If at first you don’t succeed ha ha ha ha. This is now the third attempt at a review of Monster Hunter Tri. Before I start can I just say that it isn’t actually a review. My inner critic has been blinded by adoration. It is more of a love letter? Hmmm. Maybe more of a state of the union of gaming as exemplified through this one game? Who knows what it will be? I don’t. But it begins now in any case.
I wasn’t a fan of Monster Hunter on the best PlayStation. I remember playing the demo that came with Devil May Cry and being a bit underwhelmed by it. Then later I was given a copy of the game and still not really swung. I’ll be honest though. It was at a point when Capcom and my relationship was on the rocks. When us here in Europe were getting palmed off with technically online but-not-really-ports of Japanese games like Resident Evil: Outbreak and to my mind Monster Hunter. I don’t know if any of these things happened at the same time but in my mind it all happened in the same week.
Plus the series then hopped to the PSP which decreases its playability by me by a million percent. Might as well have moved to a Kindle. Or an umbrella. Or a scarf for men. Annoyingly too, that a lot of the game seemed to flourish through ad hoc play. Sadly the number of PSPs per square meter in Europe is less than the number of twinkies per square meter or good teeth per square meter or in fact legal guns per square meter. Even if you do know someone with a PSP they definitely weren’t playing Monster Hunter. They were watching Family Guy on the way into work or playing Liberty City Stories. So that was it between me and this franchise.
AND THEN it got announced for the Wii and my excitement levels didn’t twitch one bit. I’d experienced the game before. Wasn’t excited. Oh, and also the Wii has that funny remote controller thing and no proper games*. But I was worn down by the gears of the hype machine. Old school hype as well. None of this midarticle advertising or that horrible Gamespot marketing where you have to squint to peer between the ads in order to read the articles. No it was the old school hard copy advertising that got me. Endless magazine articles, reviews and special Monster Hunter supplements. Made me contemplate giving the series one last roll of the dice or some such. So that’s my life story to date.
Of course because I’m a real human being with the normal pressures of life it did take me about 4 months to get around to buying the game. By which time of course it had vanished from the high street (this is a recurrent gripe – skip to the next paragraph to avoid this UK-centric whinge) and those lovely helpful games retail workers didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. So I ended up with the big old cardboard chest limited edition version which was the only copy of the game I could find in Central London. Fortunately, it came bundled with the pro controller and Wiispeak (and a cheap statuette that comes in three pieces). I still find this startling. The game was really heavily marketed over here upon release and as far as I can see one of the few games that the hardcore* might even contemplate playing on the Wii. I imagined that the kind of people who work in game shops would be the kind of people interested in games at least? It turns out that instead they employ human-looking chimps freshly graduated from the nearest animal testing lab instead. Take heed games industry, these are the people that work on the frontlines of games. It isn’t CliffyB or some yuppie sitting in an office decorated with cube dudes that is the face of gaming to the general populace it’s some guy (or gal) whose prime job in life is to buy back 48,0000 copies of Fifa n every year when Fifa n+1 comes out. From my experience they don’t appear to know their arse from their elbow let alone manage to cough up a morsel of useful information to a consumer which, also from experience, still seem to choose which game to buy from the box art.
First and foremost, MH3 is partly a skill-based MMO. Which is ticking all kinds of boxes for me. You don’t have to grind and worry about stats the whole time. Well, you do later. But to start off you can merrily run away from everything you see and stay alive. You can’t do any missions like this of course because they all have a time limit but it does mean that you can hop online with a bunch of elite hunters and then just try to stay alive whilst they dish out all kinds of combos and buffs a novice to the game doesn’t understand. Which is another thing about Monster Hunter. If you’ve never played it before it is astonishingly busy and at times confusing. There’s stuff and things everywhere and without really trying you begin to accumulate items half of which will be brand new and 75% of which you’ll have no idea what to do with. But after playing for a bit and by occasionally jumping online it all starts to make sense.
Another compeller, compellor? for me was the ecology of the world. Now, Jay has already pointed out that the ecology approaches a model that the world’s top braniacs use to work out how quickly the world is going to end via climate change, i.e. a model that looks good but relates very very loosely to a real ecology. However, in the context of the game the monsters have a bit or permanency and make sense within the different levels. You can happily chase a herd of Poppo around a map and at no point do they magically disappear unless you kill them. In which case they will disappear in front of you. But it all makes a bit more sense than the kind of quests that your normal MMOs throw up where hundreds of people queue up to rid Village X of Blight Y for the thousandth time. Does this make sense? It makes sense to me anyway.
The titular monsters are really the stars of their show not just because they are all cool monsters but the learning curve when you fight them is quite addictive. More often than not, your first encounter or two will see you quickly see the ‘quest failed’ screen. Then after fighting a few more or by joining a group of hunters online you get to learn the the typical behaviours of the animals (essentially, their movesets and roughly what they’ll do next), next you’ll be tooling up with items and armour to reduce the damage you take and increase the speed of the takedowns and before you’ve really consciously noticed it you’ll absent mindedly be felling the monsters that used to plague you as a green hunter whilst taking a breather from chasing a bigger, fiercer quarry (Great Jaggi : An Ode to you). Then, just as the world of monster hunting is your oyster, you’ll come up against a new monster wyvern who will kick you from post to pillar before you’ve had a chance to soil your armour and suggest abandoning the quest. Then begins a process of upgrading weapons and equipment and trying to learn the new behaviours until the next big beastie.
