Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Players: 1-4 (ad hoc on 3DS, online on Wii U)

Rating: Teen (Blood, Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence)

Platform Reviewed:  3DS

Monster Hunter is a fairly well known series by this point.  It has seen 12 releases across six different platforms, and a 13th game is on the way.  Even Japan's "Samurai Blue" Soccer Team played Monster Hunter in their downtime before their big win over Australia to take the Asian Cup in 2011.  So it's a pretty well known and well established franchise.  Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate came out in time to be a part of the Wii U launch lineup, and included a release for its handheld sibling, the 3DS.  But how does it hold up in the realm of giant monsters?

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate takes place in a fishing village, known as "Moga Village."  As a member of the Hunter's Guild, you will be hired to take on quests.  Some quests involve gathering a particular item, others involve hunting or even capturing giant monsters.  Use of the word giant is no understatement.  Some monsters are outright huge! Take this guy, for example:

Lagiacrus, the lord of the seas.  It's a serpent-like monster, and one of the first major bosses players will encounter.  It averages a whopping 26 meters long, nose to tail.  Converting to imperial, that comes out to 85 feet!  It's a true "David and Goliath" experience, if something like that even exists nowadays.

Rathalos: Big. Bad. Mojo.
The variety of monsters available to hunt is actually really impressive.  There's bear-like monsters like the Arzuros and Lagombi, Wyvern-like monsters like the Rathalos, Rathian, and Qurupeco, and serpent monsters like the Lagiacrus shown above. It's really neat to see the level of detail in some of the monsters players hunt.  Each one has their own quirks, their own style of fighting, that one can easily spend hours studying how these monsters react.  It's really quite fascinating.

As players slay various monsters, they carve up the corpses to make weapons and armor.  This, amongst other things, is probably the biggest draw to Monster Hunter.  Some of the weaponry, like this great sword made from Azure Rathalos parts, shown below.  They have a real beauty to them.  In a sense, they are their own unique trophies; signs of accomplishment for felling a beast larger than the hunter.  But not only that, they are works of art in and of themselves.

It's really quite amazing.  Every weapon has their own "tree" of possible weapons that can be built from it. Not only that, but every weapon serves a different purpose.  This is especially true when playing multiplayer with friends.  Ideally, everyone will take a different weapon and help each other out in the process.

In addition to building weapons and armor for looks and power, there are other reasons for having multiple sets of weapons and armor.  Chief among these reasons is having sets for different elemental attack and resistance values.  Some armor, like the Lagiacrus set, for example, give higher resistance to Thunder element attacks, but leave the hunter more vulnerable to fire element attacks, much like the stats of the monsters slain to make said armor.  Armor sets will also unlock skills, which allow for a wide degree of customization.  There's skills for just about everything.  The Ranger skill will show the entire map from the get-go, without having to use up an inventory slot.  The Trap Setter skill will speed up the time needed to set up a trap.  The Glutton skill increases the amount of stamina gained by eating food in the field.  And these are just a few examples of some of the side options.

Using a full set of armor from a particular monster is more likely to give the hunter a set of skills to work with.  However, they can also add drawbacks, as well.  The Barroth armor will make you more hungry in the field.  Hunters with the hunger debuff have to eat more often to keep their stamina bar up.  This isn't always a bad thing, either.  By using charms and decorations, players can add skills to their setup to try and mitigate the effects of debuffs.  Going back to the barroth example, a player can equip a decoration that gives +2 to hunger to offset the -10 that the armor, thereby negating the debuff.  It's kind of fascinating and really provides options for customization.

This is the other really bright point of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and Monster Hunter games in general.  The multiplayer forces coordination and teamwork against monsters that are much tougher than the single player campaigns.  Fighting off a Rathian solo becomes much tougher when it's a 4 vs 1 fight.  Ms. Rathian is more likely to fight back and be far more relentless than she would be in the solo campaigns.

For those that own both the Wii U and 3DS versions of the game, it's possible to transfer the save file between the two systems.  While this option was untested for this review, the instructions for accomplishing this task are confusing at best, and it's really meant for permanent transfer, not a temporary on-the-go move.  It would have been really awesome if Capcom made it easy to transfer between the two consoles for those that want to take their home hunting on the go.

Online gameplay is available for Wii U owners of the game.  3DS hunters are limited to an ad hoc experience only. And yet, there is a way around this.  Capcom has set up an app in the Wii U store that acts as a passthrough for 3DS gamers to play Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate online.  It works, but like all promises of awesome action, it's rather difficult to implement.  This is probably the one glaring issue with the 3DS version of the game.  The 3DS is online capable, and all the infrastructure is there.  One would think this would be a simple inclusion, but for whatever reason, Capcom left it out.

The other major problem is that Monster Hunter games in general rely heavily on grinding the same quest over and over to get enough items to build a particular set of armor or weapon.  Some monsters are fun to fight, others, not so much.  For those that don't like games that force players to grind, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate might not be a good choice in that regard.  And really, players are just grinding for gear so they can fight the next big, bad, scary monster.  When that one falls, another bigger, scarier monster is there to provide the next goal.  In that sense, there's really not a whole lot going for the game.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a lot of fun, real easy to dive into, yet there's so much available to do.  The multiplayer component is fantastic, and even with its drawbacks, it's difficult to not recommend picking up this game.  Also, look to the future for Monster Hunter 4, due out next year.  There are already some teaser trailers out for it, and it's looking like it will be as awesome as its predecessor.

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