Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – Review
There aren’t that many awesome jobs in the realm of videogames when you think about it. Once all the occupancies for royally-appointed plumbers, grizzled army dudes and troubled anti-heroes on the quest for redemption are filled up, hopefuls need to look towards the less ideal positions: zombie, bottomless hole digger, Pyramid Head’s fluffer. For some, Capcom’s latest vacancy might sound like a dream come true; after all, who wouldn’t search the land for gigantic monstrosities and bring their carcasses back for a reward and the adoration of others? Well it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.
The action starts after a major earthquake strikes, and, suspecting foul play, the village elder sends you out to develop your skills as a hunter so that one day you’ll be strong enough to take down whatever behemoth he suspects is behind it. Beyond this, there’s no real plot to speak of; you’ll set out on quests, hunt monsters, be rewarded, stock up on supplies and then head out all over again. So, once you’ve designed your character from a variety of stock faces, hairstyles and voices – the latter of which surprised me when I discovered that there’s no spoken dialogue, just grunts and yowls of pain – you’ll be sent off to explore the nearby Moga Woods in your early steps to become the village saviour.
It’s at this point that the journey to becoming a master hunter turns divisive. From the beginning you’re given the bare minimum of guidance, with only a short explanation of the controls and mechanics at hand in a dialogue box before you set out into the world. For those who don’t like having their hands held, this may come as a welcome change, but for those new to the series will be left wanting for instructions on how to play most effectively and may take a while to acclimatise. It wasn’t until my second attempt at the opening levels that everything started to click in and fall into place, and it helps to memorise or write down the controls early on, or you may be left struggling.
As a port to the Wii U you’d expect the Gamepad to play a role in proceedings, and rather than force a load of unnecessary features into the mix for the sake of the fledgling console, the device is used as much as the player wants it to be. Opting to place all of the regular HUD features like health and items on the touch screen instead of the main screen allows the player a refreshingly clear playing screen, and the placement of these can be manipulated on the touch screen to suit the player. On top of the new control method (though players can use the pro controller if they’re particularly adverse to the gamepad) there’s also the fact the graphics have been revised to make the transition into HD, but it doesn’t make the action any prettier to look at. Allowances should be made as it was originally made for the Wii, but even then it doesn’t reach the prettiest levels the underpowered system could manage, so you can be forgiven for thinking it looks a bit Playstation 2 at points (with some of the faces a bit Playstation 1 if you wanted to be particularly mean). Beauty definitely isn’t everything, and while you’ll find it does have a great sense of scale and some of the monsters are uniquely designed, it certainly shows its age more than a little.
While the opening leaves a lot to be desired in easing you in to the basic mechanics, it does excel is in the way it allows you to grow accustomed to the myriad of weapons that the player can use in their quest, from the standard sword and shield to giant lances, gun-blades and even a musical hunting horn. The weaker monsters make for easy fodder to try out each weapon and discover the ones that best suit your style, and you’re not even fixed to the path that you start on, as every weapon is available from the start and can be upgraded as new materials are gathered from plants, bugs and the monsters you lay waste to.
For example, I found myself starting off with the already equipped great sword, a weapon so massive that it makes Cloud Strife’s legendarily oversized Buster Sword look like a cocktail sausage in comparison. While the great sword was immensely powerful in the early stages, it soon lost favour as it took too long to swing and would often barely miss enemies thanks to the lack of a targeting system. Soon, experimentation abounded until I found a more suitable set-up with the duel blades, trading powerful blows that’d take seconds to initiate for swift attacks that afforded plenty of agility. Each weapon has its own idiosyncrasies and, indeed, a lot of the initial learning curve comes from learning their quirks and how they alter the way you approach battle.
You’ll need to figure this all out sooner or later once the initial missions have been completed as soon you’ll have to report to the Guild Sweetheart, who’ll start giving you ranked quests that affect your status with both the Guild and the villagers around you. As your status grows, you’ll soon be expected to take on more dangerous quests, though thankfully you don’t have to complete every one in each difficulty boundary before you’re able to move on to the next ranking. You’ll be afforded some variety with these quests, but eventually you’ll realise they can be categorised as “Explore this area”, “Collect X amount of Y” or “Fight this monster”. The latter two throw up a single variant each, with the collection quests sometimes making you carry giant objects that break and disappear as soon as you draw a weapon or get hit, and the actual hunting quests occasionally asking you to simply capture the monster instead of killing it, but even then there’s a very scant amount of variation to the tasks you’ll be performing.
