Posted May 25th 2010 by Oliver Chen.
Simply put, Monster Hunter is a series of games about the thrill of the hunt. More specifically, taking down a gigantic dinosaur, then displaying your trophy to the rest of the world by wearing its head as a hat. While the series has garnered Pokémon levels of fanaticism on the PSP in Japan, the games have yet to achieve the same level of success in the Western world. The latest entry in this six-year series of games, Monster Hunter Tri for the Nintendo Wii, represents Capcom's latest efforts at striking it big in America and Europe. Despite an extended tutorial and single-player experience, the style of play that Monster Hunter Tri offers just will not appeal to everybody. Those who stick with it, however, will find a complex but rewarding gameplay experience.
Taking place in vaguely prehistoric times, Monster Hunter Tri revolves around an organization called the Guild sending off teams of hunters to track down monsters. The game is mission-based, and fields are generated for each gameplay session rather than being a persistent MMO-style world. Quests fall into three broad categories: kill a certain number of monsters, capture a monster, or deliver items. While a strict limit of fifty minutes is placed on most missions, this is more than enough time to finish the main quest as well as any secondary objectives. As players complete quests, they unlock tougher challenges, more monsters to hunt, and new areas to explore.
Unlike most RPGs, players don't level up in Monster Hunter Tri – rather, all increases in stats and skills come from forging and upgrading equipment. This doesn't mean that the game is devoid of grinding, however. When players aren't grinding quests repeatedly to gain ranking points, they're killing monsters over and over again for rare monster parts to make equipment. Couple that with a luck-based system that doesn't guarantee certain items will drop, and players may spend a long time doing the same thing over and over again. The action aspect of Monster Hunter Tri makes things a little more exciting than staring at spreadsheets all day, fortunately.
Some of the obviously-planted vistas look really pretty.
Since there are no classes, players are free to choose a single weapon and armor loadout before each mission. Monster Hunter Tri offers a large assortment of weapon types, each with its own unique gimmicks and controller layout. The Sword and Shield, for example, allows players to use healing items without requiring them to first unsheathe their weapon, while the Longsword forces players to continuously dish out combo attacks in order to keep a "Spirit Gauge" filled. While the nuances of each weapon type require some degree of practice to master, most people will learn these quirks just by using a weapon continuously. This diversity in weapon and armor combinations creates a variety of gameplay situations and ensures that no two hunters are exactly alike.
Particular mention needs to be made for the Bowgun weapons. Despite their name, these weapons act more like "spells" than "gunners" in battle due to their long effective range and large variety of secondary effects such as rapid-fire or poison. Not only do Bowgun users require their own separate set of Gunner armor to wear and method for crafting weapons, they must also purchase or buy all ammunition before each mission, and reload their guns after spending a clip or switching ammo. I was never a fan of these "alchemy"-based systems in RPGs, although the prevalence of cheap or easy to find ammo materials makes managing bullets a little easier than most games do. This ammunition issue along with gunners' need to stay far away from enemies makes them extremely difficult to learn to play, and relegates them primarily to support status when playing online. The strange segregation between melee and ranged weapon types, particularly the need for seperate armor, makes the game feel like it discourages players from trying out Bowguns.
New to the Monster Hunter Tri series is underwater battles. Normally, 3D underwater movement in games is a gigantic pain in the ass, but Monster Hunter Tri makes it an almost pleasant experience. This is due to an apparently large leeway in underwater hitboxes, an inhumanly long oxygen gauge, and neutral buoyancy while in the water. However, tying camera orientation with movement direction can lead to some embarrassing moments. The fact that fighting underwater doesn't make me want to bloody my head against a wall is a major success in itself, though.
Of course, the namesake of the series, hunting monsters, makes up the bulk of the experience. While a total of eighteen monsters doesn't sound like much, the effort necessary to prepare, learn, hunt, and master each beast is more than enough to occupy oneself. Each titanic monster looks like it could fit right at home in the latest summer blockbuster and posesses a unique variety of behaviors – the Qurupecco, a twenty-foot bird of paradise with a pelican-like throat sac, is able to call other monsters to its aid, while players will have to deal with the leech-like Gigginox's twin heads and poisonous spit. Hunters must learn these various quirks and attack patterns if they are to succeed; otherwise they will spend most of their time getting tossed around and being a failure at life.
Nothing gets your heart racing like facing things that should outright eat you for lunch.
Monsters have a variety of dynamic hitboxes, and players can break off specific body parts by smashing them repeatedly with a weapon. This has the effect of weakening monster attacks that use that body part (a tail swipe, for example and rewards players with rare parts at the end of the battle. While monsters don't have visible health bars, they do display visuals signs of fatigue as the fight wears on – they may trip over themselves instead of charging into you or run away to a different area to eat and sleep. At this point, players can opt to capture the monster instead of outright killing them, which nets greater rewards than a K.O. would. Only one trap for capturing can be set at a time, though – while this limitation is understandable to make capturing a more difficult task, being unable to disarm an already-set trap leads to frustrating moments when the monster runs away to a different area instead of falling into the trap.
After a few missions, hunters will begin to run into monsters that are palette swaps of previous ones. In most games this would be seen as lazy design by the developers, but these monsters have attack and movement patterns different enough from their siblings to keep things exciting. This is one aspect in which the game outshines many others in terms of plain fun – learning monster behaviors from failed mission attempts, planning armor and weapon sets for future outings, then finally succeeding at what once seemed impossible is a completely engrossing experience and will keep you coming back for more.
Monster Hunter Tri features an offline mode much more fleshed out than in previous Monster Hunter titles. You, the hunter, arrive at Moga Village to deal with their fish problem – the fish being Lagiacrus, a lightning-producing sea serpent blamed as the source of several earthquakes that have been plaguing the region. Single-player features a lengthy tutorial section introducing fresh hunters to everything Monster Hunter has to offer – once players begin embarking on actual missions about an hour after the start of the game, even the newest of newbies will have a basic grasp on the controls.
Offline mode compensates for the lack of party members with a little dude named Cha-Cha – some sort of partner that follows you around everywhere, gathering materials, casting buffs, and drawing monster attention away from you. Aside from this, the village also offers a smattering of item micromanagement. Players can literally farm useful items, such as potions, honey and seeds, which are useful both online and off. They can also hunt monsters and gather materials on the Deserted Island map without having to worry about a time limit.
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