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This month, Capcom is trying its hand once more with the Monster Hunter series in the US and Europe with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. This rerelease brings the series on the 3DS as well as an HD console here for the first time. The series has become extremely successful in Japan with each installment selling millions of copies, but it has never grabbed a strong following outside its homeland. Why does Monster Hunter have such a tough time here and can Nintendo’s current systems put the series on Capcom's million-seller list in the West for the first time?
Right Systems in Japan, Wrong Systems in the West
Monster Hunter blew up in Japan because of the ability to play locally with others on a system that could handle it, which at the time was the PSP. Monster Hunter G ended up being a surprise hit for both Capcom and Sony that it propelled the PSP to be the top system for a couple of years.
The problem is that this generation saw a clash of ideologies of what makes a great video game system in Japan and the West. Japan loved the local connectivity of handhelds like the PSP and Nintendo DS, while the top system in the West was the Xbox 360 due to its graphical and online capabilities. What makes this worse is when you look at the regions’ weakest systems, it is the Xbox 360 in Japan and the PSP in the West.
This contradiction has prevented localization of games in the weaker regions such as 360 versions of multiplatform games like Injustice: Gods Among Us and Metal Gear Rising in Japan or Final Fantasy Type-0 in the West; or it can also hinder success of the games that actually do make it in the region like the PSP’s Monster Hunter Freedom games.
The only way the Monster Hunter franchise could have excelled in the West this generation was for the series to hit the Xbox 360 in some way. While Japanese 360's got Monster Hunter Frontier Online, the massive Xbox audience in the West has been starving for a good fantasy RPG with online co-op and no publisher has been able to deliver one in the seven years that the Xbox 360 has been out. We have seen the genre excel on the system with single-player hits like Fable or The Elder Scrolls series; but more importantly we have even seen a bad game such as Two Worlds make the NPD's top 20 games of August 2007 because it attempted an online co-op RPG experience, an experience that Monster Hunter could have easily and successively fulfilled.
The only Western console installment of the series in recent history was 2010’s Monster Hunter 3 on Wii, which thanks to a high worldwide install rate and awesome marketing (check the commercial below to see why), pushed almost 700,000 copies in the US and Europe. While Capcom was happy with sales, the series is a far cry from other Capcom hits such as Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, and Street Fighter.
Will Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Become the First Hit for the Series in the West?
Nope. I don’t doubt that Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate will be a good game, but I actually believe that Ultimate will be the premier online experience for Wii U for quite some time. The problem is that Ultimate is a rerelease for an audience that is more or less the same as Monster Hunter 3's in 2010, but smaller due to the Wii U only being out for four months. People who were not fans of Monster Hunter 3 on Wii are not going to pick up the same game on Wii U a mere three years later, and those who did and invested a lot of time in the game will be split between those who will play it again in an heartbeat and those who don’t feel like paying and playing the same game twice. The pessimistic attitude is not aimed at the Wii U as a system, only that rereleases such as Ultimate rarely sell better than their original installments unless it does a drastic positive change such as Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver or Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition.
Despite my hesitance on Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s capabilities of success on Wii U, the Trojan horse in this debate might possibly be the Nintendo 3DS version. Not only does the 3DS have a bigger install base, Capcom has already released two best selling titles on the platform (Super Street Fighter IV 3D and Resident Evil Revelations) and it is the only platform for now to have a future in the franchise. Western Monster Hunter fans know that they’ll need a 3DS because not only is Monster Hunter 3 getting a 3DS version this month, the all-new Monster Hunter 4 is also coming out for it. In fact, if this a discussion about Monster Hunter 4 hitting Wii U and 3DS this month, then my predictions would be much more optimistic.
What Direction Should Monster Hunter Go for International Success?
With the Wii U out now, the 3DS hitting its stride and a new Xbox and the PS4 on the horizon, it is time for Capcom to reboot Monster Hunter for a worldwide audience. Instead of developing exclusively on one console and rerelease it on different ones later, they need to start from a new slate and develop an all new installment for 3DS, Wii U, Playstation 4, the next Xbox, and PC simultaneously so that on day one, everyone in both Japanese and Western territories can fully take advantage of it. Then and only then will the franchise finally have the capability of performing millions of sales both inside and outside Japan.