You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression
Monster Hunter 3 is my favorite game I’ve played all year. I’ll just go ahead and say it right now so there’s no confusion. I was initially turned off by the demo’s inscrutable level of difficulty, and the relatively boring stretch at the beginning of the game. Lucky for all of us, I knew that a game like this would only give back what I put into it. Monster Hunter 3 (Tri?) is definitely not a game for the faint of heart. If you find yourself wishing that Zelda games could be easier, then you’ll certainly have a hard time getting all there is to get out of Monster Hunter. This is hardly a shortcoming, though. The game’s healthy challenge and unfathomable depth make it one of the best titles on the Wii.
I need to spend some time here talking about my first impressions of the game, since they were fairly negative. Of course, I shouldn’t really expect a game like this to dive right into the action, but nevertheless, I was more than a bit turned off by how slow everything seemed at the outset. Simply getting into my game took no less than eight button presses, and then once things started, I was forced to watch an intro movie. At this point in my gaming career, I don’t have a lot of patience for things like that, and it did damage my enthusiasm of diving into the game.
For the first several hours, I was disappointed by the seemingly clunky combat. The characters moved stiffly, there was no lock-on feature, and most of the weapons were unbelievably slow. After playing through Bayonetta, God of War III, Dante’s Inferno, and Red Steel already this year, the clunky combat in Monster Hunter 3 took some getting used to. The game controls in a fairly obtuse manner and it is not something that you can just dive into easily.
Thankfully, despite my initial feelings of disappointment with the title, I made sure to stick with it. After all, what kind of loot whore would I really be if I gave up after the first hour or two of relative boredom? This is a game that is meant to be played for months on end, something that I fully intend to do.
The Past Is Prologue
Monster Hunter 3 is a surprisingly evocative title. Though much of the game feels very detached and digital, the world that Capcom has managed to craft does feel almost like some fantastical version of Paleolithic earth. At several points throughout my experience with the game, I really did feel like I was roaming the ancient tundra, slaying colossal beasts and bringing the fruits of my hunt back to town to feed my tribe.
This sense of time and place that Monster Hunter creates is in no small part due to the depth of the gameplay. Throughout my adventure, I rarely found myself buying anything from shops. There are so many resources to be found within the environment, why waste my money paying for it? The game has a gloriously deep item management system that involves several complicated combinations of items of increasing rarity in order to concoct salves and potions to help you on your way. Taking down some of the game’s larger prey can be a daunting task and requires some pretty careful planning. Before heading out to hunt one of the larger monsters, I would first head to the nearby woods to collect bugs, herbs, mushrooms, and honey. I’d then use all of these components to craft the mega potions and mega nutrients that I would need during my upcoming battle.
A Battle of Wits…And Monsters
The big game hunts are where the true ingenious nature of Monster Hunter’s combat shines through. These large monsters are incredibly difficult to fight, possess a hefty amount of health, and move way faster than your somewhat lumbering hunter character. Because of this, the game’s fights all feel incredibly epic and intense. Your character is significantly underpowered compared to the monsters you fight, which makes these battles all the more satisfying to win. Monsters require a wide array of strategies to take down including knowing where to target them, which weapon types do the most damage, when to dodge, what traps to use, and plenty more.
Fighting the larger monsters in the game is almost like playing Punch-Out. Because most of the weapon sets make you move so much slower than the monsters you face, you’ll have to watch and wait for your chance to strike. Learning each individual monster’s attack patterns can be the difference between life and death, as monsters such as the Barroth will pull out moves that are sure to take you down if you miss the dodge. Careful planning, patience, and perception are always required to defeat your prey. One little slip can mean failure.
On top of this already fairly daunting difficulty, though the game feels like an RPG, there is no actual leveling. Instead, throughout the experience, I found myself scouring the dead carcasses of the monsters I defeated, stripping them of their valuable innards, and then using them to craft new weapons. These weapons do get progressively stronger, but they are earned somewhat slowly. I never saw vast returns from completing just one quest. Rather, I’d have to slog away on several before I had the necessary components to upgrade my weapons or forge new armor. Still, one of the most satisfying feelings in the game comes from facing off against a brutal beast for the fourth or fifth time, and just tearing him apart with little effort. Instead of being like other RPGs where the more you play the better your character gets, in MH3 the more you play the better you get.
