Capcom’s Monster Hunter series is absolutely huge in Japan, single handedly keeping the PSP alive before jumping ship over to Nintendo and its hardware several years ago. When it made the move I was finally able to give the series a try on the Nintendo Wii with Monster Hunter 3 Tri. Although I didn’t play it as much as I would have liked (due to it actually being on the Wii) I was able to see the potential and its appeal, if only it were on something that I actually turned on! Fast forward a few years and Monster Hunter is finally on such hardware, the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS, and I have finally put in several hours with the latest in the series, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Does the series live up to the potential that I glimpsed years before, or did I make a mistake thinking there was something special in this package?
The answer? Yes, this game does live up to its potential and it is something special in todays world filled with first person shooters and shallow adventures. Though I haven’t actually made it that far with the game, I have put in around 11 hours with the title. The majority of that time has been exploring and gathering materials from the environment with only a few performing the actual great feats given to me by the Guild (Those with contracts to slay the wild animals). Although I haven’t slain as many large beasts as I would like, and I haven’t learned all there is to know, the short time I have spent learning and hunting these larger than life creatures has been fun and I definitely wish to continue on with my rise towards becoming a great hunter.
For those that do not know what Monster Hunter actually is, and i’m sure there are quite a few of you as it hasn’t gained much ground in the west, Monster Hunter is essentially a mix between Dark Souls and Dragons Dogma. It is an action role playing game with its feet firmly planted in the slower more hardcore Japanese sphere of gameplay. While it isn’t as merciless or twisted as Dark Souls, Monster Hunter still shares the slower more methodical strategy oriented gameplay that fans of the former love. Animations take precedence over free movement and you must make sure you will land your blows before acting, otherwise you will find yourself slashing at air while the large creature you were aiming for takes a chunk out of your arm with its teeth.
The Dragons Dogma comparison comes from the games more open environments and its large focus on taking out massive creatures. Indeed the best part of Monster Hunter comes from the games numerous boss encounters. Each larger contract will lead you to an epic confrontation where you must use your skill as a fighter and your knowledge as a hunter to survive and best the monster before you. These fights will start off fairly easy but can eventually lead to long drawn out battles that will have you scrounging for any potions you may have remaining as you run from a large gaping maw. While the depth and sense of doom may be similar to Dark Souls, the animations and combat itself borrows more from Dragons Dogma as well. With a cute (and possibly dumb) sense of humor and more fantastical armor and weapons, Monster Hunter does not take itself too serious and it is not uncommon to witness quick and crazy animations while you swing and dive out of the way.
While there is a story here, it seems to be mostly unimportant to the majority of the experience. Your main goal is to help a small village from the terror of a large water based serpent/dragon. But before you can take down the creature you must work your way up the ranks and improve both yourself and your tools. Leveling in Monster Hunter is fully dependant on your gear, there is no accruing of XP. If you want a better sword or an improved bow then you must work for it. By slaying the local wildlife and gathering their hides and bones you can potentially craft new equipment, and by foraging for plants and mushrooms you can craft new potions. This system of constant improvement through combat gives you a great sense of progression and makes even the tedious fetch quests seem beneficial through the fact that you may find that one ingredient you need to forge new armor.
While you make your character at the outset, choosing face, hair, etc, you do not choose a class, instead you do that out in the field. Unlike most RPG’s Monster Hunter ties its class system to its weapons, allowing players to change their style and strategy when they wish. A great sword is far slower but packs quite the punch while a sword and shield combo offers a decent balance of offense and defense while the bowgun allows you to keep enemies at a distance while also offering a large variety of ammunition types. In total there are 12 different weapon styles within the game, giving players of any preference a chance at fun.
As I mentioned before Capcom has made this release of Monster Hunter available on both the Wii U and the 3DS portable, and while both are solid the Wii U version does fare better overall. For the Wii U the game obviously looks sharper with an HD resolution and larger screen but it also benefits from better multiplayer integration and the ability to play on either the television or the systems Gamepad. For multiplayer the Wii U version can play online with anyone or even partner with a Nintendo 3DS and offer cross platform play for friends nearby, a nice variety of options for owners. On the 3DS the game looks very good as well but suffers from some difficult to read text and some troublesome controls when it comes to the games underwater sections. But while those are manageable, the portable edition suffers most in the multiplayer department, in that it only supports local play.
Monster Hunter has such a well integrated 4 player co-op component that almost half of the game is tucked away within it and the bizarre decision to limit the portable iterations to local only is just screwy. This game deserves to have online play on every format and its exclusion from the 3DS cartridge is a true shame. Besides the omission of online play however the 3DS version is a fine option and is the manner in which I have been playing the title. You also eventually get some AI companions to help you on your single player journey, so its not all lonely here. While the text can be blurry and the controls slightly cumbersome they are never a huge annoyance and the Circle Pad Pro add on can make the game control just as it does on the Wii U. The graphics too are impressive and are some of the best the 3DS has seen while the 3D effect itself adds just enough depth to give the world some extra immersion. If you have the choice the Wii U is the preferable experience due to its wider range of multiplayer options, but if you are like the majority of gamers and do not own that system the 3DS is a great option as well.
Hands-On is a new article type that I hope to do more of as it offers me a chance at showcasing titles that I just may never get the chance of fully reviewing. Monster Hunter is said to offer players hundreds of hours of gameplay and as such I have barely scratched the surface on the title but I also may never even finish it, and I don’t review games I do not complete. For this Hands-On I am able to give my impressions on a game I feel deserves more attention and eleven hours for any other game would be a nice chunk of time. If you enjoy games that offer great depth but also a sense of true danger then Monster Hunter may be up your alley. While the beginning can be a slow start, as most JRPG’s, and some of the quests can be seen as tedious and a chore, the moments of battling a creature 10 times your size can’t be ignored, and that sense of progression from defeating such foes is terrific. What’s cooler than taking down a giant dragon and then using its fang as a sword and its wing as a shield? Not much. –Chuck
- + Graphics and creature design
- + Combat can be a tense experience
- + Progression system is nicely done
- + Large selection of weapons and armor
- – Larger battles broken up with fetch quests
- – Takes a while to get moving
- – No online play for 3DS version