The Monster Hunter franchise has been a favourite in Japan for years�selling millions of copies on both consoles and handhelds�but has failed to make the same impact in North America. Capcom was looking to change that with the release of its latest addition, Monster Hunter Tri, for the Wii.
To get people excited for the game, Capcom launched an impressive multi-platform marketing campaign for North America, which included everything from a dedicated website, to television commercials, to a YouTube channel�all featuring Monster Hunter Tri�s official spokesperson/mascot, Ironbeard McCullough, a monster hunter who even has a Facebook and Twitter account. The company even held a weapon design contest, whose winners would have their creations rendered and available in-game.
In Japan, over 1.1 million copies of the game were sold in 2009 from its August 1st launch to the end of the year. Japan was clearly excited. And why shouldn�t they be? Japan's Famitsu gave the game a perfect score, the eleventh game (third on the Wii) to do so in the magazine�s 20-year history. This alone was enough to get me excited; I was anxious to see what makes the perfect game.
After booting it up and creating a file, you are tasked with creating your hunter. You can customize everything from his/her skin tone, eye colour, hair style, clothing, and even voice. You then find yourself in the small town of Moga Village, which is currently suffering from a recent string of earthquakes plaguing the surrounding region. The village's chief suspects that the cause of these tremors is the mighty Lagiacrus, an electrically charged leviathan referred to by seafarers as the "Lord of the Seas". You�re not nearly strong enough to face it yet, so in the meantime, the chief has enlisted your help to quell some of the other problems the village and its people are experiencing.
Ultimately though, this game is about�surprise, surprise�hunting monsters. Those looking for a deep, engaging tale won't find it here. What little story there is merely provides a motivation to progress, as well as serving as the game's tutorial for a while. In fact, the lack of urgency that comes with most adventure/role-playing games requiring you to "save the world" is welcome, as it allows you to have a more fun and relaxed experience; going about your own business at your own pace (something even the chief recommends doing). Relaxing, that is, until you face a monster. Tri boasts some seriously bad ass beasties to take down, and to do this, you'll need some seriously bad ass equipment.
First, let's talk weapons. There are seven weapon classes to choose from: Sword and Shield, Greatsword, Longsword, Hammer, Lance, Gunbow, and the all-new Switch Axe, which has the ability to switch from an axe to a sword mid-combo to deliver some devastating blows. As you can imagine, each class has its advantages and disadvantages. A Sword and Shield, for example, doesn't have the impressive range or attack that a Greatsword possesses, but will allow you to move quicker, and block and dodge much more effectively.
Gunbows are in a league of their own. All other weapons are categorized as Blade types, while Gunbows are considered Gunner type weapons. They come in Light, Medium, and Heavy varieties. Unlike other weapons, Gunbows are forged in three pieces�Barrel, Frame, and Stock�and require ammunition to operate. This means that being a gunner is definitely the more expensive route to take, but the obvious pay off is being able to take enemies down at range, keeping yourself out of harm's way (most of the time).
Armour can be equipped on your head, chest, waist, arms, and legs. Some pieces can only be equipped on hunters using melee or ranged weapons, while others work for both. Generally, Gunner armour possesses lower defense values than similar Blade armour pieces�another thing to take into consideration when choosing to go long range. In addition to boosting defense and raising (or lowering) elemental resistance, armour also adds skill points to your Skill Tree. Every 10 points unlocks a skill. For example, if you�re wearing four pieces of armour that add a total of 8 points to the Attack skill, your final piece would have to add 2 more points so you could gain the bonus. Typically, you'll want to equip your hunter with pieces from the same set, as they grant skill points in similar areas. However, armour (and weapons) with slots can be fitted with Decorations that grant additional skill points, giving you some freedom.
Each hunter can also equip a single Charm which grants additional bonuses. These enigmatic items cannot be forged, and are, instead, found throughout the game world or given to you as quest rewards.
Supplies are also extremely important. While hunting, you can bring along numerous edibles to recover health or stamina, antidotes to reverse status effects, and even whetstones to keep your blades sharp. Fighting in the middle of a scorching desert? Be sure to bring plenty of Cool Drinks to prevent heat exhaustion. You can even bring tools and traps to help take down tougher creatures. Because you can only carry so much at a time, it's important to plan ahead and ensure you take only what's necessary on a trip. Remember, you'll still want plenty of room in your Item Pouch for the various goodies you'll acquire on your excursions.