If you find yourself in need of a break from questing, there’s still plenty to do around the village to help it recover from the recent earthquakes; villagers will give the Elder’s son requests that you can choose to fulfil by expending your resource points and some of the items you pick up on your journeys. Resource points can be collected in one of two ways, either by converting some of your items into points, or by heading off into the woods and hunting the monsters that inhabit it. Any monsters you kill in the woods when you’re not questing will give you resource points, with minor foes only relinquishing one or two, while the boss monsters that begin to roam the area will provide you with triple-digit figures.
If you’re lacking some of the items you need to achieve these requests you can always pay a visit to the farmer or the fisherman, both of whom will get to work while you’re out questing – the former allowing you to multiply whatever resources you give them while the latter will send ships out to look for more. Every so often a trader will come in, allowing you to get rid of your non-craftable items in exchange for far more useful ones – mostly tools to assist players to capture additional bugs, ores or fish when they’re out in the field. There’s the impression of a bustling ecosystem present, but for the most part they’re not mandatory and so unless you’re in dire need of something in particular their usefulness can vary.
When making your way through the ranks you’ll eventually come across Cha-Cha, a member of the Shakalaka who’ll soon become your sidekick throughout your solo questing. At first, he’s quite weak and will back out of battles fairly quickly, but as he levels up so too will his valour, allowing him to stay in the fight longer before fleeing to recover his health. Cha-Cha will also perform a series of dances – though these are randomly chosen if you don’t pick them yourself – that will provide you with various buffs throughout your many skirmishes, meaning he’s more than just an oft-talking nuisance in the corner of your screen for the most part.
Starting with an acorn head, the Shakalaka can be built new masks that will alter his behaviour, fighting style and special abilities. For example, the grill mask will change him from an aggressive type to a more supporting role on top of allowing you to cook twice the amount of raw meat you collect from monsters, while the fluffy mask will allow him to track larger monsters but will encourage him to flee from battle more often. Knowing what mask is best isn’t the be-all and end-all of combat, but it helps to understand the behaviours each one will bestow so that you’re not relying on him to act in a certain way when the pressure’s on.
Outside of all the little distractions like maintaining the village, fishing and mining, you’ll be spending most of your time being the titular Monster Hunter, as most of the quests require you to either kill or capture the various monsters that populate the world. However, when it came to battling the biggest nasties was when I often found myself having the least fun. Despite having so many different varieties of weapons, combat often feels quite janky and irritating, and even when you’re using weapons that don’t require swings it feels quite cheap and occasionally unfair. Without a way to target individual enemies, players have to rely on hoping the analogue stick is at the precise angle, with some of the larger weapons requiring more precision than you’d initially figure, and even the quicker weapons can leave you flailing if you’re not careful.
Once you’ve overcome that obstacle you then have to deal with the natural deterioration of your weapons, and despite some of them being horrendously dangerous pieces of metal they often seem to crumble quicker than a double-dunked biscuit in a mug of tea. As the battle continues the weapon will only become more blunt, and this reduces the damage and also the amount of body parts you can attack on the more dangerous foes, forcing you to run away, sharpen your blade and replenish your health. The issue that comes from this is that it often feels like petty micromanagement and seriously breaks up the flow of battle when you stop every couple of minutes through factors that feel outside of your control.
This is compounded by the fact that all of the bosses can flee the battles themselves at a moment’s notice, and once they decide to turn tail there’s nothing you can do to stop them from leaving and re-emerging on another part of the map. You can trace their movements using paint-balls that reveal their location on the map, but these will often wear off midway during the mission and by the time you’ve noticed they’ve buggered off again, so if you’re not having to pause to fix yourself up then you’re running around playing a game of chase that needlessly prolongs the action, especially when some of the particularly cruel battles can take up to forty minutes of needlessly mashing the X button until the creature in front of you dies. Granted, weapons have alternative attacks, but for the most part these focus more on area assaults rather than one enemy, so if you want to do the most damage then you need to keep hammering X until your thumb goes numb.
While forty minutes is occasionally a worst-case scenario, there’s the possibility that you’ll be felled midway through the quest, and while you can continue up to three times per mission you’ll often want to just restart the save and try again – as failure reduces the prize money and puts you at a greater disadvantage if you emerge victorious – so some bosses can take what feels like forever to vanquish. Making this harder is that a lot of the monsters are full of cheap attacks that seem to hit you whether you want them to or not, and I lost found of the amount of times I’d rolled out of the way only to still get hit or an enemy improbably knocking me down with a charge despite me attacking their legs – not their head – less than a second earlier.
