Ever since I started blogging about monsters, people have asked me what my thoughts were about the creatures that populate the Monster Hunter video game franchise. For years my answer to this query was short and simple: “I have not played Monster Hunter and thus have no feelings one way or the other.” Some would then follow this up with the question, “Well, are you gonna play Monster Hunter?” to which I in turn said, “I dunno, I’m not really into killing monsters. Are they hard games?” to which people said, “Well… yeah, they’re very hard, yeah.” And that was that.
…until this shit happened.
They made it
I absolutely LOVE mons games! This, of course, has been documented here on Horror Flora before – one of my previous Monster spotlights focused on (some of) the pokemon from the Kanto region of Pokemon, and it won’t be the last time that franchise’s monsters will be featured. Digimon was just as integral to my childhood, and games like Rune Factory, Dragon Quest Joker, and even the Persona games to an extent also scratched that itch for me. Any game where I can tame and befriend monsters instead of (or at least in addition to) killing them is a game I will invest way too much time in. And Monster Hunter Stories as no exception – hell, it was goddamn addictive. I absolutely fell in love with it, and more importantly, with its wide cast of monsters.
So while I still probably will never play a mainline Monster Hunter game, I do now how the personal investment in their bestiary to actually want to cover their monsters. This will mostly focus on design, mind you, but still – it’s time to shine the Monster Spotlight on (some) of the beasts in the Monster Hunter franchise!
Oh, and this is gonna be a five-part thing. We’ve got a LOT of monsters to cover, even if I’m not covering them all.
One of the interesting aspects of Monster Hunter is its focus on treating the titular monsters as part of an ecosystem. “Hunter” in this case is meant more in the vein of “person getting food for their family” than “video game protagonist sets out to kill every living thing that so much as looks at them funny.” To that extent, the game has a lot of monsters who fill less menacing places in the ecosystem. Aptonoth and Apceros here are examples of the “Herbivore” class of monsters, which mostly consists of large but peaceful creatures who are preyed upon by the more predatory monsters in the world. When your world’s deer and cattle are giant hybrids of hadrosaurs, ankylosaurs, and turtles, you’ve got a pretty badass ecosystem on your hands.
Moving up the foodchain, Monster Hunter has a variety of pack-hunting small predators – well, small in comparison to the other megafauna in the world, anyway, since each one of these guys is still pretty big compared to your human hunter. In most cases, these packs are led by one member that is bigger and gnarlier looking than the others – the Velocidrome leads the Velocipreys, the Gendrome leads the Genpreys, and the Iodrome leads the Iopreys. This particular trio of small predators are classified as Bird Wyverns, but that won’t hold true for ALL MH monsters who fill this basic niche.
You gotta love how much personality these guys are oozing here. Despite being low on the hierarchy of monsters in the franchise, each of these comparatively tiny hunters has equal parts menace and mischief in their design – the kind of creatures you’ll be outclassing soon, but could still do some damage if they get the drop on you.
Bird Wyverns are so named because, well, they resemble birds more heavily than most other monsters do. The classification system in the Monster Hunter franchise works best if you think of it like the classification systems of old Medieval Bestiaries, i.e. it’s based on phenotypical traits rather than genetic traits. A Medieval Bestiary would classify both worms and snakes as “serpents” because “serpent” just meant “things that resemble snakes.” Hence, monsters like Yian Kut Ku here are Bird Wyverns because, like Sweet Dee, it looks like a bird. A strange and adorable bird in this case – Yian Kut Ku is a slightly higher class of monster than the Dromes above, but still far from the apex predator. I like to term this the “Weird Monster” niche, as the games will usually introduce at least one or two monsters who have endearingly goofy designs like this that are slightly more challenging than the fodder monsters, but still far from the top of your list of worries.
