Monster Hunter's a bit of a popular series over in Japan. Okay, people live and breathe this franchise there. And there's a smaller but nonetheless loyal following for Monster Hunter here as well. The basic premise is that you're a hunter going out to slaughter or capture monsters... hence the title... Monster Hunter. Yeah. It's become one of Capcom's staple franchises to this very day, able to hold its own with the likes of Street Fighter and Resident Evil in popularity. So, what do you do when you have a booming game series on the go? That's right: it's spin-off time! That's where Monster Hunter Diary: Poka Poka Airu Village comes in. And this one's VERY different: this isn't the Monster Hunter game you expected.
Airu Village's draw is not in monster slaying but in its overly high state of cuteness — and that's pretty much its only draw because the game doesn't really seem to focus on the substance aspect of things. Most of the characters you encounter are wide-eyed feline inhabitants of Poka Poka Village, each with their own frets and despair that you must tend to. Japan sure loves their cats (especially ones that bring good luck), so this village filled with Airu (or "Felynes" in the West) must be mana from Heaven for feline fanatics. And yes, all these cats are pretty cute. Some of them wear hats. There's no reason why this cannot be loved. Heck, the whole game looks great. Doesn't quite sound great, though: those cat noises can drill through my ears like a... well, like a drill. Yes.
Now then... I have to throw full disclosure your way: I can't read Japanese text for the life of me, unless it's a number or one of those heart symbols scriptwriters toss into a blurb of dialogue because they can't display emotion without it apparently. So for any non-Japanese speaker, Airu Village is going to drop some major roadblocks in your path. It took me well over 10 minutes just to get a new game started. I was easily able to enter my name, but...then what? Turns out I was on the wrong screen altogether, and there was a separate screen for starting a new game. I have no idea what I was doing. And then there's the in-game text, which is quite plentiful, as all the Airus have an impressive amount to say. I had no idea what I was doing.
That being said, here's what I gathered from the precious time I spent with Airu Village. Time passes at a fixed rate, so you have a limited amount of time to putter around the village, talk to fellow Airus, and fulfil their meager requests. (Occasionally, I was able to solve their problems, but usually I just got catly moans and groans because I can't do anything right.) Unfortunately, your Airu is quite the avid napper, so he just wakes up halfway through the day, giving you less time to deal with the island's issues. Luckily, there really doesn't seem to be much to do during the day; the game's slow pace gives you more than ample time to deal with the small number of problems other Airus have. By pressing different buttons while interacting with another Airu, you may have thrilling events occur. Or not.
Scoot around the island making a consistently constipated face! Fantastic!
Another feature of the game is that your Airu can dig in certain places in search of treasure. If he finds something phenomenal, there will be some grand fanfare and a giant exclamation box of joy. Otherwise, he'll just shrug it off. Also, I somehow managed to get a pig to fall madly in love with me, and by the next day, I was able to clumsily ride it around the island. It didn't help much, as I can't even talk to other Airus while mounted, and because it rams into anything and everything, it's not a very efficient mode of travel, but I can't say no to riding things!
My biggest peeve was that I couldn't even leave the village. There was no way out. Either I didn't play long enough, or there's a darn good reason why the name of the village is in the game's title.
Best part of the game? Using the Directional buttons, you can change the face of your Airu to suit your fancy. Want him to look angry all the time? Make it happen. Prefer that star-struck look, literally with bright stars for eyes? That's a possibility, too!
There are more things to do in this game, such as customizing the primary Airu house in Poka Poka Village or luring more Airus to the village to increase its population, but with the language barrier being as deflective as it is, I have been rendered incapable of maximizing the potential and my enjoyment of this game. But that's what we do here at Random.access: we play games, regardless of our ability to fully comprehend them, and we talk about our experiences, openly and honestly. Great gameplay should reveal itself, rather than be cached by a few symbols, and while Monster Hunter Diary: Poka Poka Airu Village wasn't a total trainwreck during my time with it, I could tell that what gameplay WAS there already was being stretched thinly. Fans of the Monster Hunter series are probably better off going with a main series entry, but if you love city management games or ones similar in feel to Animal Crossing, give this one a go.
Plus, they revamped this game a year later as Monster Hunter Diary: Poka Poka Airu Village G... and then again for the 3DS as Monster Hunter Diary Poka Poka Airu Village DX. Pretty good mileage for one game. Classic Capcom.