As I lay face down in the snow, waiting for the final strike from what can only be described as a Jurassic Park inhabitant on steroids, I decided to reflect on how I found myself in this situation. Was it my lack of skill that got me into this mess? Was I not paying attention to my surroundings, blissfully unaware that a 20 foot kaiju monstrosity had selected me to be its main course? Perhaps it was all of these and more, but there’s one factor that I know had a hand in my demise: my weight.
It’s an ever present force throughout the Monster Hunter games, and its existence is an important addition to the signature style of the series. It affects everything, from the way the character strains across the hostile terrain as they flee their wyvern attackers, to the way roaming beasts thrash across their surroundings, creating thunderous crashes every time they take a step. It’s an important part of what makes the series so popular, and the sensation of weight existing consistently throughout adds a level of immersion that draws you in further than if you were simply able to brush off an attack without flinching, or manoeuvre around the world like you’d never even heard of gravity.
As a series, the games have always set a precedent for emphasising the scale of your enemies, which is important considering you’re hunting these monstrous beasts. In the interest of giving the player the best possible feeling that they are up against something worthy of being called a monster, the game has to make a convincing impression that these creatures are as big of a threat as they’ve been made out to be, and Monster Hunter succeeds in presenting this with nothing more than visual animation, sound, and game mechanics. When you see these wyverns crashing down from a destructive blow, it’s quite an affecting spectacle, with ample amounts of screen shaking and loud, dominating sounds being used to amplify the sights of a dragon collapsing to the floor under its own weight. Sensory cues act as a strong tether to pull you in and make you believe that these legendary foes are as strong as they claim to be.
Lost Planet is another series that loves to use that same sensation of meaty impact when it comes to combating the gigantic insect swarms that frequent the games hostile terrain. It’s there in full effect as you attempt to wade through the treacherous snow drifts. Giant tunnelling insects burrow across the landscape, lusting after your flesh, and when they do go in for the final strike you can almost feel the collision just by watching events unfold. Your unfortunate player character staggers, perhaps so much so that he gets a face full of snow, and whilst you’re incapacitated for a second or two the full force of that attack resonates throughout; the experience is richer for it.
The same can be said for operating the series’ signature mech suits, which strain and crawl their way across the hostile terrain, justifying their destructive prowess with the detrimental effect their presence has on their surrounds. There’s little more you could hope to do to get across to the player that these mechs do exist within the game space, and that their existence is more important than serving as a generic game mechanic that kills things slightly faster.
Various aspects of combat benefit specifically from the inclusion of simulated weight by working together perfectly with the dynamic of your average fight. If I’ve opted for a giant sword that would make even Sephiroth flinch, my attacks become considerably slower. What this means is a greater pause after every swing, leaving me vulnerable if I’ve mistimed my attack and inevitably punishing me for any mistakes I might make with a swift death. The same applies to your enemies, with creatures of smaller stature like the Felynes able to flaunt their spry nature and dart around with great speed compared to the bigger dragons that show obvious signs of labour as we watch them slowly raise their appendages in preparation to attack.
For the wyvern bosses especially, these strained bodily movements become integral parts of the players’ interaction with the game, since they serve as warning signs for incoming threats. It’s a clever method of producing information in a way that fits well within the situation, opting for a more natural method of offering up a cue to react without breaking any of the immersion for the player that would come from slapping “DODGE NOW!” across the screen at regular intervals.
If we take a look around at other third person action titles, there’s a few choice selections out there that employ similar tactics. The combat in the Dark Souls series has become notorious for its punishing nature, and for the way it communicates with the player via animation cues. Despite what many might be keen to claim, there are no cheap shots to be found in the Souls series. The game always gives you a chance to react, so long as your mind is focused and you’re actively reading your enemies. We can observe that these enemies are also subject to the same sensation of weight that is prevalent within the Monster Hunter series. The game takes full advantage of this theme to convey important cues and attack patterns to the player, be it the exhausting lift of a hammer as the turtle shell men begin to slam your face in, or the signs of fatigue as the Pursuer finishes his flurry of attacks, letting you know that this is your opportunity to safely go in and strike. By utilising what would logically happen when turtle men try to swing, the game has an intuitive method to talk to the player through the movements of your enemies, keeping you squarely focused on the game and providing an immersive experience throughout.
As a concept, weight can be quite an odd mechanic to think about. It’s not the most exciting aspect of a game, or even the real world for that matter. You aren’t going to lay up late at night wondering about if the character in the latest Infamous game is moving around way too quickly for his weight class. But when it’s deployed to serve a specific purpose, it can become a fantastic tool to convey to the player that their 20-foot-tall foe does truly have enough force behind its punch.