Monster Hunter is one of those rare PS2 games thatís is best played online, and made it to Europe with the online portion intact. When you start the game you can either go online or play offline, but you should really start offline because it gives you some very handy tutorial quests. These tutorial quests will teach you the basics of the game, from using your weapons to fishing.
The offline mode has you starting in the village. You'll choose the name and look of your character then go to the village leader to get 'Hunter Quests'; there are two types of these, the first is Gathering that'll have you searching for a certain amount of things to complete the quest. The second quest type is Hunting which will have you hunting a particular Monster. On your quests you'll have a lot of survival techniques at your disposal; you can carve slain monsters, cook meat, forage, combine items to create medicine, do a spot of fishing and mining. These techniques come in handy because you can use the items found to make armour and weapons at the local blacksmith. You'll also need use the food found to eat for stamina. The fishing, mining and cooking are like little mini games you'll have to time your 'X' pressing to get the fish or ore of your choice, or to not burn your food if youíre cooking.
Thereís a big array of weapons and armour ranging from small one-handed swords too huge (and I mean HUGE) swords that require both hands and are very slow. The amount of monsters is also impressive and so is the variety. You'll be fighting all kinds, from large herbivores to massive fire-breathing dragons. The world the monsters inhabit is quite large and varied, with mountains, rivers, fields, jungles and caves. The world is split into small sections with small loading times to get to the next small area on your search for monsters. You'll also get a base camp when you leave for your quest which you can return to when you need to heal up.
The online mode has you starting in the town. 8 players can enter each town. You'll have different quests and a Hunter Ranking when you play online, and all the quests are playable with 8 players. I'd advise to have a USB keyboard because itís just too slow to use the Dual Shock to type out all your messages on the virtual keyboard, and sadly the game doesn't support the PS2 headset. My experience of the online mode was good, there were a few lag problems but we completed our quest.
Graphically the game is very nice for the PS2, some of the environments go on for miles with herds of monsters. The characters and monsters look nicely detailed and are very well animated. One of the running animations is particularly funny, but not in a bad way. If your TV supports 60Hz you'll be able to play the game in full screen otherwise you'll have some whopping borders.
Monster Hunter's sound is good but not special. The music being the high point, itís very orchestral and epic. But there is no voice acting when talking to villagers etc.
Overall Monster Hunter is a huge game with loads to do, and if you can take it online then the potential lifespan (loads of awesome monsters to kill, cool weapons, tidy graphics and the online mode) will keep you hunting for a while.