Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Review
A seemingly monstrous learning curve is but a mere hurdle when experiencing the thrill of the hunt
Japanese-developed games have become something of a niche category these days. Considering that it was not too long ago when gamers were less frugal about a game's country of origin, especially during the 8-to-16 bit era, this is a rather odd fact to consider.
It is because of this current cultural distinction that games like Monster Hunter have struggled to find an audience in the West. The long-running Capcom franchise is among the most popular titles of all time in Japan, but has long been considered too "hardcore" for Western gamers. Part of that can be justified for its unwieldy control scheme, as previous MH games were released exclusively for handhelds lacking a right analog stick for camera control, thus forcing diligent gamers to come up with the uncomfortable-yet-efficient "Claw" maneuver for controlling both the character and the camera with one awkwardly-positioned hand.
But with the Nintendo Wii release of Monster Hunter Tri, the series finally found a system that could accommodate its gameplay style more efficiently, even going so far as to come packaged with a controller with two analog sticks and four shoulder buttons. Though the Wii had often been criticized for its lack of software for hardcore gamers, it proved to be the system that would finally help the Monster Hunter brand increase its Western presence. With the newest HD re-release for the Wii U, Capcom is pushing to increase that recognition further with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, packing more content and better visuals as well as a more functional online experience. And with Nintendo’s newest system currently lacking in exclusive titles, the chances have never been better for the MH series to find a new audience.
The setting of Monster Hunter 3 takes place in Moga Village, an Eastern-influenced island port town filled with people in loincloths earning a living through fishing, farming, and trading. Their peaceful lives become threatened, however, when a series of earthquakes begin terrorizing the island; deducing that the cause of the quakes is from a massive underwater leviathan known as the Lagiacrus, the village chief has employed the help a hunter (your player character) to defeat the deadly sea creature, as well as assist the village with its growing monster problems.
Beyond that narrative setup, the story in Monster Hunter 3 is paper-thin, serving merely as a pretext for players to take their custom characters on quests involving monster-slaying and item-gathering. At first, you are given quests from the village chief and his son, exploring the Moga Woods while performing a variety of introductory tasks. Eventually, you will receive your tasks almost exclusively from the guild representative, instantly whisking you away to deserted wastelands, volcanic caves, frozen tundra and other elementally-focused areas and the monsters contained therein. Quests are offered in bulk which is listed by rank, and upon completing a requisite amount, your custom hunter will rise in rank, unlocking higher-grade quests featuring new monsters and rewards to claim.
On the surface, the gameplay seems simple enough; the majority of quests revolve around two tasks: hunting and gathering. Items can be obtained by foraging through plants, minerals, bones and other resource spots indicated by icon prompts. Taking down monsters also allows you to harvest their corpses for various parts, from scales to raw meat. Naturally, many of these collectibles won't show their true value until they are combined with each other, such as combining herbs with mushrooms to create potions, or using a BBQ spit with raw meat to create steaks. Monster parts are also used mostly for crafting/upgrading new weapons and gear.
As simplistic as this all sounds, it is just a small taste of the numerous mechanics and systems involved that has kept Monster Hunter from being accessible for unfamiliar players. Nearly every single action requires knowledge of the game's rules and restrictions to carry out effectively, and that starts with the combat. Many players may start the game believing they have the means to slaughter entire species within seconds, as they are immediately provided with weapons of various sizes and sharpness, only to learn that the game's rules are much more restrictive. For one thing, there is no lock-on feature, requiring precise positioning in order to land an attack. There are also no life bars, HP numbers or other health indicators on any creatures. Every weapon handles differently as well, some that won't allow for blocking attacks while others hinder movement due to their heavy size. Factor in a limited supply of restorative items, a decreasing stamina meter from consistent fighting and running and random attacks from other monsters while fighting the quest-specific target, and it quickly becomes obvious why this series is considered unapproachable for newcomers.
But the counterargument is that none of the mechanics are difficult to grasp. Indeed, it only takes a few play sessions to learn the basics of Monster Hunter, and after a day or so of playing those rules can become second nature, just as players had to first memorize the directional input for a Hadoken or to hold B and A to do a running jump. In truth, MH3 Ultimate is no more inaccessible or complex as most games, but it also does not do the best job of easing in new players; while the game does try to start things off slowly, and continues to offer tips and advice for most of its mechanics, it still fails to list the precise details that are crucial to the experience. One early quest, for example, teaches you how to capture monsters alive using a trap, but does not explain how traps are used nor how to craft them.