It’s the near seamless hopping between offline and online that really makes learning and enjoying the game fun. Without the online portion of the game I imagine many many players would hit a wall and give up. Without the single player portion of the game, players just wouldn’t have the confidence to join an online hunt and carry their weight as a team of four. Except those guys with switch axes. They all just seem to be mental and all but oblivious to the rest of the team.
Items next. As previously mentioned, you’ll be running out of box room in no time unless you learn that hoarding items just isn’t the way the game works. There is a money economy (and a resource one for the offline game) but items are by far the lifeblood of the economy. Items can be sold for money, traded for rarer items, crafted into armour or combined into new ones. All of these uses are staples of many RPGs but there’s still a little pang of excitement every time you discover a new item. How much can I sell it for? What can I combine it with? How many do I need to make that shiny armour?
Which leads us to grinding. By and large (except for the arena armour) you’ll be able to craft new armour just by running through the quests a couple of times but every now and then you’ll need an item which you’ve never encountered before or only have one of and no recollection of where you got it. Fortunately, the items are colour and symbol coded so you can deduce which monster you could get it form but often the mechanism of how you get it will quickly having you run to the FAQ boards. Some items are just naturally rare and other items, like the Altaroth Jaw and Gobul Whisker, are much easier to come by if you use a specific method of collection. Sometimes this results in some unhinged online hunters who will try to insist on grinding the same quests over and over (Dragon Lady again anyone?). But this necessary evil is a good way to get hunters to replay quests and so far hasn’t caused me any significant grief.
Aside from the offline ‘story mode’ and the online hub the arena is a sort of third way of playing the game and can be played either offline splitscreen or online through the arena quest lady or sometimes as an event quest for more than two players. In the arena up to two hunters are simply pitted against one of the boss wyverns and are awarded specific coins for faster takedowns and more coins if you manage to slice off frills, wings and tails in the process. The arena gives you a predefined set of armour and items so you need to quickly familiarise yourself with the tools at hand to maximise the benefit of the arena runs. Naturally, some of the shinier armour demands a lot of dough and a lot of arena coins but I for one am really happy that this is in there and that players can quite easily port their characters over via Wiimote for splitscreen and back again laden with the arena rewards. Again, this part of the game really flourishes with the level-free development of characters. The sense that regardless of experience, everyone is the same in their pants helps to negate some of the pre-game/end game tensions that dominate other MMOs and can put players off. Seeing very high level characters
grooming helping out some wet behind the ears hunters restores some of my faith in ‘the gaming community’.
Lastly, as one of my favourite bloggers has already covered, is the Monster Hunter Community. I’m loathe to say that ‘sadly’ the online play is continent specific simply because aside from the occasional transgression playing online has been a wonderful experience so far. Players on the whole are polite, funny, helpful and in my part of the world all of these in up to four different languages. There also seems to be some cultural behaviours that characterise different nations when they play Monster Hunter online. English male(?) players seem to be very, very helpful to female avatars, French players seem to revel in using bombs, grenades and traps in every encounter rather than straight forward hacking and shooting, Spanish players are normally quite quiet but are the best when it comes to looking after the team and German players can be very goal driven, pinging the rest of the team the location of a target every five seconds until we all get to the same area. Dutch and Belgian players often end up acting as translators.
I’ve not experienced much in the way of elitism or snobbery between players whose hunter ranks are mismatched nor the kind of insulting which is sometimes rife when a player asks a question about something. There’s been a tiny bit of sexism that I’ve experienced (I’m playing a female character) and either a lot of very, very young players sharing personal information at worst or paedo police trawling Monster Hunter for would be kiddy fiddlers. French and German players also seem to underestimate that English people can understand French and German leading to a few embarrassing situations. None of it compares to what one can experience within five minutes of a Gears of War or Halo session or the level of cheating that you can see when you play a couple of intercontinental boards on Mario Kart.
Well that’s it really. Not really a review and nothing new for those of you who have spent anytime with the game. More a sort of appreciation for a job well done and yet another game on the Wii that demonstrates that with a little bit of elbow grease and polish the benefits of all that processing power under the hood is often being squandered on those other two consoles. 9/10**.
* I’m a veteran of both console wars and as such don’t need to post-postly qualify any statements I make off-hand. You know what I mean and I know you know what I mean unless this is the first piece of game writing you’ve ever read in which case I am sorry. Try Rock, Paper Shotgun instead. They writes good.
** Yeah, that’s right. A mother fucking score. Deal with it. It means nothing to you. It means nothing to anyone but me and even then I’d argue it is actually a 7.75 out of 10.1 to mean anything to me.