Game Description: Monster Hunter 3 (Tri) is an action role-playing game (RPG) from Capcom. The first iteration of the popular Monster Hunter franchise to make an appearance on the Wii platform, action in it revolves around quest based gameplay built around the hunting and capture of monsters as a means of character development. The game features multiple modes of co-op gameplay—both online and offline—new monsters and weapons classes, multiple controller options and Wii Speak and text chat player communication support.
HIGH Getting saved a split-second before death by my AI sidekick.
LOW Getting helplessly pinned by bosses while the camera goes crazy.
WTF Why does this feel like it hasn't advanced in years?
An unusual beast any way you slice it, Capcom's Monster Hunter Tri is a surreal mix of both highs and lows happening concurrently on the same disc. In my experience, it's quite unusual to have such a hot-and-cold product... more often players get a safe, big-budget extravaganza with a few shortcomings, or a jagged small-studio title with bits of brilliance. To get something that presents both ends of the spectrum in nearly equal amounts is not only quite rare, but a real challenge to review.
Before getting into the details, know that Monster Hunter Tri is a third-person, real-time action game in which characters wield shockingly large weapons against shockingly large monsters. Although initial appearances would lead one to believe that the game has a heavy combat focus (and rightly so) it's probably more correct to say that the title is mainly about stat-work and item-grinding with the action thrown in.
After creating a character to preference, the player begins in Moga Village—a small collection of huts on the periphery of a primeval island. Starting out with a modest sword and clad in armor hardly worth a damn, the hook to Monster Hunter Tri is that the player does not level-up their character, it's the equipment that gets improved.
By besting different types of monsters, all sorts of parts can be harvested to create armaments and defensive gear. Feathers, claws, or hides... it can all be turned into something valuable and deadly. Other ingredients for traps, bombs, and status-effect items can be found in the local wilderness, so it's up to the player to get creative with natural resources and power up to the point that each mission can be accomplished. It's not nearly as simple as it sounds, though... players can look forward to hours and hours of grinding in the pursuit of quality goods thanks to the difficulty of vanquishing certain monsters and the frustration of random item drops.
With foreknowledge that grinding is a key part of play, the general premise of being a Hunter culling prehistoric prey and crafting goods from the remains is a great one, and I've been sold on it since the original game debuted back in 2004. However, that first effort had a host of serious problems that prevented it from reaching its full potential. Although certainly improved, the Monster Hunter series has more issues than is reasonable six years later, and Tri is no exception.
Technically, Tri is comparable to a mid-generation PS2 game and makes little effort to bring itself up to speed with current standards—the monsters and gear look great for the most part, but everything else lacks. Levels are empty, non-interactive affairs split into discrete zones divided by immersion-breaking load times. The camera views are limited, and often obtuse. Controls during combat are slow, stiff and unresponsive. Menus are cluttered and unclear, hiding important information three windows deep.
Oh, and playing with the Wiimote? That's a sick joke. The Classic Controller Pro is the only reasonable way to play, and even that has its issues—the game isn't totally optimized for it, so tons of important info is hidden unless the player awkwardly juggles between the Classic and the Wiimote to reveal it. Last time I checked, the average person only has two hands— I'm not quite sure who Capcom thinks can effectively use such a setup.
Those things aside (and they're significant) another big issues with Tri is that the off-line tutorials in the campaign take far too long and provide too little practical information. It took me several hours before I got to a "real" mission, and by that point I was fighting off boredom, still puzzled by dozens of questions with no easy answers available. How does the Psychic stat work? What does having a negative affinity with a weapon mean? How does elemental damage stack, if at all? Why is figuring out the Bowgun so complicated? With precious little information provided during play, I strongly recommend that players have a lot of patience, that they read the instruction manual front to back, and that they leave a window to GameFAQs open at all times to glean information as needed. It shouldn't be necessary, but it is.
With such a litany of rough edges and unpleasantries, what does the game get right? The biggest and most obvious things for me were, naturally, the monsters.
Nearly every encounter in the game pits the player against a massive, fearsome beast more than capable of ending virtual lives in just a moment or two. Reptilian and fanged, aquatic and slick, or winged and breathing fire from the skies, these enemies are all stars in their own right and viciously excellent examples of the eternal struggle between Man and Nature. This timeless theme runs throughout the entire Tri experience, and I find it hard to imagine anyone resisting the challenge of taking sword in hand and facing off against something so overpoweringly lethal. Emerging from such conflict bloodied and victorious is a feeling that begs to be experienced.
Capitalizing on the monsters, the developers' designs and aesthetics for the gear are flawlessly astute, again showcasing the fact that Capcom consistently has some of the best artists and visual designers in the industry. For players who love loot, the addictive pull to see the next suit of clawed armor or a new bone-edged blade is an impossible lure to resist since such stuff not only improves the player's chances of survival, they're also visual representations of hard-won achievements. Serving both form and function, I have to admit that I became hopelessly drawn into some sessions solely for the purpose of mining that last piece of Machalite Ore for new greaves, or killing the mud-covered Barroth just one more time to craft a better lance.
