It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when the above combination of Katakana characters changed from altogether meaningless, to a genuine point of interest in my life. Perhaps it was after I’d slain my first Grand Jaggi in the sandy plains, battling the shrieking wyvern with dogged persistence until it succumbed to the force of my blade. Or maybe it was the time I successfully captured a honey-sucking, blood-thirsty Azuros alive, beating it to the point of submission until the languishing creature stumbled into a well-placed shock trap.
In the end, determining when or exactly what caused this paradigm shift in perspective isn’t really important. What is important, however, is that from this day forward I’ll be keeping a watchful eye over these various hard-edged strokes; for these Katakana characters once symbolised a franchise that was as foreign to me as the Japanese language itself. But not anymore. After spending some quality time with Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate, what was once lost in translation now makes perfect sense. I finally understand the beauty of Capcom’s action-adventure beast, a series which has already sunk its claws into millions of Japanese gamers, but has yet to swallow up the West.
That could all change with the release of Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate for the Wii U and the 3DS, an enhanced console and handheld port of the Wii game, Monster Hunter Tri, and it’s possible that more people than ever will be bitten by the “Monsuta Hanta” bug. Though a pandemic outbreak is still unlikely.
The Three P’s
Funnily enough, it’s the passionate Monster Hunter veterans who prove to be the best possible advert for the series. They openly admit that newcomers will face a number of challenging prerequisites before getting into the game, and they make no assumptions that everyone will complete them. Instead, they serve as a stark reminder that somewhere, buried beneath the first ten, twenty, if not forty hours, a diamond is waiting to be uncovered. Either you want to see it glisten with your own eyes, or you don’t. Though advice is freely given from stalwart conquerors to novice hunters, one simple mantra seems to take precedent above all else: Monster Hunter requires patience, perseverance and practice. Fail to observe any one of these three virtues, and your time and enjoyment with the game will ultimately be cut short.
All Shook Up
Your hunter arrives in an idyllic fishing village after a recent earthquake. The local residents are in a fluster and the village chief presumes that a certain giant monster known as the Lagiacrus is responsible for the troubling earthquakes. As luck would have it, a monster hunter – that’s you – has arrived just in time to deal with it. Unfortunately for the conscripting chief, it’s clear that you’re nought but a novice at this stage, so he has no choice but to send you out on a journey of personal development and discovery until you’re strong enough to take down the mighty Lagiacrus. Apart from interacting with the village NPCs, that’s really all the story on offer in MH3: Ultimate. The amusing cast of characters are fun to talk to, including Neko the trustworthy cat (sorry, tiger) and your companion Cha-Cha (who joins you early on), but apart from that, the onus is placed firmly on your imagination to jazz up what is quite frankly a bare bones plot.
MH3: Ultimate is made up of three core elements: completing quests, collecting resources and hunting/capturing monsters. Often these elements overlap with one another and are supplemented and exponentially expanded by the foraging/scavenging aspect of the game and the joy of fighting increasingly challenging monsters.
You’ll be mining rocks, picking herbs, catching bugs and carving up fallen beasties all with the goal of gathering rare and special items to craft and forge better armour and weapons with.
You’ll be mining rocks, picking herbs, catching bugs and carving up fallen beasties all with the goal of gathering rare and special items to craft and forge better armour and weapons with. Of course, you’ll earn money throughout the game by completing quests – so you can always buy new equipment straight out – but it’s the understanding of how best to use nature’s generous supply of commodities that will propel your hunter to new heights on the battlefield. Collecting items through battling and scavenging is essentially Monster Hunter’s version of grinding, and exactly how you become stronger. MH3: Ultimate doesn’t feature a traditional leveling system like most RPGs. Instead, your hunter’s strength is always equivalent to the strength of their weapons and armour, not the amount of experience you’ve managed to obtain through battles. There’s also no magic in the game, just defensive and offensive items as well as weapon and armour buffs. It’s this addictive underbelly that lures you back. The idea of collecting items might appear dreadfully mundane, but it soon becomes an unscratchable itch, especially when the spoils of your hunt become the centrepiece of your brand new armour.
