The Monster Hunter series has become ridiculously popular in North America, in large part due to the massive success of Monster Hunter World and its Iceborne expansion. Capcom followed up on World by releasing Monster Hunter Rise for Nintendo Switch, a stellar entry in the series that was ported to PC earlier this year. Longtime fans of the series undoubtedly have a soft spot for every Monster Hunter game, though. Whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned hunter, it’s worth revisiting some of the older games in the franchise, too. We’ve ranked the mainline series from worst to best.
For many players, Monster Hunter is now a “forever game” akin to Pokémon, Destiny, or Final Fantasy XIV. The kind of game you could easily put hundreds–even thousands–of hours into (speaking from personal experience) and boasting a vibrant community of die-hard fans all over the world. Monster Hunter has been around since 2004, but since most players outside Japan jumped on at World, there are likely many fans curious about the Monster Hunter games that came before it.
The best Monster Hunter game is probably the one you think it is. Keep in mind that we’re only featuring mainline games that released in North America and Europe, and we’ve excluded spin-offs such as Monster Hunter Stories. Also, it’s a great time to dive into Monster Hunter Rise on PC or Switch ahead of the big Sunbreak expansion that releases this summer.
8. Monster Hunter
The original Monster Hunter on PlayStation 2 introduced players to the series’ loot-driven, beast-slaying gameplay… but people just didn’t understand it at the time. In many ways, the original Monster Hunter plays just like any other game in the main series: You take on hunting quests from a village hub, head out into large arena-like maps where you bag and tag your prey, then head back to town to upgrade your gear with the bits and bob carved from the monster’s hide. Repeat until you beat the game.
This gameplay loop was reminiscent of other popular series like Diablo and Phantasy Star Online, but Capcom’s first attempt was riddled with issues. Audience expectations were part of the problem; players and critics struggled with the slow combat that emphasized long fights against single large enemies rather than hordes of baddies, tedious resource management, and grindy crafting system. While these elements are now seen as hallmarks of the series, they simply weren’t fully realized yet. If you played Monster Hunter today, it’d be difficult to tell what parts of the cumbersome gameplay were intentional, and which were janky mishaps. Yet despite these setbacks, many players stuck with the first Monster hunter long enough for the addictive gameplay loop to click, and the game sold well enough to warrant several sequels that refined the series into the worldwide success it is today.
See our Monster Hunter review.
7. Monster Hunter Freedom
Monster Hunter Freedom (aka Monster Hunter Portable in Japan) is technically a PSP port of the first game with some minor updates, but it’s worth giving this title its own entry because of what it did for the franchise.
In short, Capcom’s gamble to take Monster Hunter’s from home consoles to portable devices was a masterstroke–in Japan, anyway. Monster Hunter Portable sparked the series’ long-lasting popularity in Japan thanks to the PSP’s ad-hoc wireless multiplayer feature. Monster Hunter Freedom, however, didn’t catch on the same way in the west, where most players had to slog through the game’s grind solo. The handheld gameplay also came with tradeoffs that made Freedom even more difficult to play than the PS2 version in some ways–the notorious “Monster Hunter claw” control scheme and long load times, especially. It was still possible to play and enjoy Monster Hunter Freedom by yourself (I certainly did when I was a teenager), but the game’s flaws were much easier to overlook if you were lucky enough to experience the high of multiplayer hunting… or were stubborn enough to force your way past the slow opening hours.
See our Monster Hunter Freedom review.
6. Monster Hunter Freedom 2 and Freedom Unite
Continuing the formula that Monster Hunter Freedom started, Freedom 2 was the PSP port of the Japan-exclusive PS2 game, Monster Hunter 2 (pronounced Monster Hunter “Dos”), and the only version of Monster Hunter 2 released in the West.
Freedom 2 refined the first portable outing’s gameplay and introduced new monsters that would become series staples like the Tigrex, as well as mainstay weapons like the Long Sword, Hunting Horn, Gunlance, and Bow. But while Freedom 2 was simply a portable remake of Monster Hunter 2, the game’s immediate follow-up, Freedom Unite, was the bigger innovation.
