[E3 2017] Capcom’s Big Risk With Monster Hunter World

Monster-Hunter-World-Boxart

One story of controversy from E3 2017 has been Capcom’s announcement of Monster Hunter World. It’s the next mainline entry in a franchise that’s probably one of Capcom’s main revenue sources, but it seems to be abandoning the platforms that made it popular. Some fans are not pleased, and it seems Capcom is taking a big risk by changing the nature and platform of the game.

Glixel and Eurogamer have pretty good articles explaining the basic situation. Capcom is finally making a big attempt to make Monster Hunter popular with western audiences by making it a high-end console game and “modernizing” a lot of the game systems. This risks leaving behind much of the audience that made the series a cash cow for the publisher, and it’s not certain that it’ll immediately pick up a new audience. There’s also the story about how the Nintendo Switch port of Monster Hunter XX might not be released in English.

I’ve played almost no Montser Hunter. Way back I picked up the digital 3DS version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate but only managed to play it for a few hours (there might be a post on this blog about it), but I think I got the overall jist of why people like it but also why “traditional” Monster Hunter might be an acquired taste.

This is really a story of how fundamentally different the Japanese and western game markets have become. Monster Hunter may have started out on the PlayStation 2, but it exploded on the PSP in Japan and kind of ended up defining the Japanese game market. A wave of handheld Japanese games started taking after it. I firmly believe what hurt the PlayStation Vita the most was Monster Hunter moving from PSP to 3DS. The games never took off that much in the west however because dedicated handheld systems aren’t quite as popular over here. It’s harder for a hit like that to happen on a handheld in the west if it isn’t Pokémon or some other known Nintendo property. To top it off Monster Hunter until now has been mostly focused on local multiplayer, of which there are few opportunities in a country that doesn’t have Japan’s population density.

Capcom probably thinks it needs Monster Hunter to be big in the west to provide it with a “Live game.” Each of the big publishers has at least one to provide it with a constant revenue stream from a long-lived player community: Square Enix with Final Fantasy XIV, Electronic Arts with Battlefield, Take-Two with Grand Theft Auto Online, and Ubisoft with a bunch of games. Monster Hunter makes sense because its core gameplay loop is based around constantly collecting loot  — a bit similar to Destiny really. It’s something Capcom could easily monetize. You could even call Monster Hunter World Capcom’s third attempt at this after Lost Planet 2 and Dragon’s Dogma. Looking back, I think Lost Planet 2 might have been a bit ahead of its time.

The issue with Monster Hunter itself though is that some parts of the “traditional” game would likely seem antiquated to today’s mainstream PlayStation or Xbox user. When I played 3 Ultimate on 3DS the controls took some getting used to, but I also realized the game was balanced around that. Combat is about figuring out a monster’s attack patterns and reconciling that with the animation system of whatever weapon you’re using. The zones in the game are apparently segmented with loading screens for a reason. World seems to be changing the control system into something resembling more popular action games and creating larger worlds with fewer loading screens. Personally I’m fine with this, but I can see why some might worry about upsetting the game’s delicate balance.

I’m optimistic about Capcom’s ability to westernize Monster Hunter without compromising its identity because it, along with other Japanese publishers, have recently been doing a great job of that. Capcom itself just proved this with Resident Evil 7, which simultaneously got back to the structure of the original Resident Evil but reinterpreted it in the form of a modern first person game. I consider The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildFinal Fantasy XV, and Metal Gear Solid V to all be great examples of games that smartly used western design conventions to upgrade classic Japanese franchises without ruining them. They each maintain what I personally liked about them, but in a more modern form. I even think Lost Planet back in 2006 showed Capcom knew how to handle this problem. I hope Monster Hunter is added to that list.

The real risk Capcom is facing here has to do with what might happen to the franchise’s handheld base, especially in Japan. Monster Hunter XX is coming out on Switch in Japan so the franchise will continue in some handheld form. Will there be another Monster Hunter on Switch later? I don’t know the tech side of World so we can’t really know now if that game even could run on Switch. If Capcom doesn’t keep releasing handheld versions of Monster Hunter in the future it risks the existing audience that’s probably one of its main cash flows. That’s bad news if World ends up being another Street Fighter V-level slip-up in terms of sales.

BULLETS:

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