Stop asking why. Why? Because Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is as it is, ok? Why? Because it’s been like this for a while and it’s doing pretty well for itself. Why? Because its often veiled face encourages communication, learning, understanding and mastery, that’s ‘why’.
That three letter word is an itch for anyone new to the world of Monster Hunter. Why is the combat so ‘stodgy’. Why is there no lock on. Why can’t I see a monster’s health. Why are all the cat people talking in constant, painful puns. There’s merit to asking these questions once in a while, the cat one in particular, but only through accepting what Monster Hunter is, instead of asking why it isn’t like other games, can one begin to appreciate its genius.
And I’m not going to mince words; Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is genius. Monster Hunter is an RPG that doesn’t deal in levels, with an online component that ignores classes and party composition. It’s a hack and slash that focuses on learned ability and timing over flashy, tedious combos that constantly pits you against bosses which trade health bars for organic observation. The reason Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate makes you ask ‘why’ so much is simply because Monster Hunter is a game that does everything exactly the way it wants, risking bemusement and contempt in the process.
So what is Monster Hunter? Why it’s a game in which you hunt monsters – a real Rubix cube of a title, I know. In all honesty the simplicity of the idea is its strength. You’re a hunter tasked by a small fishing village with taking down the mighty Lagiacrus, a water dwelling Loch Ness-like beast made of lightning and sharp teeth. Are you hunting it because it’s feasting on the village’s virgin maiden’s during every full moon? Not quite. You’re hunting it because it’s causing earthquakes that threaten the safety of the village; it’s in the human’s interest to drive it away. The whole game is a very barbarous hunter gatherer-like scenario that’s devoid of typical great evils. Monsters are hunted because they pose a threat by their nature, not because of some evil Blofeld-like aspirations.
If all that sounds familiar to you then you have played Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii, congratulations. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is that game with extensions built on every corner of its construction. New weapons, new beasties, new moves for the existing beasties, a new difficulty ‘tier’, a new hunting ground, sharp HD visuals and online play on Wii U and Streetpass amusement and local multiplayer on 3DS. Gameplay-wise Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is all very familiar, but more than enough has been buffered and expanded to lure back anyone that enjoyed the game the first time round.
For those that don’t ‘know’ Monster Hunter, let me reduce the experience to its most base explanation for you – Kill/capture large creatures for the acquisition of materials to employ in the creation of better armour/weapons which, in turn, shall facilitate the confrontation of larger monsters that, through expected design escalation algorithms, will lead to the creation of superior items with which to confront ever weightier creatures; repeat ad nauseum. Yet to explain Monster Hunter as such would be on par with describing BlazBlue as ‘a game where you hit the other chap/chapette/cat/blob until they falls over’, or Dexter as ‘a series about a serial killer serial killer’. No matter how accurate the description it fails to acknowledge the soul of the experience.
In Monster Hunter’s case the soul is the relationship between you and the gigantic beasties you’re tackling. The monsters of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate are living breathing things that the designers have gone to great lengths to animate and fill with life. Tackling any of these gigantic dinosaurs is never a one note situation as every encounter is filled with highs, lulls and moments of turmoil as the creature fights for its life. A beast will flail, becoming enraged, scavenge for food to regain its lost stamina and even attempting a retreat to its nest when things really aren’t going its way. These monsters don’t feel like simple polygon constructions thanks to this intriguing, reactive design.
Then there’s you and your weapon, of which Monster Hunter offers a variety. The Great Sword is a slow weapon that takes a while to swing at an enemy, demanding that you plan its swings very carefully, however in stark contrast to this sits the nippy hit and run tactics of the Dual Blades. Elsewhere the ranged Bow family allows you to keep a bit of distance as you chip away at a creature’s health but if you’re the sort that likes to get up in a monster’s face then the defence heavy, counter ready Lance will work better for you. Every armament has a unique style of play that takes a little bit of thought and practise to understand.
Then it’s a case of working out how to apply your weapon’s style to the monster at hand, analysing its tells and weak spots and concluding when it’s time to strike, and when it’s better to run away. The first time you fight a monster you’ll be thrown around and tossed aside like an unimpressive frock at a fashion sale, but through learning respect for both the creatures and your limits you will find greater success in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s twenty/thirty/forty minute fights that put most other ‘epic’ game encounters to shame (I’m looking at you, Skyrim).
Yet the tapestry of combat finds even more threads in the form of the game’s numerous items. From traps that you can use to ensnare a monster for a period of uninterrupted damage, to blinding grenades you can employ to bring a flying creature crashing, dazed, to the ground, to simple stat increasing tonics, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a game that rewards the prepared. Sure, this means you’ll need to go gathering some materials every once in a while, but it feels so satisfying to put your amassed knowledge, practise and effort into effect.
Doing all this on your own is fine, for a while, but Monster Hunter only gets better when you tackle its voracious beasties in multiplayer (online available on Wii U, local only on 3DS. Also, in case you didn’t know, the game lets you share a character between 3DS and Wii U should you own both copies). Here you and three allies must pool your collective abilities to fell creatures while trying not to be a hindrance to the team. Monster Hunter doesn’t harbour fools and this is no truer than in multiplayer, as the team works to a combined score card – one loose screw can break the whole cart. This could be annoying but instead it fosters communication and conversation, you’ll help each other get better so that you can succeed as a team.
And it is oh so satisfying to succeed. From clutch dodges to brave assaults, wince inducing hits and smart item use, every encounter in Monster Hunter, be it played with friends or not, is a tight tug of war with success and failure hinging on a pin where falls only fuel the hunger for victory. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate demands that you pay attention and that you judge your every move with care. If you read that and found yourself thinking ‘oh my, this game sounds like it requires a somewhat substantial and sustained concentration investment’ then you’d be correct, but that cognitive deposit is paid back with oodles of interest – the wave of relief felt upon the culmination of a tricky hunt is near euphoric. I’m almost certain that Monster Hunter could be a banned drug in several countries.
Fact is, there are plenty of damning things I could say about Monster Hunter. I could call its item management fiddly and old fashioned, for instance, but I’ve grown to enjoy its torrent of materials and items with the passion of an insatiable kleptomaniac. I could call its combat clunky, but I prefer to think of it as precise. I could call its underwater combat tricky, and I’d be absolutely right – that area of the game is admittedly awkward – and it can be annoying when a monster doesn’t drop that one item you need… Ultimately, though, I’ve stopped asking why, as the spectacle and satisfaction found in the games hundreds upon hundreds of hours are just too compelling and constantly surprising to resist. I must see the next creature, I must study and analyse them, and I must beat the ever increasing odds alongside my hunting buddies.
Once you stop asking ‘why’ Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate begins to transcend character meshes, polygons and reward loops and becomes something truly captivating – a game that can consume you with its combination of living enemies, involving gameplay, smart systems and borderline-terrifying breadth. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a game you may just come to love precisely for the designs that, at first, will raise your eyebrows in such frequent query.
To read more of James Bowden’s opinions, reviews, and be assaulted by copious references to tea, please do check out his fan-focused Nintendo site at www.Nintendo-Nation.net.
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