Full Review: Free-antasy Star Online?
Even though the Dreamcast is just a memory to many now, Sega's Phantasy Star Online is still one of its most popular releases, still being played by Dreamcast fans, as well as Xbox and GameCube players. However, the PlayStation 2 has been left out in the PSO world, especially strange considering the game is on the Cube where Nintendo's online interests have been minimal at best ? certainly the PS2's userbase would find PSO to be a welcome sight. Capcom believes this as well, it seems, as the company has issued it's own PSO-esque game in Monster Hunter. An online game in nature, Monster Hunter is a great concept for those who enjoy questing with friends or other random humans, with a wealth of adventures to be had. The offline does contain a single player adventure, but it's there where the game becomes a dry, boring, repetitive affair; it just doesn't resonate well as a game for those who play it alone. Thus, the result is a mixed bag ? a winner online, a disappointing concept offline. However, if you're a PS2 player disappointed about Phantasy Star Online (a game that also wasn't exactly known for its 1 player aspect) not being on your console of choice, Monster Hunter quite possibly will fit the bill.
The difference between the offline and online modes is minmal ? it's all questing, be it fetch quests or actual adventuring. The only real difference is you're working alone offline, and working with 3 others online. When you start out, you get to create your character from different class types and characteristics, and then you're dropped into the world where you can acquire quests, which early on are basic, simplistic things, but as you go on they get more difficult ? especially single player where you could really benefit from extra players to keep a look out for enemies while you deliver the result of your quest. This is why the single player is extremely disappointing ? it does nothing but emulate the online portion for a single player, and is not much fun (somewhat like PSO's 1 player troubles). On the other hand, the online side of things is extremely entertaining, and fans of PSO will find a very different, and yet familiar take on their favorite online game. It requires actual teamwork to accomplish things, or in a style of Final Fantasy XI, it requires a full party to take down a particular monster.
Though it could be classified as an online RPG, Monster Hunter really doesn't have a typical RPG setup. Granted, since you create your own character you're playing an RPG, but there's not really experience points or anything, and you only gain strength or defense based upon the weapons and armor you're equipped with, which is earned basically through the completion of quests. The battling is like Zelda, or Fable, or even PSO in that it's real time action RPG fighting, with a bit of FFXI stylings when you're with a party. The combat system is a little weird at first like a lot of games, but it becomes fairly intuitive and playable with a bit of time, and the single player advances at a decent enough pace to get everything straightened out before it gets too complicated and/or so you're prepared to play with people online.
Basically, if you're going to get into Monster Hunter, it best be for the online because the single player just doesn't work out well in comparison. It's good to play so you can learn the basics and prevent making a fool out of yourself online, but the 1 player will just become extremely boring, repetitive, and overly difficult without the help and companionship of other players to keep the game entertaining. New quests get added to the online game as well, so the fun can continue once you've beaten everything that's been offered. If you really liked PSO this will be up your alley, though if you're a fan of FFXI, you may find this to be very basic in comparison to the vast MMORPG.
The graphics of Monster Hunter are nice, detailed and clean, with some decent character and enemy designs and other various intangibles ? not reference quality or anything, but they do the job. The vast word is modeled really well and feels huge; not GTA huge, but big enough for this kind of game. Online, the game never has lag or hiccups, not a surprise since it's built for broadband-only play. The audio is actually pretty sharp, the monsters make a lot of noise and you can audibly tell whether or not you should fight or get the hell out before you're destroyed by something many times larger than you. The music is pretty much standard fare but that's not surprising coming from Capcom. Unfortunately the game doesn't support voice chat (like many Japanese-based online games), so you're stuck with the keyboard for any communication.