In regards to the weapons themselves, players have the opportunity to pick from any of the beginner level weapons from the outset in MH3: Ultimate – unlike in MH Tri where players were restricted to just two types initially. Each weapon offers a different range of strikes, attacks, speed and tactics, and essentially acts as the game’s class system: your abilities change depending on the weapon you wield. Simply picking the biggest sword isn’t always the answer, nor is relying solely on ranged weapons, so you’ll be forced to experiment with your selection depending on the monster or quest you’re about to face and ultimately, find a weapon class which suits your playstyle.
Let The Hunt Begin
Hunting is divided into two categories: quests and free hunts. Quests can be taken up at the Guild, with differing tiers of difficulty available. You’re given 50 minutes to complete the set criteria which usually involves collecting specific items, killing a set amount of monsters, exploring a new area or taking down a fearsome foe. Taking down fearsome foes are obviously the best quests, and you’ll pleased to hear that fighting gigantic monsters makes up the majority of quests – there’s a plethora of big bad nasties to beat. Free hunting on the other hand lets you explore the Moga Woods – the game’s main area – and generate resources for the village. There’s no time limit in place, or set criteria to follow – you’ll simply be gathering and hunting to create resources which can be used to expand the village’s farm or fishing expedition. Both the farm and fishing expedition can be used to amass plenty of items that would otherwise be left for you to handpick yourself, so it’s wise to make use of them frequently.
Both quest and free hunts take place in a variety of climate affected areas. Each of these areas are divided into multiple, separate zones and you’ll be frequently passing back and forth between these zones. You’ll be tasked with learning these environments and their individual zones to determine where specific resources lie, and figuring out where monsters may lurk. Annoyingly, load times greet you whenever you pass through each zone, but they’re thankfully speedy and far quicker than the load times in MH Tri.
A Victorious Vocation
So that’s the basic fundamentals of Monster Hunter down. Still with me? Good. Let’s talk about the final part: monster hunting!
The real appeal of Monster Hunter is naturally, fighting and capturing impressive monsters.
The real appeal of Monster Hunter is naturally, fighting and capturing impressive monsters. At first you’ll be taking on monsters barely fitting of the name, but soon the true beasts make their appearance and a stern test presents itself. The monsters themselves are a joy to behold, with enough life, intelligence and character to feel genuinely believable; they’ll even flee when injured and attempt to recover stamina if they get the opportunity. The bigger monsters are also extremely aggressive, so don’t be surprised if you get your butt kicked if you go in unprepared. Taking them down is a whole heap of fun, especially with other hunters, but it’s foolish and reckless to go mashing buttons wildly. You have to learn the monsters’ behaviour, attack patterns, whether they’re tiring and attempt to spot their weaknesses during battle.
You also have contend with item management, weapon sharpness and stamina during battles and general exploring. Your weapon will lose its sharpness over time resulting in weaker attacks, and your stamina will also deplete, leaving you unable to sprint until its recharged. Weapons need to be sharpened with whetstones so they’re combat ready, and stamina can be restored by eating various cooked meats and items. Each of these actions takes time to complete so you have to carefully plan when you’re going to stop and sharpen your weapon or your animation will be rudely interrupted by an oncoming monster. Oh, and keep a close eye on your health, too, as if you faint 3 times during a quest you have to start again.
Patience, Young Hunter
So are you ready to jump in and start hunting? Hold on a second, junior. It would be ignorant not to discuss the caveats that may disrupt novice players enjoyment of the game. And if you haven’t already guessed, there’s a few. The first couple of hours of MH3: Ultimate are deliberately sluggish – that’s right, hours – as you take teeny, tiny baby steps around the onion skin of possible actions the game has to offer. Luckily, the simple tutorials do an admirable job at introducing and explaining the many facets of Monster Hunter’s mechanics, and you can always check your Hunter’s Notes (a handy guide) if you happen to forget what you’re doing or need more information. You’ll go through all the Monster Hunter basics outlined above: attacking, foraging, item use, evading, swimming, weapon forging, farming – and travel back and forth between Moga Woods and the village completing various tasks. It’s hardly a rollercoaster ride to kick things off, but it’s a crucial requirement for laying down the foundations which will provide hours upon hours of gameplay to build upon. The controls will also be a sticking point. To attack a monster you need to first draw your weapon with the X button and attack with the X or A button. To take an item, run, or hack the meat of your fallen bounty, you have to holster your weapon with Y and press Y again to use an item. Now, attempting to do this on the fly during a confrontation with a ferocious monster is no easy task. You’ll accidentally consume the odd item, forget how to put your weapon away and be in general disarray until you get the hang of it. But honestly, you will.