Freedom Unite was an expanded version of Freedom 2, introducing super-difficult “G Rank” quests (now known as “Master Rank”), and even more new content–you could easily spend a few hundred hours battling giant monsters and crafting ornate armor. Not only was Freedom Unite a bigger Monster Hunter game than ever, it was also a more enjoyable experience in general thanks to faster load times than previous Freedom titles, and the addition of the Palico sidekick, making the game friendlier for solo players even with “old Monster Hunter” quirks and notorious difficulty still intact.
However, Freedom Unite is also where Capcom started the annoying tradition of releasing a comparatively limited base Monster Hunter game, then following up with an expanded “G-Rank” or “Master Rank” version of the same game just a few months later. So while it’s one of the most important releases in the series, it’s also arguably one of the most notorious as well.
5. Monster Hunter Tri and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
The third Monster Hunter generation was a major change for the series in several ways. Most notably, the series pivoted from Sony’s consoles to Nintendo’s hardware, with Monster Hunter Tri releasing for Wii, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for Wii U and 3DS, making these the first Monster Hunter games to launch on home consoles outside of Japan since the original on PS2.
Content-wise, Monster Hunter Tri felt like a step backward, missing many of the monsters and weapons introduced in Freedom Unite–though Tri is notable as the first game to include the Switch Axe weapon type. It wasn’t until Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate that Monster Hunter’s third generation felt complete. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate combined all the content from Tri and the Japan-only Monster Hunter Portable Third, and added tons of extra quests and new gameplay systems, including a cross-save between 3DS and Wii U versions of the game, and wireless online multiplayer for Wii U (but not 3DS, much to the frustration of players).
The generation three games saw the first instances of important gameplay features, such as a unique map where players can freely hunt randomly appearing monsters outside of quests, but gen three is also notorious for its divisive underwater combat. This new fighting style gave us fan-favorite monsters like Lagiacrus, but there’s a reason underwater hunts never made a comeback: it was terrible. The on-land gameplay was the best in the series yet, thankfully, and the new lock-in camera setting in 3 Ultimate made playing on 3DS more comfortable than on PSP, but the old-school Monster Hunter jank was still a steep barrier for new players to overcome.
4. Monster Hunter Generations and Generations Ultimate
Capping off Monster Hunter’s fourth generation of games, Monster Hunter Generations on 3DS and Generations Ultimate on Nintendo Switch are basically the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate of the Monster Hunter franchise. These games packed more content than ever before. Generations Ultimate includes 93 new and returning monsters from across the series. It also let players revisit the village hubs from the previous numbered Monster Hunter games, and added new abilities and moveset variations to each of the 14 available weapon types through the new “hunting style” mechanic.
While the abundance of quests and gameplay options are exciting for long-time fans, jumping in with Generations or Generations Ultimate as a first-timer can be overwhelming. In fairness, the core gameplay was easily the most accessible for the series at the time thanks to smart quality-of-life changes that made gathering items and organizing multiplayer easier, but Generations Ultimate is still firmly rooted in the “old Monster Hunter” style that later games like World and Rise would shake up (and largely for the better).
3. Monster Hunter Rise
The latest entry in the series, Monster Hunter Rise is by far the fastest-paced Monster Hunter to date. Hunts feel shorter (in a good way), and moving around the environments or performing important actions like gathering materials and executing special attacks has never been easier. The best of these changes are the new traversal options: the grapple hook-like wirebugs, and the new companion mount, the Palamute. These additions make traversal a breeze, and give a greater sense of verticality to Rise’s open environments.
