Monster Hunter 3 is the first entirely new game in the series to not appear on a Sony console. A modified version of the original Monster Hunter (for PS2) received a budget release in April 2009 and was accompanied by a playable demonstration version of MH3. MH3 was originally planned for the PS3, but Capcom decided to bring the game to the Nintendo Wii.
What is Monster Hunter?
As the name suggests, it's a game where the players hunt monsters, then use parts of said monsters to make new weapons and armour. Some people compare it to Phantasy Star Online. That's a good example, though MH is more involved than that. Both share a similar, third-person viewpoint and are limiting in how you attack Takahashi Meijin-style rapid button pushing doesn't get you anywhere. Attacks must be timed right to continue with a string of hits. As opposed to PSO, it's not the case that players repeat the same quest hoping for a red box which has a rare weapon in it, but instead they have to fight certain monsters to collect a number of a certain item to make or upgrade a weapon or piece of armour.
The play mechanic is essentially the same as previous games in the series with a few tweaks here and there. If there is something that can be scavenged off the floor, a question mark will appear above the player-character's head. Similarly, with insects and rocks, if the player has the appropriate item in their inventory, the same symbol appears and pressing 'A' uses the item. If they are not carrying either a pickaxe or net, whichever is usable, the symbol appears with a red cross through it, reminding the player to bring one next time. Previously, the right item had to be selected and then used. Now you just press 'A'. Isn't that a bit lazy? Perhaps, but it's also really handy it saves constantly chopping and changing between items.
A big inclusion in this game is the Hunter's Notebook. This is where the player can keep track of what to combine to make certain items, the names and details of monsters, what materials are needed to make their next piece of armour, etc., and helpful guides on controlling the game. Recording monsters in the notebook is not something particularly easy to do. The player must open their notebook then, irrespective of the control method being used, use the Wiimote to drag and drop the monster from the screen onto the image of the notebook in the bottom right-hand corner; whilst trying to dodge attacks at the same time. Making notes about required resources is done the same way, but is considerably safer. A special little sound, different to the normal one, plays once a noted material is collected, thus giving the player a +1 increase on their 'Yay' skill.
The character being controlled by the player is versatile enough that, with practice, monsters can be dodged and attacked with ease. Scrub that, only attacked with ease and only with experience. Dodging is far more hit and miss. Usually you get hit. The water-based battles are the most painful if in the wrong armour. The right armour will stop you from swimming like a tranquillized slug. Hey, how fast can most people swim while carrying a seven-foot samurai sword? Swimming is a MH3 first. It works. That bonus dimension of movement does add a little extra depth (*cough*) to the game. It'll even help dodge some attacks. Sometimes.
In Monster Hunter 3, there is a whole new 'free hunt' aspect to the single-player, offline mode. At any time, the player can leave the village and venture out onto the island to explore, gather materials, or just hunt. There is no time limit, so new hunters have a chance to get used to using their weapons and so learn the lay of the land. When doing this, points are accumulated according to what is caught/killed. More points are received for capturing a large monster than simply killing it. These points can then be used to send out fishermen to catch fish, get the farm cats to grow/catch/harvest something, or to pay for dinner. When the hunter reports back to the Village Elder's Son about what they've caught/killed, they receive a breakdown of where the points came from and some special items. These items are then used to either upgrade the boats/farm or to trade with the trader for other, otherwise unobtainable items.
As the player progresses through the available quests, larger monsters take residence on the island and can be met when out scavenging. The Elder's Son has information about what large monsters have been spotted or are rumoured to be around, and if there are unusual numbers of smaller monsters. This information is always available for the current day and the following two.
Offline, going out onto the island to hunt/gather or going off on a quest takes half a day. Upon returning, time will have passed and it'll have changed from day to night, or vice versa. This has a direct effect on what is needed on certain quests. For example, out in the desert instead of needing cooler drinks to stay cool in the day, the player needs hot drinks to stay warm. Oddly, there is no noticeable effect on what monsters are present.