Later monsters can also spam moves that leave the hunter dazed – forcing you to frantically tap all of the buttons until all the stars swimming around their head disappear – as well as hit the player several times from differing attacks before they’ve even recovered from the first. Then, using an item to heal yourself leaves you completely exposed unless you leave that area of the map completely, as the animation cycle for any form of healing or weapon-sharpening activity improbably takes far longer than it does for the hulking behemoth du jour to knock you for six yet again. Your only saving grace is often the presence of the aforementioned Shakalaka, who saved me because the enemy decided to attack him instead – giving me vital time to recover – far more than he did through any of his spells or dances. Finally, because the map is segmented there’s also the surprisingly likely case that the hunter will be hit so hard they’ll fall through a loading screen and land in another location on the map.
All this is before we even get to capturing; after you kill a boss, you’ll often be tasked with going through the entire battle again – albeit in a different location – and bringing the monster in alive. The major issue with this is that not only are all of the regular problems still present, but because enemies have no health-meter figuring out the optimum moment to bring them back alive tends to descend into guesswork. Before each mission the Guild will provide you with a multitude of tools to help ease the process, but if you don’t have the materials to make your own traps and tranquillisers then there’s only one shot to take the beast down, so if they fall into the trap and the tranquillisers don’t work – or even worse, miss – then there’s no recourse but to either restart the quest from scratch or kill it and risk a penalty.
A monster limping away can prove to be the biggest sign that it can be captured, but even then there’s an undetermined amount of button-mashing to do between a limping foe and one that can be captured, and getting the balance right without leaving it strong enough to resist capture or accidentally killing it will prove to be unnecessarily difficult. The thing is, one you get into a groove you’re comfortable with the combat can actually be really satisfying and the ever-ticking clock stops becoming an omnipresent threat, but the action stops and starts so much, especially in the later stages, that finding that sweet spot gets that little bit harder.
It’s great to have a title that doesn’t mollycoddle the player and hand everything to them on a plate, but all too often Monster Hunter doesn’t leave enough on there to keep newcomers nourished or cared for enough to encourage them to continue. It just seems like such an odd attitude to take on considering that they’ve gone to such effort to add extra quests, greater multiplayer support and even ported it to the 3DS as well and allowed players to transfer their save between both the portable and Wii U versions. With all the effort they’ve gone to add more, they’ve added very few concessions for those who’ve never played a title in the series before and haven’t made efforts to fix the myriad of off design decisions. There’s a roundabout way of dealing with a lot of the issues present, but these can take a while to discover and even longer to make viable, yet it doesn’t excuse the fact that the problems exist in the first place and it seems like no opportunities were taken to fix them.
In its greatest moments it’s fully understandable why it’s such a popular series in Japan, but there seem to be just as many points where it starts to show its age, and it doesn’t do so gracefully. With every positive you can level at Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate there seems to be a negative to balance it out, and while it’s far from a fantastic title it’s no closer to the scrap-heap either. For every player who falls in love with its complexity, depth and challenge there’ll be just as many who are immediately turned off by the cheap boss battles, baffling design choices and obtuse nature.Pros
- Large variety in play-styles allows a great level of depth and complexity if you choose to delve deeper
- Port translates well to the Wii U thanks to the way the Gamepad is used
- Can be easy to lose hours at a time playing without realising once you've found your groove
- Multiplayer does plenty to liven up otherwise dull and prolonged fights
- Often ugly with a jarring camera that often obscures the action during battle
- Odd design decisions throughout and cold attitude towards newcomers
- Little variety in quests leads to repetition very quickly
- Occasionally cheap and frustrating boss monsters that can take seemingly forever to fell
- Combat struggles to maintain a decent flow and can feel quite dragged out playing solo
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a title full of weird contradictions, janky mechanics and often frustrating and repetitive missions, but sometimes it's so easy to get lost in the rhythm that some of those flaws start to melt away. I occasionally found myself playing until the batteries in my Gamepad died, yet there were just as many times that I found myself rage-quitting after spending ages chipping away at a monster only to lose out due to increasingly cheap and drawn-out battles. It's baffling that despite taking great care to port it over and increase the amount of content that there are so many flaws and odd design decisions permeating this title.
Still, there's a massive amount of depth for those who are willing to throw themselves into the world of Monster Hunting, but for every person ready to dive right in there'll be someone who'll find themselves unwilling to do anything more than wade.
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