In the third of a short series of articles, Rich Stanton guides you round the world of Capcom's masterpiece. We've taken you through the pouch and the armour - and this week it's time to look at the weapons.
I'm as proud to be Scottish as the next ex-pat, but until Monster Hunter I'd never quite understood the bagpipes. I'd thought they existed merely to punish the recipients of posh Caledonian dinners, when in fact it's a genius combination of buffing tool and impact weapon - a kind of magic hammer.
The hunting horn is one of Monster Hunter's oddest weapons, and my set of bagpipes is called Rinforzato. Magnificent, isn't it? The word echoes the Italian for reinforcing or emphasising, and it's videogame for harmonising death-bludgeon. Each attack produces a certain colour of note - blue, red or white - and linking these together in short strings unleashes a thwomping great attack that ends with your hunter in position to play.
And play he does. One of Monster Hunter's most exquisite aspects is the animations, with its unparalleled eye for tics of nature, but here it's let loose in the name of hipswings. As your hunter gets down and fingers the stem, the pipes let loose a ditty and your team get buffed. Phwoar, eh?
Fighting a monster with the horn is such a joy. Helping out your team while landing staggering impact blows and jamming out in front of monster's face... wow. I've seen bad horn players too, of course - never playing notes, or playing so many they never get involved in the fight. That's because Monster Hunter's weapon system depends not only on skill, but on understanding what each tool brings to the fight. It never seems to get described as such, but it's no exaggeration to call the combat class-based.
Know your role. That's the difference between an amazing group of hunters and a bunch of plodders. Every mechanic feeds into this, from the way that clumsy blows can knock over your companions and interrupt their animations, to the way it's woven through the way monsters take damage. This isn't the place to do a big weapons guide, but seeing as you're so interested I'll go through the basics:
Greatsword/Longsword - Tails. Always the tails. These weapons do cutting damage, which you need to lop off certain bits, and also are the absolute worst for knocking over other players. So stay at the back.
Lance/Gunlance - The weapons of taste and distinction. Right under the monster, jabbing upwards into their soft bellies as much as possible please.
Hammer/Hunting Horn - Focussing on the head, doing massive impact damage, staggering them lots, and the latter occasionally stopping for a tune. Sheer damage to the face.
Dual Blades/Sword and Shield - Should be dealing constant damage and inflicting status effects, the world's worst mosquitos.
Switchaxe - A weird one, switching between a heavy axe and the buffed sword it charges up. It's constant aggression, like Sword and Shield, and easily makes up in offense what it loses in defense.
Guns/Bows - At a distance. And trying not to hit your teammates with cluster bombs, thanks.
Every weapon has its particular strategies, which are teased out over long hours. The movesets for each weapon are exactly the same throughout the game, only the weapon stats improve - meaning that learning to use them is a matter of skill as much as it is upgrades.
The animations themselves and their speed in relation to the button presses are a learning curve. Beyond this the movesets have a huge amount of hidden depth; the little kinks and animation cancels you only stumble across after extended play. The numbers are important in Monster Hunter but, ultimately, fighting always comes down to skill.
I love a Lance as much as the next red-blooded man, but that's why there's something special about getting good with the Hunting Horn. It's not based on a real-life weapon. The animations are odd, huge elaborate moves that take seconds to play out and reposition your hunter in complicated ways. It's a lot to wrap your head around at first. Which is why the first time you pirouette out of an attack's way, smash the owner to the ground, and then play the song of your people right in its face... well, it feels braw.