Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

Capcom’s newest entry in the Monster Hunter franchise, Monster Hunter 4, is only just coming out in Japan. Those of us unfortunate enough to be located elsewhere, however, do get an entry in the franchise, and what an entry it is.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate may not be the newest, but don’t let that deter you. It is absolutely an excellent and extensive experience. The game is an extended version of Monster Hunter Tri, which came to the Wii in English speaking countries in 2010. While the original is a bit light on content, Ultimate more than doubles the number of quests, items, and monsters, and is the largest entry outside of Japan to date. Fortunately for us, those numbers aren’t just for show.

One important thing to note about Monster Hunter, as a series, is that it is not easy. The game requires a significant investment of time in order to develop your skill and armory. The idea is to take quests at the reception desk, go out, kill the monster, and use the materials that you carve from its body and receive as quest rewards to forge newer, stronger weapons and armor. Most quests give you 50 minutes to search for (and destroy) your prey, which will often be multiple times the size of your body.

The game combines action with pattern recognition. It’s not a matter of just swinging your sword, because each of the twelve available weapons work in very different ways. The sword and shield, for example, is fast, but a bit weak in physical power, while something like the greatsword can use its charge attack to deal single devastating hits to a monster, but it’s incredibly slow. Some weapons can block, some can stun, some can shoot from a distance. My recommendation would be to pick the weapon you like best and focus on getting better with it. This is something the game intends for you to do, as you start out with one of every weapon. My personal favorite is the switchaxe.

The game is very strategic as well. You only have so many spots in your inventory, and individual items have limits to how many of each item can be in a stack. You can only carry ten potions with you at a time, for example. But if you bring too many items with you on a hunt, then that will leave you no room to carve the monster and gain your precious, precious resources. Eating at the bar before a hunt will also grant you certain bonuses, the armor that you choose will grant certain resistances and skills that will help out during the hunt, and even your extras, Cha-Cha and Kayamba, have dances, abilities and masks that can be switched around for certain boosts mid combat.

The variety of monsters is also excellent. Each monster moves and attacks in a different way, and every time you go out to hunt something new, you have to learn the monster’s movements and cries in order to best defeat it. It gets very difficult, especially in the higher level quests when you’re fighting monsters that can generally out-speed your weapons, but as I said before, the game demands your time and attention. The payoff, however, is worth the investment.

In addition to the tight, addicting gameplay, the graphics are excellent. From overlooking the sea atop a mountain cliff to staring intently at the cat that cleans your room, the game looks amazing. The soundtrack is also excellent, which is good, because you’ll be hearing a lot of the same songs very often. The songs that play during the hunts do their part to pump you up (or intimidate you, in certain cases), and when you notice the music, it’s because they want you to.

Gameplay, graphics, sound… That’s all well and good. But the real bread and butter of the Monster Hunter games is the multiplayer. Singleplayer is fun and works well, but it's really rewarding when you and your friends take down a monster together. There are two places to take quests. Moga village is the singleplayer campaign, which is great, but Tanzia Port is where the multiplayer magic happens (you can also go there for singleplayer action). The 3DS version can’t go online (on its own), but it supports local wireless multiplayer with up to three other people. And in case you’re just playing with two people, the game lets you each take one of your sidekick shakalakas to the hunt, which would give you four “players”. The multiplayer can get hectic at times, but there’s little else I can think of that is as satisfying as felling a monster the size of the village with a friend.

I could sing this game’s praises endlessly, but unfortunately, no game is without its flaws. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has a very long tutorial period, and while it is arguably necessary given the level of depth of the game, it is a process nonetheless. You’ll be required to pick mushrooms and harpoon some fish (not as fun as it sounds) before you have access to the quests where you’re allowed to hunt the bigger monsters.

The game also turns into a bit of a grind once you begin building specific things. The better weapons and armor require better, rarer pieces of monsters, and more often than not I find myself killing one monster over and over again, trying to get a single drop with a measly 3% chance of being a quest reward after I break the monster’s tail twice and mine it. Certain resources also require a lot of gathering early game, and you will almost certainly find yourself going on the “harvest tour” gathering quests to catch a Carpenterbug more often than you’d care to.

Underwater fighting is also a bit of a pain unless you buy the circle pad pro. If you don’t mind dropping an extra $20 on a peripheral for the second control stick, then you can ignore this complaint. The best way to get by this is to lock onto the monster you’re hunting and use it to guide you, or double tap the L button to get the camera to reposition behind you (if you’re not locked onto a monster, it only needs one tap, but you’re probably going to be locked onto a monster). However, you can also use the customizable touchscreen to add a D-pad to the screen to control your camera, or just use the d-pad under the control stick. None of which work as well as the circle pad, which may be worth it, depending on how much time you spend on the game.

Speaking of which, I like ending on a good note, so let’s revisit the touchscreen. The game allows you to completely rearrange your HUD, so you can keep your health on the main hunting screen, or you can put it on the touch screen for better visibility. Each function takes up a number of blocks on the bottom screen, so while you couldn’t fit everything there (even if you tried, sorry), you can have things fitted to your preferences. What game wouldn’t benefit from this level of customization?

Despite the slow start and really high learning curve, Monster Hunter as a franchise will reward you endlessly if you are willing to invest some time into it. Each new weapon makes it feel like a new game, and each new monster is a new challenge. This may not be the five minute hack and slash you’ve been looking for, but don’t let that stop you from jumping into a game that could very well turn out to be your next favorite. Give it a try and join the fans yelling across the oceans for the newest entry. You won’t regret it.

Interested? You can buy here it from Amazon if you'd like. It's also available on the eShop. By the way, if you're using this in conjunction with the Wii U version, the downloadable game makes it easier to swap save files.

Find Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2013-03-19
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 1

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