If you plan on playing Monster Hunter: World (and you should, it's great), heed this warning. There is a song you'll hear almost immediately, and once you hear it, your life may change forever. For better or worse, I cannot say, but know that I see my life before hearing it as if viewing a stranger through fogged glass.
I remember small details about that time: other music, a quiet mind, silence when I wanted it. I remember being able to walk any distance without whistling the damn thing, and how my partner used to be able to look me in the eye without furrowing their brow and telling me to 'Stop singing that adult Pokémon song, please.'
Before embarking on a hunt of your own, consider listening to a small clip of the song for yourself. Beware, it may be short, but it is still a weapon. It doesn't take long for the melody to plant its sublime seeds.
Welcome to the other side.
What you just heard was only a few seconds of the daytime Astera theme. The tune plays on repeat in the primary hub location where players spend most of their downtime between hunts, brewing potions and crafting items from recent kills. If you complete the World campaign and enter high rank play, you will have likely listened to it for hours.
It's not so bad early on, a welcoming and jovial tune to come home to after an ill-prepared go at your first Anjanath. The hearty horn section boasts the same impressive strength and confidence of the hunters, while the strings underscore the whimsy and beauty of adventuring in the 'new world'. It is transportative music that completes Astera, granting static NPCs acting as storefronts and crafting interfaces some semblance of life beyond twitching lips and tilting heads.
The song does not have the same effect in the real world. Rather than underscore the tasks and interactions that make up my daily life, it interferes with them, supplanting important thoughts, like remembering to wash the dishes or feed the cats or to pick up eggs after work with doop-doopa-doop-doopa-doodely-doopa-doop. I am trapped.
I've started singing the name of everyday objects and activities to the tune. Lunch-luncha-lunch-luncha-lunchaley-luncha-lunch. My partner especially hates when I sing our cat's name along to the melody, even though he's the reference for my Palico. Chuck-chucka-chuck-chucka-chuckity-chucka-chuck. I don't think Chuck likes it much either. Here's how he looked at me when I sang to him while making dinner the other night.
A healthy work-life balance hasn't done much to decouple me from the bad notes either. Our favorite weekend activity is hopping in the car, looking up a trail, and going on long, impromptu hikes. We love the way the geography changes so drastically around the Bay Area, especially as the coastal hills collapse into plains, then erupt into mountains in Northern California. There's no greater peace than that of a mountain forest. Wind rustles the trees, a squirrel chitters on occasion, deer might break a few branches if we spook them, but otherwise, it's just us and the utter silence of existence.
But, lying in wait in the back of my skull, there it is again. We're miles from civilization. Camp is two hours downhill, I haven't seen a computer in over a day, but instead of pine trees, now I'm back in Astera surrounded by weapon upgrade trees and the gleeful, frozen faces of vendors and craftspeople.
I cannot escape it. I've never heard videogame music with so sharp and lethal a hook. As I try to pull away from Monster Hunter: World in the slow endgame grind, I'm called back in against my will by the gallant horns and jubilant woodwinds and soothing strings dancing their forbidden dance. If, like me, you've already played Monster Hunter for a few hours and it is already too late, don't fight it. You cannot win.
Press play and fade away.