Equipment is only half of the story, though. In addition to gear, you'll need to rely on skill and cunning if you hope to make it out of an encounter alive, especially against some of the game's more impressive specimens. Understanding a monster's behaviour is key. It's important to implement strategies that take a monster's behaviour, as well as the equipment you�re using, into account before attempting to take it down. Pay close attention... Every monster has a "tell" for each of its attacks, hinting when to dodge, block, or attack. Monster's also have weak points you can take advantage of to produce more damage or other results. For example, you can hack the tail off a monster who insists on swiping you with it.
Once a monster has been taken down, resources can be harvested from it. Monster parts such as bones, teeth, claws, horns, and hides, as well as various ores you can mine, are primarily used for making weapons and armour. Simply gather the required number of resources, and the village's blacksmith will forge your desired piece of equipment�for a fee. Weapons and armour are upgraded in the same way.
Things foraged from the land such as plants, seeds, mushrooms, even insects and fish, can be used as, or combined to make supplies. For example, one of the more basic combinations involves combining a Blue Mushroom with an Herb to make a Potion. Items can be combined in your Item Pouch or in your Item Box back at the village. When combining, only items with at least one combination will be selectable, and after discovering a combination, it will be automatically logged in your Hunter's Notes. It's a very user-friendly concept. Speaking of Hunter's Notes; it's a great tool for those unfamiliar with the Monster Hunter franchise. It provides information on the ins and outs of weapons (and how to use them), armour, tools, skills, etc. You can also log information on the various monsters you encounter on your hunts�kind of like an old-school Pokedex (go ahead, try to catch 'em all!).
You'll gain even more resources�in addition to money�after successfully completing a quest. Quests involve everything from killing/capturing a certain number of beasts, or gathering specific items. Every so often, you'll be asked to take on an Urgent Quest. After successfully completing an Urgent Quest, the next set of quests will be unlocked.
Once your confident enough with your monster hunting skills, you can leave the Village and head for the City�the online hub for multiplayer monster hunting action. Instead of fumbling with Friend Codes, you simply create a Capcom ID to access the Monster Hunter Tri servers. Most of the options available to you in the village are available here as well (Armoury, Material Shop, Guildmaster, etc). The biggest difference is the difficulty of the quests you'll undertake, which are meant to be tackled as a group. If you've made some friends, you can register them in your Friends Roster, which allows you to teleport to them in the City for quick and easy setup of hunting parties (up to four).
A varied group of hunters with different skills will go a long way. Having a gunner in your party is a big advantage, for example, as the varieties of ammo available can cause a wide range of status effects to hamper the enemy's assault. Besides the added attack potential, the biggest advantage to having multiple people working together is distraction; having the monster focus its attention on one individual so another can set up traps or power up big hits. Communication is also important. This is done best via the Wii Speak or Wii Keyboard peripherals. If you don't own (or plan on owning) either of those, fear not, the game has preset messages you can send. Ideally, after hunting with the same group of friends for a while, you'll be so in-tune with each other that you'll hardly need to communicate anyway.
Overall, the game controls beautifully. Certain actions will require getting used to�some even seeming awkward at first�but it won't be long before they become second-nature. The game supports most control types, the ideal choice being the Classic Controller Pro for smooth control of both your movement and camera with the left and right thumb stick, respectively. You can't fight what you can't see, as they say, and since there is no auto-targeting in Monster Hunter Tri, you'll have to manually keep your eye on your prey. If you don't have one already, Capcom has bundled Monster Hunter Tri with a black Classic Controller Pro for an additional $15�a good deal considering the controller alone retails for $25. For those unwilling to shell out the extra cash, the original Classic Controller will work just as well.
The game also looks beautiful. The graphics and sound are top-notch (monster cries sound great), pushing the power of the Wii to its limit while maintaining very short load times. Although sometimes feeling a little closed in, the lush and lively environments are well designed. You'll experience many "wow" moments in the game. There's nothing quite like taking on a Great Jaggi and his pack while a herd of panicking Aptonoth are sent into a stampede around you.
Monster Hunter Tri is not for everyone. Only those willing to invest the appropriate amount of time and patience learning the intricacies of the game will be rewarded with all it has to offer. It's challenging, complex, and amazingly satisfying as a result. With all the different equipment to use, monsters to hunt, items to gather, and so much to do online and off, Tri will easily soak up hundreds of hours of your life�and you'll love every moment of it. Simply put, Monster Hunter Tri is masterfully done. Is it perfect? No. But it just might be the perfect addition to your Wii library.
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