The Thrill of the Hunt
The Monster Hunter franchise is very big business over in the land of the rising sun. Over in our neck of the woods, however, the same cannot be said. After failed experiment after failed experiment, the series just hasn't caught on for most Western audiences. That said, Capcom is determined to make it work with a big, blockbuster advertising campaign and placing the series on this generation's most popular console, the Wii. The end result is none other than Monster Hunter 3... er... Monster Hunter Tri. Is this hunt one that you'll want to join in on?
A nameless fisherman's village is in need of a hero. A sea serpent constantly causes terror and peril whenever it reaches the village's shores. No, they don't need a hero. They need a monster hunter to save the day! That's where your character comes in (after setting your appearance, of course). Lagiacrus is one tough customer, so you won't be able to tackle it immediately. Instead, you take on oddjob requests to start off, slowing and gradually making your way up in the monster hunting ranks to finally put an end to the sea serpent once and for all.
A hunter is only as good as his (or her) weapon, and there's a mighty long list of weaponry to choose from. From powerful but slow great swords to long-distance attacking bowguns, there's a weapon for every type of player. And that's a good thing because each weapon plays and handles differently. As stated, the great sword is a powerful beast, but you leave yourself open after each swing. Meanwhile, the relatively weak sword and shield combo can slice and dice foes with ease with plenty of time to dodge attacks. There's no worry about being stuck with one weapon because you can exchange weapons between quests and upgrade them using gathered materials and drops from monsters. There's no experience to gain like a traditional action-RPG. Your armor and weapons do the growing, not the hunter him (or her) self. With repeated use, each weapon loses its luster and durability. By using whetstones to sharpen the blade of a given weapon, your attack strength will be at its maximum.
The road to being the ultimate monster hunter is paved with many obstacles and challenges. Starting off, you're relegated to tackling small monsters, gathering mushrooms and animal horns from the surrounding forests, and making your way up to larger encounters. By the end of the game, you're hunting two colossal monsters in the same quest. Once you complete an urgent quest such as slaying a specific monster to forward the story, you graduate to the next level of increasingly more difficult quests.
Quests themselves vary from objective to objective. Many have sub-missions to complete that are optional. Completing these awards you with more zenny, the currency of most Capcom games. One quest you'll be doing menial tasks such as gathering mushrooms, mining for ore, and taking out a set number of small nuisances while others you'll be hunting a giant monster such as a Barroth!
Each monster encounter is different from the last. That's just how it is with Monster Hunter Tri. The variables constantly change. A wounded monster will limp away to another area of the map, trying to fall asleep to regain its health. Sometimes a completely different monster will enter the fray out of nowhere. Now you have two monsters to contend with! Each monster has its own personality and attack patterns. Learning them is the difference between winning the hunt and fainting for a third time. In Monster Hunter, fainting three times in a mission is automatic failure. Then there's the strict time limits to worry about. Fifty minutes may seem like a lot of time to work with, but when your target is constantly moving from area to area, attacking you, and making life miserable for you, it becomes a problem. Some players may not like having to fight one monster for upwards of forty-five minutes only to lose in the end. That can be frustrating. Regardless, taking down a monster after such an exhausting battle is truly fulfilling, and I think that's where Monster Hunter Tri really shines.
Some quests require the player to capture a given monster instead of simply taking them out of commission. In these cases, you have to weaken the monster enough to make it look noticeably weak (i.e. limping from area to area). Then you have to set a trap be it a pitfall or shock trap, lure the enemy into the trap, and then pelt it with tranquilizers. A successful catch reaps more rewards than simply slaying it, so it's usually better to do things the hard way in this game.
Likewise, the other side of the Monster Hunter Tri coin (or I guess zenny) is online play. Whereas offline takes place in a fisherman village, the online play occurs in a hustling, bustling city. You choose one of many servers to play on, select a city, and enter a room. Up to four people can share a room. Right away, let's get rid of the problems here. For one, you cannot message people or befriend others if they are not online at the same time as you are. Two, you cannot join quests already in progress, and three, Wii Speak is totally useless so get a functioning USB keyboard. If you can get beyond those caveats, you're in for one of the Wii's best multiplayer experiences to date.
As you complete online quests, you gain experience points. These points add up to total your Hunter Rank or HR. Your Hunter Rank determines what quests you can and cannot go on. So if you're in a party of four, and everyone is HR 20 and you're still HR9, you're out of luck. That said, the online quests heavily mirror the offline story mode's quests. However, there's some even crazier quests online than off, and with four players going after one colossal creature, the fun is at a feverish level. There are some really great times hunting monsters, participating in teamwork, and reaching a common goal. If you lack a keyboard or Wii Speak, you can use the in-game keyboard which works, but it's not very convenient for mid-battle play. There's also several preset phrases that can be displayed such as "let's do this" and "I'll lay the trap" to help out those unable or too lazy to type a message out themselves.
Monster Hunter Tri can be played with either the Wii remote and nunchuk combination (my preferred method of monster hunting) or with the Classic Controller. Some players might be put off by the sheer difficulty of the game. Others will lavish in its brutal challenge. A part of this comes from the lack of lock-on which to me, would totally ruin what makes this game great. It requires great skill to block and evade attacks from enemies as well as finding a window of opportunity to attack yourself. This is all the while managing and cycling through the necessary items such as healing potions, stamina-building rations and steaks, and status-effect changers like antidotes and manually moving around the camera. There's a lot to worry about other than the monsters you're currently facing whether it's weapon durability, fatigue, or other monsters in the same area.
Monster Hunter Tri is a gorgeous game with lots going on in the various environments. There are five major maps to hunt on, and each are divided up into areas or rooms. Transporting from area to area causes a brief, two second loading screen to pop up. It's a slight annoyance, but you really do get used to it. On the graphical side of the spectrum, you have vivacious visuals from the character models which change depending on what armor you are equipped with, the jaw-dropping backgrounds, and of course, the impressive monsters themselves. Sound-wise, the soundtrack is very summer blockbuster-esque with tribal drums, loud brass, and percussive strings. It's a well put together soundtrack overall.
Overall, Monster Hunter Tri shines as one of the best presented third party games on Wii, and it's also one of the best online multiplayer games around despite its problems with communicating with others. It's a challenging yet rewarding title full of frustration for most players but the rewards definitely outweigh any irritation one may experience playing this game. You'll get your ass handed to you by a winged Rathian, and come back for more. That's just the addictive nature of the Monster Hunter series. I get it now. I get why this series is so beloved by our friends in the East. Give Monster Hunter Tri a chance, and while it may not be for you, at least you can say you've been there and done that. If you happen to love it like I do, that's just the icing on this incredibly sweet and delicious cake.
[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]