To a majority of the world, March 26 was a run-of-the-mill Friday. But to certain fans, it was the first time they were celebrating a brand new holiday – Monster Hunter Day. Capcom’s latest entry in the Monster Hunter franchise, Monster Hunter Rise, was released for the Nintendo Switch that day. In fact, enough employees at a company in Japan had taken the day off to play the game that the CEO simply gave everyone a day off. The CEO’s rationale was simply that he assumed that his employees would “not be able to concentrate on their work,” a point that I definitely understand. Throughout spring quarter, I’ve frequently found my attention in Zoom lectures wavering as I daydream about taking down a virtual behemoth. Monster Hunter is an iconic enough video game series to get a work holiday in Japan but remains closer to a cult franchise in the West. What is Monster Hunter, and why do people love it so much?

During the early 2000s, console gaming was defined by the popularity and unique implementations of online multiplayer. In particular, Microsoft launching the original Xbox with Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001 revolutionized the gaming industry by pushing online multiplayer functions in innovative ways. Japanese studio Capcom initially adapted to this new online era by pulling from their storied legacy of competitive multiplayer games. Known for Street Fighter II, Capcom first experimented with competitive online play with another fighting game franchise of theirs: Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, which launched with online multiplayer only in Japan.

When the first Monster Hunter released on the PlayStation 2 in 2004, its solely cooperative approach to online multiplayer was revolutionary. Monster Hunter was a game defined by its co-op, with absolutely no competitive aspects. Monster Hunter centered around using seven different weapon types to defeat larger-than-life and uniquely designed beasts. It’s literally exactly what it says in the name. Using the parts carved from the hunted monsters, players then craft stronger weapons and armor. While hunts seem near-impossible alone, they are much more approachable with peers, especially those who are more experienced and have better equipment. Furthermore, progression is tracked solely through accomplishments (your weapons and armor). This allowed players to feel a sense of pride – every piece of equipment they flex is centered around their personal growth as a player.  

My character (center) with two online players. Photo by Hugh Jay-Yu / North by Northwestern

In an interview with Eurogamer, Ryozo Tsujimoto, the game director for the franchise, said that “[Monster Hunter was] something where, even if you're a newbie, you can play along with expert players and they can support you in playing along with them, and you don't feel like you're just useless or left behind. They can help you get involved in the game and then help you brush up your skills. It's that kind of communal play aspect that I think has been key to its popularity in Japan.”

Monster Hunter began to gain a reputation for its online play to the extent that an old 2004 review from Cheat Code Central writes that “if you don’t have a PS2 network adapter then don’t even waste your time.Monster Hunter was a smash hit in Japan, and although it sold less in the West, it was still critically well-received.

Throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, Monster Hunter continued releasing new installments and remained popular in Japan, but it struggled to find a foothold in the West due to the steep learning curve and lack of promotion. Ultimately, Monster Hunter was able to break through to American and European audiences with 2018’s Monster Hunter World, which used cutting edge graphics, live-service updates, simpler combat and an innovative open-world gameplay cycle to massive worldwide success. To this day, Monster Hunter: World and its expansion Iceborne are the best selling Capcom game by a large margin.

World’s success has bred new global interest in the franchise, leading to a controversial theatrical Hollywood film – 2020’s Monster Hunter – that was less than well received. And the 2021 Nintendo Switch release of Monster Hunter Rise seems to be continuing the momentum that the franchise has gained since World. From its innovative online co-op to its awe-inspiring and interestingly designed monsters, it’s no wonder that Monster Hunter fans all over the world would celebrate the release of the newest installment as a holiday – myself included. Anyone tryna hunt?