Despite its massive popularity in Japan, Monster Hunter games have always had a tough time attracting Western audiences, at least prior to the release of Monster: Hunter World. The series offers players an opportunity to fulfill their most epic creature slaying fantasies and has earned a reputation for having a steep, yet ultimately rewarding learning curve.

Boasting an exhaustive list of unique monster species, distinct ecosystems, and an emphasis on cooperative-play, Monster Hunter has only gotten better with each new installment. With the series now nearing its 16th anniversary, we decided to create a timeline to showcase how much MH has evolved over the years, specifically the main series games.

We’ll be updating this list in the future, so make sure to check back. And if you’d like to receive more gaming recommendations, consider reading through our other curated lists:

Monster Hunter

Release Date: March 11, 2004

Platform: PS2

The first Monster Hunter game would set the standard for the series going forward, introducing the iconic creature slaying gameplay fans have come to love. Releasing in 2004, the original Monster Hunter was created as part of a Capcom initiative to develop three games, the other two being Auto Modellista and Resident Evil Outbreak, which would take advantage of the PS2’s processing power and online capabilities.

As a result, Monster Hunter emphasized its online functionality, even restricting a majority of content such as Event quests to online-only. While many monsters could still be tackled offline in single-player, this usually came at the cost of smaller and less valuable player rewards.

The game’s online format is believed to have been inspired by Phantasy Star Online, the first online RPG available for home consoles. Monster Hunter would later be remade and expanded upon for the PlayStation Portable, releasing as Monster Hunter G in Japan and Monster Hunter Freedom in North America and Europe

Monster Hunter 2

Release Date: Feb 16, 2006

Platform: PS2

Monster Hunter 2 saw the debut of new monster species including the metal-winged Elder Dragon Kushala Daora along with Teostra and Lunastra—two lion-headed monsters whose fiery mating ritual has led to the death of many hunters. Accompanying the fresh batch of monsters were new weapons and armor which made full use of Monster Hunter 2’s new gem system.

For the first time, players were able to craft gems by combining ore and/or monster parts which could then be equipped to armor and weapons for additional skill points. This system was made even better by an expanded weapon tree and the ability to upgrade armor as players progressed.

Although it didn’t release outside of Japan, MH2 is considered to be a turning point for the series with many of its new features, namely the gem system, going on to become MH staples. A partial port of MH2 was later released for the PSP as Monster Hunter Freedom 2, which included numerous changes to the original, such as the removal of time flow elements, maps, and certain monsters.

Monster Hunter 3 (Tri)

Release Date: Aug 1, 2009

Platform: Wii

Monster Hunter 3 was originally planned to be a PlayStation 3 exclusive, however, due to high development costs for the console at the time, Capcom decided to switch gears and instead developed the game for the Nintendo Wii. This was a major change for the series and the first of many instances where MH games debuting on a Nintendo platform.

Monster Hunter 3 expanded upon the ecosystems of previous entries by including new underwater environments where players could fight monsters. While underwater combat was a unique feature not explored by most games at the time, the amount of time and effort that went into programming these sections detracted from other areas, leading Capcom to abandon the idea in future sequels.

Monster AI was completely redesigned and 18 new monsters were added for MH3. Additionally, each weapon class was updated with new moves and gameplay mechanics. An enhanced port of MH3 was released for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, allowing players to transfer their character data back and forth between systems without losing progress.

Monster Hunter 4

Release Date: Sep 14, 2013

Platform: 3DS

Launching on the 3DS, Monster Hunter 4 is the first MH handheld game to feature fully integrated online multiplayer. The game includes a number of QoL improvements implemented by Capcom with the goal of appealing to Western audiences, such as a greater emphasis on three-dimensional movement and combat, more fluid traversal when climbing walls and mounting creatures, and overall improved localization.

Additional advancements in monster AI resulted in creatures capable of using surrounding terrain to their advantage, making for more challenging and immersive hunts. The series’ weapon classes were expanded from 12 to 14, with introduction of the Insect Glaive and the Charge Blade. A new Guild Quest system was added, allowing players to use the 3DS’ StreetPass feature to exchange Guild Cards with other players in order to obtain unique quests.

Efforts were made to balance gameplay with more story content and player-exploration compared to previous entries. As they progressed, players were able to unlock multiple base camps along with new NPCs, resulting in MH4 having the largest cast of characters of any MH game to date. An enhanced version of the game titled Monster Hunter 4G was released in Japan and later in North America/Europe as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.

Monster Hunter: World

Release Date: Jan 26, 2018

Platform: PS4 / Xbox One

Monster Hunter: World offers the most streamlined MH experience to date, marking the debut of seamless, fully-connected open-worlds and the removal of zones from previous games. Now, players were able to track monsters using Scout flies, lure them into other areas, and trigger environmental traps such as floods, collapsible rocks, and destructible trees. Each of the 14 different weapon types returned, accompanied by new Slinger and Mantle tools which added a new layer of strategy to hunting monsters.

When outside of combat, players were given the option to fast-travel to camps where they could change their equipment (including weapon class) and restock on items—a drastic restructuring for the series. Improvements to accessibility are mostly attributed to a shift in World’s pacing and a reduced learning curve thanks to clear and concise tutorial sections. It is the first entry to release simultaneously across all markets for Xbox One and PS4, with a PC release following soon after.

Upon release, Monster Hunter: World was critically praised for finding ways to welcome new players without detracting from the core gameplay experience fans have grown to love. World is currently the best-selling Capcom game to date, with over 13 million copies sold. In September 2019, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne released as both an expansion and standalone title, providing players with more story content as well as new monsters to hunt, weapons and armor to craft, and a new Clutch Claw grappling tool.

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