You've got to catch 'em all. These little creatures can be found anywhere (but tall grass is their most likely environment), and they live to do your bidding and fight off other creatures. Though most people would assume I'm talking about Pokémon right off the bat, these statements can also apply to the Monster Hunter series, which is just as popular (if not more so) in Japan. Need proof? Despite the PSP's successor, the NGP, coming later this year, the PSP was at the top of the hardware sales charts for the past two weeks in Japan. Why? Because a new Monster Hunter game was released. A series that gets people to stand up and buy nearly-outdated hardware has to be a big deal, right? But then again, Pokémon is a phenomenon on a global scale, and more people know Pikachu than Tigrex. So, which of these franchises is better? Let's find out!
As far as storyline goes, Monster Hunter and Pokémon are on equal footing, as neither of them really have much of a narrative. Sure, Pokémon throws in a little bit of coming-of-age in there, and you might have a few childhood rivals, but if someone came up the street and asked you what Pokémon was about, you probably wouldn't say much more than "catching Pokémon." The same thing goes with Monster Hunter, though instead of a young kid, you are a grown adventurer who ventures deep into the wilds of...wherever...to find monsters. With both of these franchises, it's all about the gameplay, so you won't find much narrative in either.
The structure of the games is also similar. The objective, to find all the Pokémon/Monsters in each game, makes a quest-based structure the easiest fit for both. The only real difference between the two is that while Pokémon sees you travelling to nearly-identical towns along a world map, Monster Hunter has a central hub world from where you can jet off to different mission areas. The structure of Monster Hunter makes it a little bit more difficult, as you don't have a Pokémon center never more than ten steps away to heal your creatures. However, the structure also makes it necessary to take time off from leveling your characters, as you'll have to visit the hub world quite frequently to gather supplies and heal your monsters.
Though the structure is similar, and the plot is nearly identical between these two 'monster'-based franchises, the biggest difference between the two comes in the form of gameplay. While Pokémon is a turn-based RPG that uses a simplistic element-based battle system, Monster Hunter uses an active battle system that requires quick thinking and action. By its very nature, Monster Hunter is a more action-oriented game, and if you tire of attacking with simple commands, Monster Hunter will fit the bill perfectly, as you can run around brandishing all manner of weaponry and taming monsters through the best method available: violence.
The only issue that comes up when you are playing the more action-based Monster Hunter series is that it is hard to map out a concrete strategy when you are just hammering on buttons and hoping you can time them correctly to tame monsters. Though Monster Hunter does have an intrinsic elementals system, it is nowhere near as comprehensive as that of the Pokémon series, and winning a battle in Monster Hunter is more about speed and timing rather than strategic thinking and planning. If you are a fan of clearly-defined rules and planning a strategic outcome in advance, it's best to stick with Pokémon. The strategic elements of Monster Hunter can't even hold a candle to the simple-yet-complex world of Pokémon.
Another area where Pokémon has a clear advantage over Monster Hunter is in the monster roster. While Pokémon has more than 600 little creatures to collect (with each generation adding about 100 more to the mix), Monster Hunter only has a little over 100 creatures, with each title adding about twenty new monsters to the overall roster. Though catching Pokémon is admittedly a little bit easier than catching monsters in Monster Hunter, collecting over 600 Pokémon is a daunting task, no matter where you start. Collecting the 20-30 monsters that are in each Monster Hunter game is not as epic of an undertaking as those looking to complete their Pokédex, even if they are a bit harder to collect, and you can expect to complete each game's monster roster in less than ten hours. Pokémon? Better clear your calendar.
Though the single-player experiences are quite comparable, if you want to talk about multiplayer, Monster Hunter blows Pokémon right out of the water. Though recent Pokémon games have featured an online area where you can meet and battle other trainers, Monster Hunter has a long tradition of excellent multiplayer modes, and the latest release, Monster Hunter Tri, has a multiplayer mode that is almost like an MMO: you can create guilds, go on quests, and take on increasing challenges as you level up your skills. The multiplayer mode is really the most addictive facet of Monster Hunter, and if you like playing with others, Monster Hunter is the series for you.
Though it may seem like a bit of a cop-out, Monster Hunter and Pokémon are games designed for two different types of gamers. Pokémon is a game of incredible magnitude with a rules-based battle system that rewards players who can form strategic Pokémon parties and level their little monsters up to an almost obsessive level. If you want a game that will keep you in its grasp for months at a time and requires a serious time commitment, Pokémon is for you. However, if you like action games that feature plenty of quests, a slower leveling system and less minutia, then Monster Hunter is for you. Though both games feature deep, collection-based gameplay, it is nearly impossible to declare a winner as they are both very different experiences. So do the right thing: quit your job and play both! OK, maybe don't do anything that drastic, but realistically, both of these games offer unique and obsession-worthy experiences, and if you love one, you'll likely love the other as well. Just for different reasons.
Amanda L. Kondolojy
CCC Senior Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*