When I think of relaxing games, Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and PowerWash Simulator come to mind. Built to let you move at your own pace, simple tasks and objectives that could be monotonous become satisfying. Yet, there’s another game that's a surprising member of the group: Monster Hunter Rise.
At first glance, these games have nothing in common. However, Monster Hunter Rise’s commitment to action-packed slaughter and thoughtful improvements upon previous installments distill its creature-slaying formula into meditative bliss.
Monster Hunter games have a reputation for being punishing grind fests, and they are but that grind is key. It’s allows you to progress in the game, harvesting resources from the corpses of creatures to forge highly desirable weapons and armor. Monster Hunter Rise doesn’t depart from that formula but Capcom has smoothed out the grind, making it less objectionable.
Cartography and violence
One of the most delightful changes in Monster Hunter Rise is its maps. In older games, the world is a collection of interconnected zones, each area filled with gathering points for plants, ore, and insects. These zones connect by direct paths but their layout and the accompanying loading screens do little to hide that you aren’t playing in an open-world – it feels disjointed to explore. In Monster Hunter Rise, you can explore the entire area seamlessly. Environments come to life, and it makes following and tracking monsters less of a pain.
Accompanying Monster Hunter Rise’s more open environments are the two largest improvements: the Wirebug and the Palamute. The Wirebug is a kind of insect you use to quickly zip around the map, a bit like a grappling hook. It also ties into the other new combat system, which allows you to mount and control a monster, leading to a Godzilla-like smackdown. Your trusty Palamute, a canine-looking animal, not only helps you battle a monster, but also lets you hop on its back at any time. Fleeing monsters are always frustrating, but hopping on your Palamute to chase them down makes it less aggravating. The auto-crafting system is also beneficial in both taking a lot of the guesswork out of resource gathering and constantly filling your inventory with important items.
These additions and other minor changes, not to mention a massive graphical improvement, make the thrill of the hunt much smoother. Many of the series’ convoluted systems feel either toned down or at least better explained, and the quality-of-life changes make taking down incredible monsters even more enjoyable. Not every element is so smooth, as the shortcuts system still confounds me, and the tower defense style Rampage quests are profoundly grating. But with these positive changes in place, the constant grinding of the Monster Hunter series becomes Zen-like.
Circle of life
For each hunt I go through the same motions. I accept a hunting quest, check my notes on the quarry, equip specific gear for the situation, and then sit down for my tasty meal of Bunny Dango. This methodical preparation becomes second nature, and something’s calming about having a routine. Even though I don’t know exactly what the monster I’m hunting will do, I’m most likely already familiar with its attacks and tricks. I also know which animals, plants, and other farmable things spawn in each area. That knowledge creates a sense of control and familiarity, giving way to relaxation.
The action and challenge is as thrilling as ever, but the game loop is akin to that of a farmer in a game like Stardew Valley. There I wake up, harvest crops, plant seeds, water the fields, tend to livestock, and head into town. Relaxation through repetition.
Depending on what equipment I’m grinding for and what crafting materials I need, I might need to slay the same monster at least five times, but I don’t mind. I enjoy that feeling of purpose, prepping for my next big hunt in a place that feels almost like home.