And play more you shall. Monster Hunter 3 has an almost unbelievable amount of content even in the game’s offline modes. There are five tiers of quests to work through, each of which has 5-10 quests. Additionally, there are several other systems in play that I found myself juggling throughout the experience. There was a fishing fleet to manage, a farm to oversee, trade routes to map out, a kitchen to upgrade, and a sidekick to level up. Without balancing all of these systems, I would never have been able to climb the ranks as a Monster Hunter.
Looks Aren’t Everything
I’ve heard a lot of gamers go on and on about how great this game looks. Even Iwata made that famous mention of how the Zelda team was inspired to push their latest game even further after seeing Monster Hunter Tri in action. I am going to take a pretty unpopular opinion here and disagree with this vehemently. For the most part, I think Monster Hunter is ugly with a capital fug. The colors are completely washed out, the textures are a blurry mess, and the humanoid animations are pathetic at best. Looking at this game side by side with something like Twilight Princess, and I can hardly see a difference. Sure the MH3 characters have more polygons, but the colors are more washed out and the game as a whole looks blurrier (mostly due to the overuse of bloom).
Monster Hunter 3 is a game that I am glad to review subjectively. Despite its somewhat lackluster visuals, obtuse user interface, and stiff controls, there was just far too much for me to enjoy in the game to worry about these minor quibbles. Monster Hunter 3 manages to excel in almost every area, so why let a few blurry textures bring me down? I can only assume that I will be playing this game for months to come. There is just still so much more hunting to be done, and daddy needs a new pair of Lagiacrus Greaves.
A Brave New World
While the singleplayer component of Monster Hunter 3 Tri is certainly deep and engaging, it is only once you jump online that you get to start to experience the real meat of the game. Most of the quests that you do offline are also available online, although Tier 3 offline missions are only counted as tier 1 when playing online. Additionally, online quests go all the way up to tier 6 rather than the paltry 5 in the offline mode.
Hunting monsters with three other party members is honestly so much more fun than the singleplayer, I wish I could give it a score higher than five stars. Though the tense dynamic of a singleplayer monster battle is thrilling to be sure, orchestrating a takedown of one of the game’s giant behemoths with three friends online is pure bliss. Dying in this mode is even more painful than offline as I always knew that I was bringing down the rest of my team when I collapsed to the ground.
There is a plethora of content that is only available if you decide to take the game online. You don’t have to play with other people, but you will have to access the “City” that only exists online if you want to embark on some of the more difficult hunts and snag yourself the top-of-the-line gear. Though I usually complain about locking content like this from people who aren’t able to take their Wiis online, it hardly matters since the offline stuff is so compelling. Still, it’s an awesome added bonus to be able to finish the game’s singleplayer modes and then dive right into a whole new set of online quests.
One minor complaint I will level against the game’s multiplayer component is the fact that the game has different weapon sets instead of different classes. During the offline stretch of the game, this is hardly noticeable, but once I jumped online it became apparent that it didn’t really matter who I banded up with at all. Because most of the different weapons play relatively similarly, it never really feels like players are filling a specific role (unless I found a Gunner, in which case they acted like a great support character).
In addition to the game’s online multiplayer mode, there is an arena mode that can be played offline splitscreen with a friend. This arena mode has players equip preset weapon and armor sets before using them to take on some of the larger monsters from the game’s main quest. These arena modes are fun tests of skill and kept me playing for several hours on end trying to get better times and post them to the game’s leaderboards. It’s too bad that you can’t bring your singleplayer character over to this arena, but I do understand why Capcom put it together this way. It’s pretty challenging though, as the only way to beat a monster that’s giving you trouble is to just buckle down and get better.
Monster Hunter 3 Tri manages (both online and off) to be one of the most fun multiplayer titles on the Wii. There is literally nothing like this game in the Wii’s library, and very few games like it in general. Despite a few dropped games here and there on launch day, I’ve had one of the smoothest and most consistently fun online experiences on the Wii with this title. Capcom has pulled off something remarkable with this game, and it is sure to last me and other avid loot whores for several hundred more hours of monster-hunting goodness.
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 1
Genre: Role-Playing, Action-Adventure
Release: April 20, 2010
Available On: Wii
Phantasy Star Online (1 & 2) – Love 'em
Diablo (1 & 2) – Love it
Borderlands – Love it
Loot Whoring – Love it