(As a side note on design, I feel I must give Capcom special praise for their handling of female characters. Rather than taking the "metal bikini" route so popular with other titles, women's armor is every bit as functional and defensive as the male versions. It's a small thing perhaps, but one worth mentioning.)
Although I spent the majority of my time with Monster Hunter Tri in the offline campaign mode, I did join others for online cooperative questing. Much to my surprise, it was a very pleasant experience. The best decision Capcom made was to forego the insipid "Friend Codes" that make the Wii such a pain to deal with online. Instead, players can either join anyone already online, or can trade specific info to meet up with friends. Once online, the monsters are much tougher and require coordinated teamwork for victory. There are also exclusive items, quests, and all-new challenges that await players with a Wi-Fi connection, giving an already substantial game even more content. For me, this is probably the Wii's best online experience to date.
Monster Hunter Tri is most definitely not a game that will appeal to everyone, but it is by far the most polished, user-friendly and approachable entry in the series. That said, it still has much work to do before it can truly be seen as the top-tier title it so longs to be. Many people will spend an hour or two and walk away frustrated and disgusted, and they would be perfectly justified in doing so. However, those who can get past the game's problems and dig into the succulent meat beneath just might find that Tri satisfies a certain simmering hunger the way that few console games can.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Wii. Approximately 68 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 6 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, use of alcohol, and violence. Although there is no sexual content or salty language, I would have to say that the level of violence in the game is not appropriate for younger children. Putting aside the fact that the game can be brutally difficult, some of the larger monsters are actually quite frightening and imposing—easily the stuff of nightmares. Taking huge swords, axes and hammers to these beasts is a brutal affair. I would definitely recommend younger kids be steered away.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You should be aware that there are several types of audio cues which are not represented in any visual way. For example, upon entering an area holding a major monster, there's often a roar or shriek. Without being able to hear that cue, the player could easily be surprised by a very deadly foe. Also, several monsters give audio signals before executing certain attacks. I would imagine that hearing-impaired players would be at a bit of a disadvantage without hearing these signals. On the plus side, all dialogue is delivered through text, so players won't miss any information given by NPCs.
Started playing Monster Hunter Tri the other today. I won a free copy in a contest via Twitter (Thanks GameZone!) so I had it on hand, otherwise I probably wouldn't have gotten around to it until summer, or even later.
Why not? Well, if You've been keeping an eye on retail shelves, you might have noticed that there are an absurd amount of games coming out lately. I'm not talking about off-season shovelware stuff, I'm talking big-name, big-recognition titles. With all of these things to play and review, the usual slow period enabling me to go through the backlog and catch up on older things just hasn't materialized. I really hope things cool off over the next few months, though. If this pace keeps up and my backlog keeps growing at its current rate, I'll be able to sustain my gameplay habits until sometime in 2024 without ever buying another game.
Anyway, Monster Hunter Tri.
Back when Monster Hunter first appeared on the PlayStation 2, I can remember seeing one of the first trailers for it a few months before the game hit. At the time, it was utterly mindblowing and promised potential that players had only dreamed of. Even today, the trailer still looks extremely exciting and full of action.
Unfortunately, the reality did not match up to the level of action in that trailer. Stiff controls, a very steep difficulty curve and heavy emphasis on grinding for resources flew in the face of the tone set in that trailer, and I quit the game in disappointment pretty quickly. That said, the trailer never left my mind and I would often wonder when developers would tackle something like it.
Many have come close, or at least skirted it. Shadow of the Colossus is one that shares the scale, although not quite the same level of balls-out-ish-ness that's implied. (And don't get me wrong, I loves me some Shadow of the Colossus. This isn't a criticism.) Closer to what I was craving was Lost Planet, oddly enough, also from Capcom. The scale was great, it added mecha to the mix, and in general I was pretty satisfied with it, although it did not have the same fantasy- medieval tone. Despite these titles and a few others that have similar themes, none quite scratched the itch that the idea of Monster Hunter instilled in me. It's kind of absurd when you think about it, since the game that inspired this desire didn't even live up to the promise itself.
Now we come to Tri, the most recent (third) game in the series.
Despite having a deep suspicion that it was going to be more of the same, I was thrilled when I won the Twitter contest. I immediately began hoping against hope that Capcom had revamped the formula enough to win me over and finally provide the monster hunting experience I've been after. After putting in a few hours today I can say that it definitely feels better than it was, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm headed towards disappointment again.
Putting all issues about the Wii's hardware aside, the game still relies heavily on menus and resource procurement/management. For something seemingly all about giant swords and enormous reptiles, there's an awful lot of emphasis put on collecting things and leveling up equipment. Don't get me wrong, I'm no stranger to this stuff, but this all strikes me as a bizarrely disparate relationship between the reality of the game and its image. My eyes are telling me that this should be a high-octane, intense and action-packed title, but my hands are telling me that I'm mining for iron ore, farming small monsters for their pelts, and searching for rare mushrooms.