'Chacha' is the name of the strange, little, masked creature who follows the player around and helps them fight monsters offline. Players familiar with MH2 may recognize him as one of those scary creatures that run around wildly swinging a meat cleaver. Here he is a useful friend to have around as he can be equipped with different masks and skills depending on what is going to be fought. Having him give you a kick when stunned or deafened can be a real help, though the mask that doubles as a twin-meatcooker is the most useful when the hunter's stamina has dropped and they're not carrying any food.
The Monster Hunter games are all about having the right equipment to deal with a particular monster and MH3 is no different. If a certain weapon doesn't cut it, so to speak, then it needs to be upgraded, or another one needs to be brought out. The weapons available at the start of the game consist of a choice between a long sword and a short one. Not much option there. As the player progresses they can make lances, crossbows, hammers and axes in all manner of styles and with a wide range of attack powers and elemental associations. All need resources and money to make or upgrade.
For those who haven't played any of the games in the series before, the monsters are really well modelled. Each has a personality and behaves a certain way. Some are afraid of fire, others aren't. The big monsters all get tired and go and eat or sleep to replenish energy. There are obvious signs of their physical states, be it drooling when tired, limping when almost dead, or the various ways each display the fact that they're angry. All are well presented and believably natural. Paying attention to these things can be very important to the quest being undertaken.
The fields in which the hunting takes places are beautifully crafted and all have very different atmospheres. From the snowy wind on the ice fields to the rivers of lava spewing out of the volcano, the detail put into the visuals is very good. The technical limitations of the Wii mean that it is not the High Definition masterpiece that it would have had to have been on the PS3, while at the same time perhaps that meant Capcom had more time to perfect the gameplay. The Monster Hunter games have always had breathtaking scenery and number three definitely delivers. It's a bit of a shame that many players will simply focus on getting the quest done and not stop to appreciate it.
There is an offline, two-player, split-screen arena where two hunters work together to take down a big monster in the fastest time possible. Rewards can be transferred to the single-player mode but are only money and special coins that can be used to make a certain set of armour. It's fine if there is another person to play with but doesn't really compensate for a player not being able to take the game online and play with others.
Both online and offline modes have a similar star-based rating system for quests. Offline quests range one to five stars, and online ranges one to six stars. The stars reflect the difficulty of the quest, although offline five-star is equivalent online three-star. Why? Because hunters have to work as a group to beat them! Online, the game is split into two classes, higher and lower. Lower hunters are the ones with a Hunter Rank (abbreviated to HR) of 30 or less. Missions available to lower hunters are easier, and rewards are identical to what is received in offline mode. For the higher hunters, more difficult missions are available which reap better rewards. This includes materials otherwise unobtainable but necessary for certain upgrades. It's more than just that, though: anyone who believes that it's as much fun to play alone is kidding themselves and won't play it for anywhere near as long as those who play it online the way it was meant to be played.
Monster Hunter games are famed for their steep learning curve which puts off many players. Capcom seem to have dealt with that and (to this reviewer at least) have made a slightly easier game when compared to Monster Hunter Portable 2ndG/Freedom Unite and especially Monster Hunter G on the Wii. This apparent change in difficulty level is not for the worse and should mean more people can get into and enjoy this game.
It has to be said that the quests lack variety. Go here. Kill/capture monster. Do it again for a different monster. Do it again for in a different place. How much variety could there be? Employing alternative tactics, using unfamiliar weapons, trying out new armour, this is part of what makes the same quest different. Changing weapon type can make a huge difference. The wrong armour will see the player die much faster. Practice makes perfect. The collecting urge drives players to upgrade again, and then they see how powerful the next upgrade will be and have a new target. Possibly the most fantastic and different quests in the game involve four players online fighting one colossal monster. After all the running and fighting and healing and dying that has been done so far in the game, it's such a sudden change. A welcome break from what was normal that suddenly rejuvenates what was enjoyable about the game. Still, when the biggest monster has been beaten, the best armour and the strongest weapon have been made, the game will probably gather dust on the shelf. That's reality. And 150+ hours of playing down the road.
So what does Monster Hunter 3 have to offer gamers? Tricky game in single player, but not impossible by any means. Countless possibilities for strategy and teamwork when played online. Either way it is played, the victory over a huge monster after a forty-minute battle, and then discovering a new series of armour, etc. that can be made from its parts is the sugar that keeps the player coming back.
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