The Monster Hunter series is one of those franchises that is huge in Japan, and yet rarely discussed in the western world. Not to say it doesn’t have its followers outside of Japan, it just doesn’t sell nearly as well, and for good reason: Monster Hunter is one difficult, time consuming, beast of a game.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is no different and people who checked out the demo either on the 3DS or Wii U eShop recently will understand that sentiment completely. It’s a bizarre experience to jump into a demo, be given little to no instruction and 15 minutes to track, hunt, and kill a monster with no health bar. Out of context, the demo didn’t really do the game any favours, but when you get a look at the bigger picture, there’s not much more they could have done.
You see, in the Monster Hunter franchise, the whole point of the game is to do what I mentioned above: track, hunt, and kill (or sometimes capture) monsters. Upon their death (or capture) you can utilise their hide, claws, tusks, frills, and other body parts to forge new weapons and armour, all so you can then head out and take on an even bigger monster. Rinse and repeat. It sounds boring, and, for those who don’t persevere, it very well could be. But for me, about 20 hours in, something clicked and I stopped playing it how I thought it was meant to be played, and started playing it how it was actually meant to be played.
It’s easy to play Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate how you think it’s meant to be played since there’s basically no tutorials or hand holding throughout the entire experience. I treated it like I would treat any other 3rd person action RPG. You’ve landed upon a small island, deserted save for a small settlement called Moga Village. Earthquakes have been getting more and more intense thanks to a giant monster called the Lagiacrus. The villagers realise that you’re a hunter and want you to take care of this beast, but they also know you’re not strong enough to do it yet. Thankfully they have a plague of monsters roaming their lands and soon enough they’re queuing up quests for you.
The quests you’re given fall into one of three categories: Hunt this, capture that, bring back some of these. They’re all very self-explanatory and they’re all vastly different quests. Thankfully, because the villagers know you’re not overly strong, they’ll only give you low level quests until you can prove yourself with a certain sized monster, allowing you access to the next tier of challenges. This is a great way to stop gamers from letting their ego take a hold, selecting a high level quest and despising the game because it’s too hard. We all know people that play like that.
So when I said it was easy to play the game how I thought it was meant to be played, I meant that I went straight to the Guild Sweetheart for a quest and planned on working my way through them. While you can go about the game this way, and you probably will for the first few hours, you’re undoubtedly overlooking a lot of what the game has to offer. First of all, there’s a free roam section of Moga Village (which also happens to be the first world your hunts will take place on) that you can venture onto and pillage for resources; take down some native wildlife, mine some rocks, catch some bugs, dig about for worms that’ll be used for fishing bait, or scavenge for herbs/plantlife.
Secondly, the armour and weaponry you have. Are you interested in upgrading those sooner rather than later? Maybe that 6th quest in the Level 1 tier will enable you to get a material needed for the improved helm. Maybe a venture into the free roam section will enable you to complete some villager’s requests to allow the further, and easier, growing of resources. Resources, in their MAAANY forms, are incredibly important to you as a hunter of monsters. Since they enable you to create potions, traps, special bullets/arrows, food, fishing bait, etc, they’re something you want to always be on top of. Thankfully, resource gathering is made easier by way of the farm and the fishing boats.
Once you complete a quest or two the farm opens up and you’re able to plant and grow different plantlife, mushrooms, honey, and bugs. This enables a lot, but not all, resource gathering to be a matter of simply checking in on your farm and deciding what to focus on next. Not everything can be created/farmed this way though, and you’ll still need to figure out where other more important (and therefore more rare) items can be found. There’s no hint system, there’s no encyclopedia that fills in as you collect stuff. If you stumbled upon something earlier then - 5 hours later - need 10 of them, you’re going to need to do some backtracking.
I haven’t even mentioned all of what can be done outside of the quests and it’s already eating up a lot of this review. The game is incredibly in depth, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by playing this game the way you’d play any other game. Even 30 hours in, I’m learning things about monsters that I thought I had completely sussed.
Since the game revolves around the monsters you’ll be encountering, it made sense that a lot of time and effort went into making the monsters look and feel like real creatures. The animations in this game are fantastic, and it’s obvious a lot of reference material was used to ensure they moved in a realistic manner. When combined with the beautiful pre-rendered animations, that intro only some of the monsters, you end up with dreams for what could have been.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is not a good looking game on the Wii U. It’s essentially an HD version of what you see on the 3DS, so the hardware is never truly being tested. Textures are incredibly low-res and it ends up looking like something you’d expect from the PS2 days, which in 2013 is not a good thing to see on a home console. Sadly, that’s not the only thing that feels dated. Camera controls are digital, so fine tuning is completely out and the way the levels are broken up means you’ll encounter a load screen every 10 - 15 seconds if you’re just traversing one of the many worlds you’ll be hunting in.
There really is no excuse for this poor implementation in an industry that solved the majority of these issues 5 - 10 years ago, and I can only assume it’s due to porting a 3DS title (with it’s single analog stick and smaller memory.)
But there is one pay-off for the two versions being damn near identical. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate allows you to save at any point on one console, and continue the experience on the other. So just because you need to head to work doesn’t mean you have to give up on hunting that Barroth you’ve just spent 10 minutes organising for. While I haven’t had the chance to test this feature out, I’ve heard it works flawlessly thanks to a small download on each system. It’s also possible to have one person playing on the Wii U join up with three 3DS users to go off and hunt together, which brings us into the multiplayer aspect of MH3U.
Despite the franchise not being as popular here as it is in Japan, the online lobbies are thriving. There is always a quest to join, and if you create your own room, you’ll have someone joining either before you select a quest, or before you finish your first solo quest. Voice chat can be enabled with a simple button press and the use of the mic on the gamepad, or if you prefer a button press brings up an onscreen gamepad keyboard. But nothing shows the flourishing online presence of MH3U more than the Miiverse community. There are new posts going up regularly, and there are even experts that seem to offer help on a regular basis. It’s the perfect game to show how great Miiverse can be.
The passion that a lot of Monster Hunter gamers have is proof that there’s something magical (or addictive) about the franchise and, despite being held back by some archaic restraints and flaws, once you hit the moment where it clicks it’s damn near impossible to put down. I started the experience open-minded, but even now, over 30 hours in, I’m planning my next moves, and I want to have just one more hunt before bed. I’ll be thinking about it tomorrow, and I may even purchase the 3DS version just to help progress that little bit further.
It’s not easy to say that you need to put a lot of time in to appreciate what’s happening in MH3U, but it’s true. If you’re after instant-gratification, if you expect to have it beaten and traded within a week, you won’t enjoy your time here. However, if you’re looking for something deep and significant, something that will eat away 100+ hours of your gaming life and still offer more, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is here and waiting.