There is little out there that matches the feeling of accomplishment the Monster Hunter franchise delivers. Never heavy on narrative or characters, the goal of each game has always been to find the biggest, meanest-looking thing out there and kill it, and as anyone both new or familiar might suspect, that task is much easier said than done.
The latest entry into the Monster Hunter series, Monster Hunter Tri, is the first ever produced for a Nintendo system. Previous titles, all made for the PS2 and PSP bar Monster Hunter Frontier, pushed their respective systems to the limit in generating what felt like living, breathing environments full of creatures ripe for the hunt. This latest entry is no exception.
Though the game suffers from some of the same technical missteps as its predecessors, the graphical upgrade, coupled with a smoother learning curve, several brand new monsters, and the highly-advertised underwater combat system has yielded a product that is both welcoming to newcomers, as well as inviting to those who have already mastered the series.
Monster Hunter Tri begins by introducing the player to the floating village of Moga, which is being beset by a series of earthquakes. It is quickly revealed that the source of these earthquakes is a giant sea monster called the Lagiacrus, and that’s where the story promptly ends. You, the hunter, are tasked with killing this great beast and whatever shows up along the way. You are then introduced to members of the village, and given your first in a series of introductory tasks to complete.
To say the tutorial is lengthy is an understatement. Veterans of the series will assuredly be bored to tears in the first two to three hours of play, as the game does not give an option to skip the introductory lessons. That said, they are thorough enough to get new players used to the feel of the game, as well as make them fully aware of the various controlling and tracking pitfalls.
As with its predecessors, Monster Hunter Tri possesses nothing in the way of locking-on or gauging distance between one’s self and the target, and the camera control is left entirely in the player’s hands. New players will definitely be thrown off by the absence of these features in the beginning, though, thanks in large part to the tutorial, they should be able to grasp the reach and timing of their weapons within the first few quests.
The game has three control schemes, two of which are for the Wii Classic Controller. Using the Wiimote and Nunchuk is not impossible, but there are some quirks that the player is bound to come across. For instance, pointing the Wii-mote away from the screen will result in a different attack pattern and a disabling of the A button for gathering materials/mining/bug catching, etc. Other than seeming like a bug in the game’s design, in the heat of battle this can result in throwing off the player’s timing, which in turn could lead to a quick death. The game introduces alternative methods of performing actions (such as swinging the Nunchuk), but does not mention the changing of attacks. Veterans of the series will also find this quirk more than annoying, as some of the weapons (notably the Greatsword) have had their normal attack patterns changed, and moving the Wiimote can cause them to launch into new moves mid-attack.
However, no control scheme will overcome the infamous shortcomings that have returned in Monster Hunter Tri, though this time around they are slightly easier to get used to. Using inventory items involves holding down the B button and searching one-by-one for the item of choice in real-time. Unless the game is specifically set to pause, all other actions occur in the same manner – players must do what they need to do without respite. Even the game’s much-advertised underwater combat suffers from some control issues, especially evident when using the Wii-mote/Nunchuk combination.
However, as stated before, the tutorial, with its long length and smooth learning curve, will have most players used to the quirks by the time the real challenge begins, and when it does, it accelerates at break-neck speeds, sending the player on a journey to hunt some of the most fantastical beasts yet imagined. The introduction of the game’s first wyvern-like monster, a “Qurupeco”, shows newcomers exactly what they can expect.
It is with these harder fights that the success of Monster Hunter as a series becomes apparent. Careful observation, coupled with a gradually growing sense of timing and prediction, molds the player into a kind of real hunter, able to see when and how to damage and eventually kill whatever beast is sent their way. By the time the player is made to fight the beast threatening the village, they will have already taken on anything from a giant bird to a terrifyingly huge angler fish.
Battles can last anywhere from five to fifty minutes against these beasts, and once they fall, any player would be hard pressed to not feel a great sense of accomplishment. However, it is once these monsters are felled that the real work of Monster Hunter Tri begins. Killing one monster is fine, but in order to get better weapons, armor, and supplementary items/gear, the player is going to have to embark on one of the hardest grinds in video game history.
Each beast has a corresponding set of armor, and each armor comes in two configurations – one for melee characters, one for ranged. Each piece of armor requires several components that are carved from the creatures the player kills, and getting enough for a complete set can take several hours. However, players should not feel disconcerted; the fights, as dynamic and difficult as they can be, are enough of a challenge each time that the feeling of being in a grind is almost entirely offset.
Each piece of armor adds points to skills and elemental resistances. In the case of skills, acquiring 10 points “unlocks” the skill’s primary benefit, which can be a boost to attack, defense, gathering speed, etc., and adding more points via decorations or gemstones increases the amount of those benefits. These can also be used to offset the numerous negative status effects monsters can deal to the player, most of which are left unexplained by the game itself.
It is the game’s lack of detailed explanations that is perhaps its greatest flaw, and yet arguably its greatest strength. Monster Hunter doesn’t make a huge effort at bringing new players in, and although this newest title tries harder than the others, it still leaves most of the details up to the player to learn. Gamers are essentially left on their own to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In essence, the game urges you to be a better player.
When entering the online gathering hall, this goal becomes more than readily apparent. New players will find themselves oftentimes being ejected from groups if they don’t perform up to par with the other members, and sometimes won’t be accepted at all unless they possess equipment that shows they’ve hunted some of the hardest beasts. Finding a group and forming a team dynamic, however, bestows unto the player an experience that is hard to describe. It is team-play at its finest.
In the end, Monster Hunter Tri is perhaps the most accessible Monster Hunter title yet. New players will find a wealth of information to work with in order to understand the basic aspects of play, and will find themselves able to survive long enough to learn some of the specifics that will allow them to go further. Despite its flaws, it still delivers one of the most satisfying gaming experiences.
Though some environments come across as bland or uninteresting, several are fantastically immersive, and all monsters carry with them a great level of detail.
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While it lacks the features that modern gamers are used to, patience quickly yields an intimate understanding that immerses the player in combat.
Each monster has unique sounds that clue the player in. Though sometimes it gets confusing when lots of monsters are around, everything sounds as it should.
Even when the last quest is done, more can be downloaded, and old ones can be replayed at any time.
Though the beginning is long-winded, players who make it through will find themselves equipped to deal with some of the most fearsome beasts in video game history.