Piscine Wyverns like Cephadrome and Plesioth are as you’ve probably guessed, monsters who resemble fish. Most of the monster classes have “wyvern” as part of their name, because most of the creatures in these games are meant to be a little dragon-y. Cephadrome (which, like the dromes above, is an unusually strong specimen of the -piscine wyvern species “Cephalos”) is the most interesting of these two to me, as it not only has fish-fin-like wings, but its head resembles a Diplocaulus, which is a real life prehistoric amphibian that has that same pendulum-shaped head. That’s another uniting theme behind Monster Hunter‘s creature aesthetic: building fantasy monsters with prehistoric animal parts!
Moving roughly to the middle of the tiers, we have monsters like Gypceros here who build upon the weirdness of previous beasts. I love its hammer-shaped beak and weird scale-less tale – it’s an utterly bizarre take on a two-legged, two-winged dragon, and that weirdness is probably why so many people wanted me to look into this series.
Similarly weird, but in a far more unsettling way, is the Khezu, a lamprey mouthed, leech-like wyvern that is about as creepy as dragons get. This monster belongs to the Flying Wyvern group, which could be considered the “main” class of monsters for the franchise, in that the majority of the monsters in this series belong to it. In other words, flying wyverns are sort of the “standard” for all the dragons of this game series.
This is a standard, average dragon.
Ok, well, actually Diablos and Monoblos are closer to being standard, average dragons. I kind of view them as the MH monster aesthetic in a nutshell: the classic wyvern build (two wings, two hind legs, a dangerous tail tip, scaly skin) assembled out of equal parts modern fauna and prehistoric creatures. It gives what could have been a standard fantasy world a distinctly different vibe – I like to call it “Caveman Punk.”
However, though they may sum up the franchise’s aesthetic pretty well, these two aren’t the face of the franchise…
Rathalos is the mascot of Monster Hunter. That’s right, this badass red motherfucker is this franchise’s Pikachu. With its T.rex body, spike tipped wings, gnarly as hell thagomizer, and beautiful face that mixes bits of viper, hawk, theropod, and, like, fucking goblin, this creature has held a coveted place in the franchise. While not the strongest of all monsters in the franchise, Rathalos is nonetheless treated as an apex predator in its own right, one of the most famous and infamous monsters you’ll ever come up against.
Rathalos was so beloved that it was actually given a female counterpart, the Rathian. Rathians are just as gnarly as their male counterparts, even if they aren’t quite as flashy to look at. It’s not normally a detail I dig in a dragon, but I kind of love how both of these incorporate some scraggly feathers/fur among their scales. It gives them a fantastic vibe while still feeling cohesive. You can feel the love that went into making these two extra special, and they deserve the high place they have among the franchise’s many wonderful beasts.
Our last two Flying Wyverns are actually one species. Basarios, with its cute pug face and forked nasal horns, is the juvenile form of Gravios, the laser shooting rock dragon. This big boulder-y looking monsters tend to be found in mountains and volcanoes, and have a wonderful primal feel that really sells their sheer brute strength.
The biggest boss monsters of the franchise get their own class: The Elder Dragons. Fatalis here sets the stage for them by being one of the most traditional dragon designs in the entire series – this guy could step into any other fantasy RPG and no one would bat an eye. It’s a classic dragon, with four lizardy legs, a long serpentine neck, and two huge bat wings. However, while it may feel like the dragoniest-dragon on this page, not all Elder Dragons follow suit…
Case in point is Kirin, a unicorn-ish monster with a huge ass horn and a grumpy looking face that is uncannily human-ish. Kirin bucks (heh, get it? It’s a horse!) a lot of trends Fatalis sets up. Fatalis is fuck-off big because it’s the final boss, but Kirin’s actually rather small compared to most other monsters. Fatalis is a big ass traditional European style dragon, while Kirin is done in the vein of, well, the actual mythological Kirin, which was a deer with scales, a dragon’s head, and a single horn. And things will get even weirder later on!
But for now we end with another fairly standard looking Elder Dragon – lacking in wings, sure, but making up for it by being VERY lizardy. Lao Shan Lung is probabloy my favorite of these three Elder Dragons, possibly because it brings a lot of the normal monsters’ design elements to the forefront in a way the other two here don’t. It’s not just a stock four legged dragon – it’s a four legged dragon made of spiny real life lizard parts!