Monster Hunter Rise Blends the Best of Feudal Japanese Culture
FROM ITS HUMONGOUS roofs with large, extending eaves to foods such as onigiri and candy apples, the new Japanese-inspired environment in Monster Hunter Rise is beautiful. It’s not just the architecture and cuisine that takes its cue from feudal Japan, however—the new monsters are also inspired by Japanese folklore. Taking cues from the development team’s home country and culture, all of these influences weave together to set the game apart from previous entries in the Monster Hunter series, explains Rise’s game director, Yasunori Ichinose.
“The compositions and what we express with the maps we create have been changing in each iteration of the series,” says Ichinose.
For Rise, in particular, the stage and map concepts were a fusion of man-made buildings and natural objects. In the game’s locales, you can find many of these artificial structures blended into the surrounding environments. The temples and shrines in Shrine Ruins is an example. It’s a lush green forest that used to be a holy ground for prayer, but has since been abandoned and left to decay as monsters roam the area. The Flooded Forest contains ancient ruins that are submerged in a constant stream of water that covers the entire field, with monsters lying underwater. Large dragon bones and the remains of a large Dragonship rest in the center of Frost Islands, which are left over from a fight between heroes and a giant dragon that once used the islands as its nest. “We tried to express that the ecology of monsters is closely related to the world in which people live,” explains Ichinose.
The Japanese design influence can be seen throughout the game, including the main hub area of Kamura Village. Pink cherry blossom flowers, which symbolize the coming of spring and the renewal of life, are all over the village. There are very large feudal Japanese temples in the background as well. Kamura Village also resembles another place in the series called Yukumo Village, which was introduced in the 2010 Japan-exclusive Monster Hunter Portable 3rd for the PlayStation Portable.
While players can’t visit Yukumo Village in Rise, and it’s not connected to Kamura Village at all in the game, they’re both inspired by the same Japanese culture. Additionally, the alphabets used in Kamura are actually the same ones used in Yukumo. This indicates that perhaps both villages share similar cultures and could actually be in close proximity with each other, geographically speaking.
The residents of Kamura who slay the dangerous monsters, known as the Hunters, have ninja-inspired outfits as their default starting gear, which can then be replaced with a variety of armor created from the carved parts of defeated monsters. Hunters have kunai and shuriken, which are small sharp throwing weapons used by ninjas, strapped to their outfits. Capcom included ninja design elements into the world of Rise because the team thought the concept would be easy to understand, since ninjas are well known globally through manga and anime.
Reinventing Travel and Food
The ninja motif extends to the traversal in Monster Hunter Rise as well. One of the biggest aspects of the game is its verticality. Hunters are equipped with Wirebugs, which can be used to propel them forward, initiate wall jumping, and suspend themselves in midair.
This type of movement is popular in eastern media. For example, From Software’s 2019 title Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice embraced verticality by allowing players to scale large buildings—a departure from the studio’s other titles such as Bloodborne and Dark Souls. Additionally, Sekiro’s main character, Wolf, has a grappling hook similar to the Hunters’ Wirebugs in Rise. Ninjas are known for being quick, “so we added some nimble motion to make for fun actions, such as wall running and Wirebug moves,” says Ichinose.
Another method of travel in the game is the new Palamute canines. Hunters can ride them across the vast and open battlegrounds to catch up to monsters without using up any stamina. Dogs have long been a part of Japanese culture in the real world and have been good hunting partners—not only in Japan. The Akita, for example, guarded royalty in feudal Japan and also helped track down wild prey. The very popular Shiba Inu breed can also drive away smaller animals and hunt wild boar, but now are known primarily in Japan as great companion pets. Ichinose adds that the “Palamutes introduced in Rise are canine companions, so we’ve incorporated hunting dog elements, plus they are reliable buddies who will support your hunt together with Palicoes.”
The Palico felines, first introduced in Monster Hunter: World, return in Rise as well. They can fulfill a variety of support roles during battle, but perhaps they’re best known for their extreme showiness in the kitchen. In Kamura Village, there are a lot of Japanese foods around, such as mochi, candy apples, and onigiri. Palicos can be seen pounding the mochi, which is then used in dango recipes (sweet rice dumplings popular in Japanese cuisine).
Food is a big part of the gameplay and the overall worldbuilding in Monster Hunter Rise. In the kitchen area, players can select up to three pieces of dango. Each piece provides a buff for the Hunter, be it extra resistance to certain elements like fire and electric damage, or faster HP recovery when drinking a potion.
In contrast to the extravagant multicourse meals that players would scarf down in Monster Hunter: World, which included foods like steak and vegetables, dangos were chosen in order to streamline the experience in Monster Hunter Rise. “The dangos were a perfect fit, as they are a familiar part of Japanese food culture and can be presented in a variety of flavors and appearances within a single menu,” Ichinose explains. The team wanted to keep the system simple and easier to understand, so the mechanism of activating stat boosts and skill effects by combining different types of food from World was removed.
The Monsters Are Based on Japanese Yokai and Oni
When it comes to the actual monsters, Monster Hunter Rise doesn’t disappoint. The new monsters introduced in this entry are inspired by oni and yokai, which are demons and spirits, respectively, in Japanese folklore. For example, the flagship monster, Magnamalo, has a face that resembles a samurai’s men-yoroi face mask. Ichinose says that Magnamalo includes elements from ghosts of armored warriors, devilish fire, and a motif of tigers, along with purple gas rising from its body from eating other monsters.
Some other examples include the Aknosom and the Tetranadon monsters. The former is inspired by the Kara-kasa obake, which is a mystical ghost yokai vaguely shaped like an umbrella. When combining the yokai with a crane bird, an Aknosom is born. It looks just like a crane bird, only bigger! The idea of the Aknosom came about because when a crane stands on one foot, it looks like an umbrella, Ichinose said in an interview with IGN last month.
The Tetranadon monsters are inspired by the kappa, which is one of the most common yokai depicted in Japanese folklore. These creatures are amphibious and bear resemblance to turtles. The team tried to match the yokai with different motifs when designing the monsters, Ichinose says. “It was a trial and error process of thinking about what monsters we wanted to add based on its attributes and monster types.” Since kappa are known for their sumo wrestling antics, it’s no surprise that Tetranadon utilizes hand-to-hand combat tactics and body slams when defending itself against Hunters.
Monster Hunter Rise’s aesthetics are reminiscent of Koei Tecmo’s Toukiden series, which is also part of the monster-hunting genre of games. While they both use a similar Japanese folklore backdrop, Ichinose notes that the team doesn’t reference any particular game or incorporate elements from other titles into their own. Capcom’s staff play other publishers’ games, and its official stance is to respect the work and see what ideas are expressed in them. Of course, the developers also live in Japan, so they’re surrounded by cultural elements that provide inspiration.
“Since I personally like that type of style myself, I think we were able to mix that well with Monster Hunter to create an original aesthetic with Rise,” explains Ichinose.
Last year, a few games were released that feature Japanese settings, such as Ghost of Tsushima and Nioh 2, with international audiences really enjoying both. They have Metacritic scores of 83 and 85, respectively. Ichinose thinks that more games with traditional Japanese settings are gaining recognition and could almost be forming a genre of their own.
“For those who like the Japanese-style setting, or those who like to see a world of monsters’ ecology … we hope that a wide variety of users around the world will enjoy the game,” Ichinose says. It’s easy to see why the Monster Hunter franchise has continued to grow since its 2004 debut on PlayStation 2, with its incredibly strong foundation of interesting monsters and fun gameplay mechanics. Capcom continues to build the franchise and iterate on each entry, making Monster Hunter Rise feel truly unique.