I certainly haven't given up yet and I will say that it was an enormous relief to get past the extended tutorial phase and start doing quests proper… tackling groups of large lizards and finally getting knee-deep in some combat was extremely welcome even if the action still feels completely stilted and slow. However, I'm starting to wonder how long it'll be before I hit a wall and need to straight-up grind in order to progress. I desperately want to like this game and finally be able to enjoy the kind of adventure Monster Hunter eternally promises, but I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, I'm headed for another heartbreak again.
There's been a strange turn of events this week.
I've been eagerly anticipating Red Dead Redemption for quite some time, and my copy finally arrived last Wednesday. I'm huge Western fan, and good Western games are incredibly few and far between, so it was dead center on my radar. I popped it in immediately upon arrival input about an hour into it before I had to go off and do other things. I thought I'd be totally on fire to get back to it ASAP, but here's that strange turn of events I mentioned:
As I was driving around taking care of some errands, my brain kept coming back to Monster Hunter Tri instead.
Since the last post, Monster Hunter Tri has undergone something of a shift. The first six hours or so that I spent with it were pretty slow and tedious. Painful, really. However, I'm a fan of big monsters and an even bigger fan of killing them, so like I said before, I set my mind to sticking with it. Shockingly, the dedication paid off.
Don't get me wrong, there are still a ton of things that need fixing or changing from a critical perspective. The game is nowhere near what it should be in comparison to current standards and norms in development, but the niche subject matter has a great appeal to me personally, and the developers have wisely included some new tweaks to the formula that helped stave off the grinding I was afraid was coming.
For example, players eventually gain access to a small farm that can reproduce important bugs or plants that are necessary for item creation. Players also can employ a fishing boat to go and harvest fish for resources, or to hunt for treasure to boost the player's bank account. Both of these things require minimal effort once they're unlocked, and are each a hell of a lot less painful than physically going out and collecting everything that's needed to craft weapons and armor. They are shortcuts, pure and simple, and Capcom was dead-on correct in adding them. Scouring FAQs has also provided some much-needed information shedding light on some of the game's more obscure elements, as well.
The end result of all this is that playing Monster Hunter Tri has gone from being boring and painful to being slightly faster in pace and a bit more action-packed. It's still not what it could be (or even what I would want it to be) but I am glad to say that I have been able to enjoy the game more than I expected to. This might turn out all right, after all.
(Oh, and I haven't been back to Red Dead yet.)
In it, I discuss my views on raising children in a house where parents play games, and why there's no inherent conflict in being a gamer and nurturing children at the same time. Click on over and see what I had to say on the subject if you're interested... it's a topic I feel very strongly about, and one that I'm not shy about discussing. Also, although I was the only one interviewed for the piece, I do want to say that my views are mirrored by my awesome gamer wife too… Raising kids is a team effort with us, and that certainly extends to our views on how games enter that picture.
In other news, I'm still putting time in on Monster Hunter Tri. I wasn't sure it was going to be worth the effort when I started, but I'm somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen hours deep now and I feel like I'm going to push through until the end. (Well, the end of the off-line single player mode, anyway.)
Progress so far has been interesting. The first six or eight hours were extremely slow, and then I hit a streak where I was knocking out one mission after another. That really did a lot to raise my morale, and taking down the Royal Ludroth after wasting an hour and getting timed out of the battle on my first attempt put even more spring in my step. That joy was short-lived, however.
Regardless of how well you prepare, it seems as though the first time you encounter a brand-new boss-caliber enemy, it's pretty normal to either get crushed or time out of the battle. I went up against the Barroth for the first time tonight, and despite coming loaded for a heavy assault, he still gave me the business. That definitely took the wind out of my sails, but I'll be back...
All that said, I am a little curious as to how often it will be required to earn a new set of armor before being tough enough to progress. Granted, a lot of it depends on player skill, but from what I've played so far, it seems like every time I made a big leap forward it was after crafting a new set of duds. It hasn't been all that painful up to this point, but I'm starting to creep into the big leagues now and the thought of "farming" some of these more lethal creatures is a little bit daunting, especially with some of the tricks required to harvest particular pieces.
One last little bit of games news, the good people at NIS released Viral Survival on Nintendo's WiiWare service today. I haven't laid hands on it yet, but there's a video here.
I don't know why, but I've always been fascinated with the "collect X things and make a chain" formula. Flicky is the first thing to come to mind, but Super Rub-A-Dub on PSN was a good one too. Viral Survival looks like a good time, and some of those extra modes look pretty decent.
I haven't taken the plunge, but if any of you readers have feedback on it, leave me a comment and let me know what you think of it.