The beauty is in the beasts
Monster Hunter Tri came out for the Wii in 2009, and now Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is an expanded version, made available for the Wii U and 3DS. It has updated visuals, more weapons, more quests, and of course, more monsters. With such a hefty amount of content added, it definitely feels more like an expansion than just a few add-ons.
This is a very particular type of game, one that forces the player to learn its intricacies in order to progress. It's a game that will definitely take some time to fully comprehend, but in turn offers one of the most rewarding experiences possible. So long as you have the time to dedicate to it, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate will reward you greatly.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (3DS, Wii U [reviewed])
At its core, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (MH3U) is a game about completing quests. There's a thin plot setup as the game begins, involving the main town’s experiences of frequent earthquakes caused by a big ol' monster. From there, it is up to the player to become enough of a badass to take on the behemoth and save the town.
That's where the quests come in. Quests can range from collecting some items from around the environment to slaying a beastly monster. Completing quests nets both items and money, reflective of the difficulty of the specific quest. Perhaps most importantly, questing awards the player with experience. Not "XP" points that allow the character to level up, but honest-to-goodness experience in the field.
You see, the character doesn't level up in the traditional sense with XP points, but instead the player levels up by simply playing more and honing their skills. If you've played the Skate games, then you have a general idea of what I'm getting at. The character has one of each weapon type in their inventory at the very beginning of the game, and it is up to the player to try them out and decide what weapon works best for their playstyle.
The controls also need to be mastered, as it is not ideal to be accidentally putting your weapon away during a huge monster battle. Every player needs to know what will happen with each button press, as a poorly-timed swing can lead to big trouble.
The GamePad screen and the 3DS touch screen can be customized to display specific information to the player. HUD items like the map, item pouch, or health bars can even be removed from the main screen and placed on the second screen, allowing for less clutter. It's a beautiful addition to the game and one that really makes the game feel more personal.
There are 11 different types of weapons to choose from, four of which are new since Monster Hunter Tri. Each weapon feels like a brand new experience and will take some getting used to. While it may seem simple enough to operate a Bow, learning all of the intricacies and nuances of the combat system takes a lot of time and practice.
Learning the attack animations of both your character and the monsters is what will really elevate your skill to the next level. Larger weapons take much larger swings and it is crucial to know when to attack and when not to attack; when to evade and when not to evade; when to use items and when not to use items. Overcommitment in Monster Hunter can and will lead to damage that should have been avoided. Monster Hunter is a series about playing smart.
Part of that smart play comes in the preparation before a quest. Prior to jumping into a big monster hunt, it is imperative that the necessary precautions be taken. What these precautions are will come with experience, but generally it's a good idea to take plenty of potions, whetstones, and meat into any hunting quest. Heading into a quest all willy-nilly will likely result in a few deaths and failed attempts.
Monsters do not have a health bar to let the player know when it is near death. Instead, the player must use behavioral hints like when a monster begins limping or loses a horn to infer how damaged it actually is. Battles can get quite intense once both the monster and the hunter have taken heavy damage, and one simple mistake could result in death.
Dying during a quest will result in a lowered reward, and once the reward reaches zero, the quest is failed. Failing a quest is merely a setback, however, as the quest is still available to undertake afterwards. It is a good idea to get into the habit of examining why you failed a quest, as to hopefully not repeat the same mistakes.
In addition to monster killing, there are plenty of materials to be harvested, mined, fished, and gathered. After felling a beast, it can be carved up to collect the sweet, sweet materials within. These materials are then usually used for new weapons and armor. There are also plenty of spots around the world to search for bones, mushrooms, herbs, and way more good stuff to be used in item crafting.
It will take a lot of time and specific monster hunting in order to complete that one set of armor or to finish gathering the materials for a certain weapon. In order to keep up with the strength of the monsters, it is important to have some powerful gear. Hunting the same monster a few times over doesn't make for the most riveting experience, but if you manage to get online with some buddies and take a few out, the monotony is certainly lessened.
This game is definitely a time sink. After investing dozens of hours into MH3U, there is still an overwhelming amount of content to be experienced, both online and off. This isn't really the type of game to be played in short, 15-minute sessions. Expect the game to eat up a significant amount of free time, most of which passes in what seems like the blink of an eye.
All of these important concepts combined with a decent learning curve are what gives this game such a strong sense of accomplishment. Taking down your first Great Jaggi is easily one of the most memorable experiences, even if it is the very first "big" monster encounter. Each subsequent monster feels more and more rewarding and it is a feeling unmatched in most games today.
The real draw of MH3U is the online play, which works great most of the time but isn't without a few hiccups. Joining or creating an online lobby works great. There are eight "Worlds," which are labeled with phrases like "Free Play," "Beginners Only," or "Experts Only." Each world holds 10 Lobbies, each with a maximum capacity of 100 players. Players can chat in the lobbies themselves, or join a Room with up to three other players and take on quests. Rooms can be named and password-protected, along with a phrase explaining what the host is looking for, like "Relaxed Hunting!"
