Few games have managed to, or even attempted to match the style of gameplay that made Phantasy Star online such a big success. Phantasy Star online let console gamers play with small groups on people in an online action RPG and together quests could be completed and monsters could be slain. Capcom's Monster Hunter (which us Europeans are playing rather later than our Japanese and US friends) is the first game to offer anything like the experience of the SEGA classic, but it simply can't compete.
While the game is called Monster Hunter, that is a little misleading. You may be expecting trolls and other giant beasts, but you mainly fight dinosaurs. To be fair, there are dragons and some odd cat like creatures (that like to steal things), but it isn't the weird and wonderful array of creatures that we had hoped for.
Before you can begin you must create a character. The character creation tool is about as basic as they come. You can enter your own name, choose a set face, set the RGB value for the hair colour and choose a voice type. What's odd is that your face also determines your clothes and the voice is nothing more than some grunts and yelps. Soon enough you'll be buying armour that covers your entire body, so your look isn't all that important.
You start the game in your village and must complete a number of basic training quests to get the hang of things. These missions teach you how to fight, collect food, find items and other essential skills required to be a Monster Hunter. These early quests are pretty dull, but are necessary in order to progress to more interesting quests.
Combat in the game is incredibly simple. All attacks are performed using the right analogue stick, with each direction performing a slightly different move. Combos can be performed, but this does cause problems. These combos tend to go one for a fair few seconds and because there is no lock-on, the animal you were attacking usually moves away from you, resulting in a flash looking attack at the air. You start off with a fairly tame blade, but eventually get to use much stronger swords, dual swords and a bowgun.
When you aren't fighting monsters, you are collecting meat (by carving up monsters), cooking meat (by pressing a button when some music stops), finding items (by generally pressing the search button all over the entire game-world) or fishing. As you can imagine, none of this is any fun. The fact that you have to eat to keep your energy up and sharpen your sword to keep it from going blunt just makes the game more tedious. These gathering quests are fairly frequent early on, but after a while they die down a bit and you are given a pretty equal amount of killing and gathering quests.
Offline play isn't really what the game was designed for, but, unfortunately, the online play isn't all that great either. To play online you need to go to the town, which is essentially the same as the village, but a little bit bigger. Here you can embark on four-player coop quests, but actually getting into an online game is rather a chore. You have to go through a seemingly endless number of menus which put you off the online play even before you get to play it.
Choosing an online game is also not without its problems. There is a tiered lobby system, meaning that you have to choose a server, then a colour coded area, and then a town. Each town has a limit of eight players in it, so you often have to move to other towns to find a decent group of players to play with. While the four-player limit for quests may seem a little small, the levels aren't all that big, so this isn't really a problem. What is a problem is the lack of voice chat, which is really essential in a coop game of this nature. Finding people online has also bee rather difficult, but this may improve once the game is reduced to a more appealing price.
As far as aliasing goes, this has to be one of the worst offenders on the PlayStation 2. The landscapes are literally alive with shimmering and considering the already basic, blocky look, it doesn't make for an attractive game. The monsters themselves are more attractive and have clearly been created with more care than the environments, but this still looks like a very early PlayStation 2 game, not a game that is being released near the end of the system's life. The camera doesn't help matters, with its complete lack of dynamic movement. You must control it entirely yourself (using the d-pad to rotate and the L1 button to centre the view behind your character) and this makes travelling around the world rather a painful task.
The audio isn't much better. The soundtrack comes in and out, seemingly without reason and the music played while cooking is utterly bizarre, almost comedic. The characters do little more than grunt and the monsters don't have much variety to their sounds, but at least they sound pretty convincing. As mentioned before, the lack of voice chat support is the biggest problem and something that this game really needed.
I'm pretty sad to say that Monster Hunter is disappointing. The premise of fighting monsters (even if they are really only dinosaurs) online, with a group of people, is a good one. Unfortunately, the way it has been executed feels very outdated and really rather dull. We really can't recommend this to anyone.