Next up is the camera – and this will definitely anger some. The camera can be spun left to right using the right stick, but cannot be panned up and down unless underwater. Pressing up and down on the right stick will instead change to one of many camera angles giving you a higher or lower viewpoint from behind your character. The camera is also static, that is to say it doesn’t automatically follow your character’s movement. You have to centre the camera by pressing the L button intermittently, otherwise you’ll be potentially swinging your sword down a blind alley. There’s also no auto-locking system in MH3: Ultimate when fighting monsters. However, the developers did compromise somewhat by providing a semi-locking system when facing off against the larger monsters. By tapping ZR in the presence of a larger monster, when you centre the camera it’ll automatically swing round to the location of the monster. Again, you’ll get the hang of it eventually and it soon becomes second nature, but it’s just another small barrier to entry which will shut out a lot of prospective players.
Attention to detail has clearly been reserved for the monsters, which look great, but the game’s many environments are noticeably bland and empty in comparison.
Taking its graphical assets from the Wii’s Monster Hunter Tri means that MH3U is a distinctly average looking game on the Wii U, albeit a surprisingly colourful one. The HD visuals do wonders to menus and for determining the artwork of individual monsters, however, the more realistic palette of Monster Hunter Tri has been replaced by a saturated and almost cartoonish vibe. Attention to detail has clearly been reserved for the monsters, which look great, but the game’s many environments are noticeably bland and empty in comparison. Animations are decent enough, with the impact of your hunter’s swings carrying significant weight and the nuances of particular monsters are convincing despite the graphical limitations. I also had the opportunity to pop back on Monster Hunter Tri for a quick comparison, and I noticed a few startling omissions that should be noted. In general, Tri felt a touch quicker and smoother than Ultimate, which makes me wonder whether the framerate has been halved for the Wii U port. Most noticeably, however, is the missing day and night cycles. In Tri, the game would change from glorious day to spooky night, and torches would be required to light up caves. In Ultimate, night never came, and the caves were bright enough that the need for a torch was unnecessary. It’s a bizarre and inexplicable change, and one that sours the idea that Ultimate is indeed the ultimate version. And what of the GamePad’s functionality? There’s customisable panels that help with inventory management and you can remove the obtrusive HUD from the television screen and onto the GamePad, which is admittedly very useful. Unfortunately, Capcom decided to omit the ability to play the game entirely off the GamePad, which is bonkers when you think about how much television time you’re going to need. Thankfully, Off-screen play will be patched in April and will be a huge boost for anyone unable to hog the television every night.
Let’s Hunt Together, Right Now
The European and US online servers will also be combined thanks to the patch, allowing hunters to play with more people than ever. And this is the final aspect of the game to discuss: whether you’re playing the game alone or online.
Although the multiplayer was utterly barren during my review time, Monster Hunter is supposed to be played with friends and is by all accounts better for it. Hunting in a party of four is, I imagine, an addicting experience to say the least, as you team up to take down truly terrifying monsters with the unified goal of ranking up and collecting items. All multiplayer activity takes place at Port Tanzia, a separate fishing village with different NPCs and where you can meet up with fellow hunters to complete quests and compete in the Arena challenges. It will be interesting to see how busy the multiplayer portion is upon release.
Wii U And 3DS Compatibility
Owners of the Wii U and 3DS versions of Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate can transfer their saves between the two games, letting you carry on the fight on the move and finish it when you get home. Three 3DS owners can also play with one Wii U player locally to really recreate that authentic Monster Hunter multiplayer experience. If you’re a Monster Hunter mad, own a Wii U and 3DS, then you’ll probably end up buying both versions as the connectivity between the two is actually pretty great.
A review copy of Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate was provided courtesy of Nintendo. The game was reviewed on Wii U.
Are You A Man? Or A Monster Hunter?
The Monster Hunter series has a notorious reputation for splitting gamers into strictly two camps in the West: those who hate it, and those who love it. It’s the marmite equivalent of video games; there is no inbetween. Either you’ve picked it up in the past, played an hour or so and never returned again, or you’ve managed to sink hundreds if not thousands of hours into it, alone or with friends. Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate is unlikely to change that. If you’re patient, persevere and continue to practice, then the rewards on offer are almost infinite. But sadly, many will find the fight too clunky, too tedious and too obtuse to stomach. I know which camp I’m in.