters can heal to an extent, but much of the time, they grow steadily weaker as the player tenaciously holds on. You can see it in their sluggish movements. The way their attacks grow more feeble. Soon, they’ll start to limp and stumble. A part of you cries “Got you now!” Another part, one that grew louder the longer I played, grew horrified at my actions.
Watching these animals limp away from me changed that excitement I’d felt about fighting the monsters and flipped it on its head. Now, you’re the predator, chasing down something weak and injured. Not only this, but just seeing an actual pained look on the monster shifted how I felt about my actions. Most action games don’t really show your strikes really having much effect. Here, I saw that they were causing the monster agony over time. Hampering their movements with broken bones and deep cuts.
Watching this as I played through Monster Hunter Rise, I started to feel more monstrous, myself. I couldn’t help but think of the other little details in combat. How you break certain parts of the monster while battling them. Cut off certain body parts for you to carve up and harvest. There’s a brutality to hunting the monsters in these games that I’ve rarely seen before, and never to this much effect on my own feelings. It didn’t help that I was usually the one rushing out to pick a fight with these creatures on the map, rather than them picking a fight with me.
Now, I know there are narrative reasons why beating up on the monsters is okay. Bits of story tell you how the monsters are hurting people. Affecting important trade routes. How they’re going to have a big ol’ Rampage and stomp the city flat. Still, watching these monsters limp away, knowing I’d come charging in, breaking their limbs as I clashed with them…You feel more like the monster throughout this experience. I feel like a slasher villain when I play this, honestly. Not a super effective one, but no less murderous.
Monster Hunter Stories 2 has its own moments that give me a twinge of guilt. The combat and visual styles take away some of that brutal impact of your actions, but stealing monster eggs made me feel even worse playing this title. It’s not like stumbling on an egg in Pokemon, but instead, you have to creep through the monster’s lair and steal the egg from their nest. Again, a part of me was excited for a potential new fighter on my side. Another part felt disgusted that I was stealing a creature’s baby to turn into a fighting implement.
It was in how the game framed this action that it created that sense of personal horror. You don’t just get given an item that hatches into a Monstie. You have to sneak into a monster’s nest – skulk through its home. Hunt down the viable egg within it, snatching it. It felt like burglary. It felt like I was doing something wrong and cruel.
Both games use framing to turn actions I normally take for granted in games – fighting stuff and getting new warriors/items – and reshape them. Show you that your actions might not be as noble as you want them to be. They made me feel that I was a disruptive force in this natural ecosystem. In fact, watching monsters hunt one another to find food to heal in Monster Hunter Rise made it impossible not to notice this. The creatures here have a balanced life amongst one another, and it’s only MY presence here that is making things difficult.
As these revelations hit, it became more and more difficult to ignore that I was the ruthless, horrifying force here. That these creatures simply want to exist in peace, but that hunters refuse to let them. The hunters come in, killing and taking what they need with little care for what the monsters want. They concoct reasons as to why the monsters are making their lives harder, but all we’re doing here is exterminating these magnificent creatures for clothes, weapons, and trinkets.
Through its presentation of monster weakness and gaining new Monsties, Monster Hunter Rise and Monster Hunter Stories 2 both turned an action game into an experience in personal horror. I love playing these games for their action, but they both made me pause and reflect on how I behave in this world, and that for all of the work done to frame my actions as noble and good, maybe I am the villain, here. Perhaps I’m the villain in a lot more moments when I feel like I’m right in the real world as well.