Capcom hopes the release of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate next month will see the series finally crack the west.
The game launches at the same time on the Wii U and 3DS, and features cross-platform play, shared saving as well as online play on Wii U.
While Monster Hunter enjoys phenomenal popularity in Japan, it remains a niche game with a cult following in the west. It's sold a whopping 22 million copies globally, but most of these are to Japanese gamers.
Executives at the Japanese company have spoken about the reasons for this before: in Japan players gather in public places, such as train stations, to connect over local wi-fi to hunt monsters together. In the west this doesn't happen. Instead, online play fuels co-operative gaming.
And Monster Hunter has proved most successful on the PlayStation Portable - a console that has sold wonderfully well in Sony's homeland but struggled somewhat in the west.
Now, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (a remake of Monster Hunter Tri) on Wii U features online play, and players can transfer their 3DS saves to the Wii U version so they can continue their game at home after playing on Nintendo's handheld while out and about. There's also a Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Wii U and 3DS bundle set for release.
It's all part of a concerted, deliberate effort on the part of Capcom to grow Monster Hunter's popularity in the west.
"You're right in terms of us intentionally doing this," Monster Hunter producer Ryozo Tsujimoto told Eurogamer. "It's always been our wish to make a good start and we've always been saying we'll do this at one point.
With Wii U, which is online compatible, and with 3DS with its portability, releasing both of them together, we're giving opportunity and options to consumers to really pick up the version they want and the one that suits themMonster Hunter producer Ryozo Tsujimoto
"Monster Hunter in Japan started and developed in a very different way to how it's been in Europe so far, Japan being a rather densely populated place with a quite prominent culture of visiting each other's places to play games together. You see kids carrying their consoles taking them to their friends. They already had this basis of playing games through local network, whereas it's a bit more difficult in the US and Europe where your neighbour is seven miles away.
"With Wii U, which is online compatible, and with 3DS with its portability, releasing both of them together, we're giving opportunity and options to consumers to really pick up the version they want and the one that suits them.
"By doing that we might be able to actually have a breakthrough. That's definitely our intention."
The western release of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on Wii U comes three months after it released in Japan. While not ideal, this is a stark improvement over previous localisation efforts (the 3DS version, the ninth Monster Hunter game released in eight years, launched in December 2011).
"We're well aware of the complaints from the fans about the time difference of releases," Tsujimoto said. "We have been trying our best to try to reduce it.
"So this time, with great help from Nintendo, we've managed to greatly shorten the delay in release and at the same time we're releasing it for both platforms, which is an achievement in a sense. So hopefully we can implement a more systematic way of doing this in the future."
This time, with great help from Nintendo, we've managed to greatly shorten the delay in release and at the same time we're releasing it for both platforms, which is an achievement in a sense
With Monster Hunter's popularity in Japan almost a given, you'd be forgiven for thinking Capcom would focus on western gamers and change significantly the Monster Hunter experience to appeal to western tastes.
But, bar slight but important gameplay tweaks (better camera control being chief among them), Monster Hunter has remained largely the same over its nine year history.
"We've got a very clear vision of what a Monster Hunter game is," Tsujimoto said. "If we were to change the game system and what we believe is Monster Hunter to something else, then we don't have to name it Monster Hunter. We would just call it something else.
"In order for it to be Monster Hunter we are obliged to keep the essence of Monster Hunter, but at the same time make some innovations so it doesn't stagnate.
"We don't want to betray the existing fans for the sake of getting new people in. Rather than changing the game itself, we want to expand the way it can be played, for instance, releasing it on Nintendo 3DS and Wii U."
One aspect of Monster Hunter some have complained over the years is its sometimes brutal difficulty, but Tsujimoto refuses to budge on this.
"At the end of the day, Monster Hunter is an action game," he said. "It's got to be challenging. It's got to be solid in that sense. Not to the extent that it's heartbreaking. But it's got to have significant points to it.
"You have a breakthrough. You hit a wall. You ponder for a bit. And then you breakthrough again. There are significant steps where you are satisfied in each, but it's never heartbreaking. It's a matter of balance in that sense."
For Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Capcom added a target camera, an auto-lock system that fans have long called for. But the development team only approved its inclusion after deciding it didn't harm the overall experience.
At the end of the day, the Monster Hunter difficulty is in the action element, not the camera control. We don't want people to be hindered because the camera control is awkward
"At the end of the day, the Monster Hunter difficulty is in the action element, not the camera control. We don't want people to be hindered because the camera control is awkward. We wanted to provide a comfortable environment for the players without spoiling the solidness of the game itself."
Tsujimoto said the target camera should "smooth" the learning curve for newcomers to the series.
In Japan, Monster Hunter 4 launches in the summer of this year exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS. Given Capcom's renewed effort to reduce the delay between release in Japan and the west, will we see the game launch on these shores any time soon?
"Of course we're doing our best to deliver Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate in perfect condition right now," Tsujimoto answered, "and we're looking forward to as many people as possible picking up the game.
"Obviously, the more people who pick this game up will definitely encourage the whole Monster Hunter scene worldwide. So, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate 3 everyone!
"Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is an amazing game. We've put so much effort into it. It's my baby. So before you talk about my next baby, I'd like you to love my first baby."
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