The biggest issue with Network Mode is that there is no host migration. If the person who created the Room leaves, the other players are kicked out. It's such an odd omission in such an online-heavy series like Monster Hunter, and can be frustrating if you find a nice solid group of people to hunt with. There's also a text censoring system that has its fair share of oddities. I can understand censoring words like "butt," but typing "pick a quest" yields "****** quest" for some strange reason. Or maybe I’m just so far removed from what kids are calling it these days.
Through my experience, I saw no noticeable latency issues when playing with others. As fellow hunters called out something, I saw it happen immediately instead of seconds later. The microphone in the Wii U GamePad works excellently and guarantees that every player at least has the capability of voice chat. Just a quick tip, though: turn down your television volume, alright? No one wants to hear sound effects twice.
The Wii U can also connect with up to three 3DS systems locally for cooperative hunting with friends. This process is simple and painless, and seeing your 3DS character on the big screen in 1080p is really nice, even if it is just for a brief moment.
In addition to questing, the Network Mode also features an Arena mode that pits players against a specific monster and ranks them on how fast they can bring it down. There is also planned free downloadable content out the wazoo. The DLC schedule for months is available to view by heading to the DLC area of the main menu, complete with a quick blurb about each installment.
It is also entirely possible to take on these multiplayer quests solo, so long as you are ready for quite the challenge. Monsters are bigger and badder in multiplayer, and solo monster hunters will find some serious resistance.
The beauty of MH3U doesn't come from technical fidelity, but instead from the monster design and atmosphere. The models and textures look a bit rough when viewed up close, but in the middle of a giant battle it hardly matters. Some of the environments, while seemingly bland, still manage to elicit a sense of wonder and awe as monsters go running and flying by.
Coming across a new monster for the first time is something truly amazing. As a brief cutscene introduces each one, the only thing likely to be running through your head is "I have to take down that?!" The animations are smooth and deliberate and you really feel the impact of the big hulking swings.
The game is also extremely charming and quirky. Weapons are hilariously over-sized, armor is over-the-top, and the written dialogue is full of stupid yet hysterical jokes. I still can't get enough of the meat cooking minigame and accompanying tune. Soooo tasty!
When playing on the 3DS, the only significant gameplay difference comes with the camera controls. While on the Wii U it is possible to lock on to a giant monster by pressing the ZR button, on the 3DS this functionality is done exclusively with the touch pad. Once locked on, the L button on both systems will focus the camera towards the monster, which is a very convenient addition, especially on the 3DS.
A second d-pad can also be added to the touch screen, and when placed on the right-hand side, this is a decent way to handle free camera movement without the Circle Pad Pro. It is a less than ideal solution, but functions adequately most of the time. The main issue with controlling the camera comes during the underwater segments, as the camera can get a bit unwieldy on the 3DS.
Other than the camera, the 3DS version controls just like its Wii U counterpart. It can get a bit uncomfortable after extended periods of play, but that largely depends on both hand and 3DS size. The text on the 3DS version is somewhat difficult to read as well, especially if the 3D slider is in between off and full. The 3D effect itself looks great, and brings an already engaging experience to life.
The free 3DS transfer tool is something that may only affect a small amount of people, but is nonetheless a great feature of MH3U. The tool is still unreleased, but the idea is to transfer save data from the Wii U to the 3DS to take a character on the go. This requires both systems and the game for both, but if you fall into that subset of owners, this feature should easily justify the situation. I cannot comment on how easy the process is, but hopefully it is painless and quick.
My only real gripe with the game is how the area maps function. Each of the environments are broken down into various numbered sections. Sometimes a quest will mention Area 8 or a friend online will spot a monster in Area 3, so it is definitely convenient to have the map broken up. However, moving between areas elicits a near-instant load time instead of the map being one contiguous piece of terrain.
Usually this isn't an issue, but occasionally a monster will stand in the part of the Area that is beyond the invisible wall that triggers the load time into the next area, making it unreachable. This isn't a huge issue when battling, since the monster will likely move out of it soon enough, but if a monster dies in that unreachable area, you can say "bye bye" to any materials you would have collected. It happens infrequently enough to hardly be an issue, but when it does happen it is frustrating.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate definitely isn't for everybody. It requires a lot of time and dedication that some people simply can't put forth. It will take a while to get used to the controls, to determine which weapon is best for you, and to discover the tiny nuances to the gameplay. After all is said and done and the big monster is slain, however, nothing is more rewarding.
Encountering monsters in Monster Hunter isn't like most other games. Monsters will take your breath away shortly before they take your life away. This is a game that will force you to learn from your mistakes, lest you repeat them and achieve the same failure as before. While the visuals are far from stunning and the online lacks any sort of host migration, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is one of the best and most rewarding experiences in a long time, and will certainly keep you busy for a while.
THE VERDICT - Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Reviewed by Patrick Hancock