Other changes are a bit more controversial among long-time players, including major shakeups to each weapon’s movesets (for better and for worse). Rise also ditches the “hunting” phase of previous games, and monsters are now immediately visible on the minimap when you start a quest. So instead of tracking down your mark, the early minutes of each hunt is spent getting to the monster as quickly and efficiently as possible. And once you’re in combat, the new Silkbind attacks make it easier to immobilize monsters. The result is an overall quicker pace for hunts, which is great for handheld play or short sessions, but it does feel like an important part of the classic Monster Hunter gameplay loop is missing. On the other hand, Rise brings back some of the color and charm of “classic MonHun” that was lost in World and Iceborne, but it also feels like a streamlined spinoff compared to World’s maximalist design, rather than a proper follow up.
Those who prefer Rise’s quicker pace and streamlined design may rank this higher, but there are other issues that are harder to ignore, such as the underwhelming rampage quests and the lackluster end-game, that hold Rise back from the top of our rankings. But if the upcoming Sunbreak beefs up the excellent base game as much as other Monster Hunter expansions have, this may turn out to be the best Monster Hunter experience yet.
See our Monster Hunter Rise review.
2. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for 3DS is one of the few games in the series that launched in its perfect form, at least in the west. Monster Hunter’s fourth-gen base game (Monster Hunter 4 in Japan) never saw a worldwide release. Instead, players in North America and Europe got to skip straight to the enhanced G-Rank version, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate added more verticality to its maps and added more movement options and attack combos for players (and monsters) to take advantage of. The result was more dynamic hunts with better controls, and more varied maps that were more interesting to navigate and explore. These ideas would go on to influence the larger scale maps and environmental interactivity seen in World and Rise. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate also introduced the new “Guild Quests,” which offered a more story-driven experience for players to enjoy, and its numerous bonus DLC quests and costumes are among the best in the series, featuring crossovers with major Nintendo franchises like Zelda and Metroid.
The most important feature 4 Ultimate included was wireless online multiplayer on a portable. Online multiplayer was previously available on the Wii U version of 3 Ultimate (the first time since the original Monster Hunter on PS2), but the series was vastly more popular on 3DS, so including online multiplayer in 4 Ultimate was a much bigger deal. For many, this was their first experience playing Monster Hunter with others–which is arguably the way these games are meant to be played–and the main reason why 4 Ultimate is so beloved by western fans.
1. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne
It’s almost been four years since its initial release, and yet Monster Hunter World combined with its massive Iceborne DLC is still the best Monster Hunter experience available right now. For starters, it’s the best looking and smoothest playing Monster Hunter yet, especially if you can play on PC or a 4K-enabled console. World also features seamless open environments, rather than the sectioned-off maps riddled with loading screens like in every prior game in the series. World’s maps are also much more detailed, brimming with endemic life and interactive elements like vines to swing on or boulders to drop on a monster’s head.
Monster Hunter World’s gameplay is more varied and, in general, more accessible than ever. Capcom doubled down on the “Hunting” aspects of the series, so instead of meandering a map aimlessly trying to spot and tag your target, players could now seek out footprints and other signs of life that help you track your target. World also made the “boring” parts of previous Monster Hunter games much less of a hassle–namely harvesting materials and crafting support items like potions and traps. Combat is more exciting, too, with new moves available for each of the weapons, and a new control scheme that makes pulling off important counter attacks and combos easier.
That’s not to say Monster Hunter World is flawless. World initially launched with a slim monster list and even slimmer end-game content, and while post-launch DLC and the Iceborne expansion boosted the roster significantly, added even more new mechanics (like the clutch claw) and gave players tons to do, other games in the series still eclipse World and Iceborne in terms of sheer content. And if you ask around certain circles of the die-hard MonHun community, opinions vary on whether all the combat changes were truly for the better, and many lament the more “realistic” aesthetic of World and Iceborne compared to the more fantastical tone of its predecessors. Nonetheless, the success of Monster Hunter World and Iceborne speaks for itself. World has gone one to become Capcom’s all-time bestselling game, and solidified the franchise’s presence in the West. And yes, it’s still worth going back to if you haven’t played in a while–or you run out of stuff to do in Rise before Sunbreak comes out later this year.
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