In the second of a short series of articles, Rich Stanton guides you round the world of Capcom's masterpiece. Last week we spoke about the all-important pouch - and this week it's all about playing dress-up.
In real life I don't care about clothes very much. No-one wants to look like a chump, obviously, but following trends and creating ensembles has never been a big draw. I once knew a guy who'd visit All Saints in his lunch hour - life's too short.
Yet the hours I don't spend browsing racks of distressed denim I am more than content to spend in a puce dwarf's armoury, working out just what suits my hunter's look. It is always something I don't have - yet - because the ever-expanding armour options is Monster Hunter's most deeply-sunken hook.
Who knows why dressing up little men and women has such appeal? It's not unique to Monster Hunter. There are general principles working across all games where armour's a big thing - not least the practical side of higher defence. But better stats is one thing. Players also want to look cool and simultaneously project a certain image, whether that's foppish maestro or dark destroyer.
Crafting armour in Monster Hunter has a quality beyond this, thanks to a perfect confluence of mechanic and world. In other games you get loot drops, but in Monster Hunter you carve up the fallen beasts. The majority of armour sets are made from monster parts and they look it - reinforced with scales, decorated with feathers, tipped with horns, and held together by the viscera of the vanquished. You don't get achievements in Monster Hunter; you wear them.
I've always thought this aspect of the game sits rather unevenly against the community's habit of min-maxing armour sets. Monster Hunter's one of those where expert advice is everywhere, and in reducing this richly detailed world and its constituents into spreadsheets much of it misses the point. It's the kind of attitude where, if something isn't viable (whatever that means) for the game's toughest challenges, it's dismissed as junk.
This is why easily-acquired and utilitarian gear is so frowned on, like the 'Wroggi S' set that took me all the way to G-Rank. Made from a relatively weak monster in the early stages of High Rank hunting, this makes you look like a wild west desperado (complete with red neckerchief) and has a bunch of built-in skills.
Monster Hunter's abysmal at explaining anything and skills are no exception, though really they're as simple as Call of Duty's perks. All completed armour sets have certain skills built-in that reflect the creature they were built from - so the Wroggi, a poisonous and ravenous raptor, makes armour that gives poison resistance, faster eating time (!), and increased weapon sharpness.
All armour will also reflect that monster's weaknesses to some degree, and here you realise is where the soul of Mega Man has come to rest. There's much nostalgia for Capcom's Blue Bomber but I was only ever fond of one part of the design - the way bosses and boss weapons interlocked. Complex weapon and armour systems with extremes are not common in big console games, because so many developers are trying to create a smoother play experience, and this is why Monster Hunter is one of the few with texture.
It's why crafting that kit feels worthwhile and why, though I've long since got 'better' armour, I still crack out the Wroggi S outfit every now and again for a bit of prancing. I like being immune to poison, and I really like hunting G-Rank Wroggis while clothed in their children. More than anything I love the idea that some unknown designer at Capcom looked at the Wroggi, and thought "that would make a badass cowboy outfit." Because I totally agree.