Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the best entry in the franchise and a great place to start if you've never played them.
Let's get this out of the way first. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does not contain any story. You arrive in a village and are tasked to help rebuild the locale by slaying terrifying monsters and harvesting resources. A title such as Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate doesn't need to limit its scope to a plot being a piece of scripted gameplay, movie-style cutscenes, written text or dialogue. It's one of a select few video games that exist in this day and age that spawns a story through the experiences that people acquire over the course of the game, alone or with friends, when participating in hunting down one of the game's many memorable beasts. Through failure or success, this game will get people talking about their adventures in the vast lands of Monster Hunter.
Nintendo's Wii system was the last console to receive a Monster Hunter title that was translated. It was named Monster Hunter Tri, since it was the third generation of the series. Think similar to Pokémon, where normally a generation includes two colours, then a third entry later before moving onto the next generation of critters. This is the same for Monster Hunter, with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate being, as the title would suggest, the ultimate version of the third entry. This is no marketing ploy to make the game sound better than it is, as there is truth to the title's name. Publishers are usually fine with sprinkling a few extras here and there, and finishing it at that, but Capcom has gone the extra mile to pull in fans that played the 100 hours plus content that was in Monster Hunter Tri.
Throwing out some numbers, 3 Ultimate contains 73 monsters, where Tri featured only 35. What is even more exciting is that the additions are mostly large beasts, which is where a lot of the thrilling fights happen. When you match the numbers with Tri's 18 large monsters to 3 Ultimate's 51, you kind of see how much you are getting extra. A lot of the new monsters are from an unreleased PlayStation Portable game called Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, but since that never saw the light of day outside of Japan, having all these new monsters is close to feeling like having a different game. It doesn't stop there, as including these fresh meats means that 211 new quests were added, bringing the total to 339, along with over 1,000 new weapons and over 1,000 new pieces of armour. It's jam packed with content that will last you three times as long as the Wii entry. If that's not one of the best examples of adding new content to an existing game, then I don't know what is.
Monster Hunter has been notoriously known as a game that is hard to get in to, and that is true to some extent. People interested in the title need to play without any misconception, as thinking the game is all-out action with a giant sword will give anyone a rude awakening. Combat is slow, stiff, and far more realistic that you might expect. In essence, Monster Hunter is the definition of a methodical video game. Rushing in only leads to death, so one must study a creature's behaviour before fully being able to take them down. The problem is the game doesn't give enough information to introduce new players. A small tutorial and easier mission structures at the beginning of the game help, but newcomers expecting a full explanation of mechanics and features will have to read a guide or get help from friends to fully understand. This is a title with incredible depth, and even after nine years on from the originalMonster Hunter, none of the copycats that try to take advantage of the success have managed to clone what makes Monster Hunter so appealing – the way it feels.
From the get-go the depth is evident, as the game offers twelve weapon types to use, all which handle drastically different. There are no classes in the game, but the weapons act as the determining factor on how the hunter attacks. Using the series' trademark great sword means your attacks are slow, but do huge damage on each swing in exchange for the lowered agility of carrying such a huge slab of metal. Prefer speed instead? Then go for the dual blades or sword and shield. If you prefer shooting, you can use the bow or the gunlance to hit prey from afar. There is a weapon here for everyone, and even if you get bored of one type, you can simply make another to experiment with. It's a shame that not all are explained well, making some weapons appear harder to use when in fact they aren't At least the game is open to players switching around armour and weapons freely to experiment, mainly due to equipment coming with enhancements that are beneficial to exploiting weaknesses of monsters, which plays a very important part in the challenging G rank missions in the latter half of the game.
The "thrill of the hunt" is a perfect phrase that sums up participating in a quest. Each monster has its own distinctive behaviour, and watching how monsters move and how they attack is always a place of discovery on the first encounter. Unlike many games, every monster battle feels like a fight for life, with earlier monsters, such as the Great Jaggi, a dinosaur-esque creature that's a bit bigger than your character, taking from five to ten minutes to put down, to the massive Uragaan, that will take twice as long to fall and is more of a challenge, due to its aggressive nature and stone-like jaw that it loves to pummel hunters with. Visuals and sounds are used to determine what is coming next in an attack, but animations are also used to display the beast's HP – there are no health bars – so looking out for the monster limping is the sign that it is in a weaken state and is close to death, or if your quest is to capture, then the signal to lay a trap and tranquillize it.
Progression requires the upgrade of weapons and armour to take more hits or deal more damage on the tougher hunts. However, with no level system in place, this is done by using the items you gain from successfully finishing quests and carving the remains of hunted animals. It will involve grinding the same quest to gather enough materials, be it from living creatures or plants and herbs, which are used to make potions and buff inducing drinks, but that's where the multiplayer comes in to take away some of the grind and offer the best time with the game. I prefer to look at it as the single player aspect that trains your soul with the monsters, preparing you with fights so that you don't let your party down when you enter the real deal – the multiplayer, which makes up most of the game's total quests.
Online comes with its own set of quests that are made for multiple people, since monsters are buffed up with more health to compensate for four hunters. To access the online section, players need to join from the single player's hub and connect to a world, then a lobby (which can handle up to 100 players), then finally join a room or create your own. The tavern area allows for a small dose of rest and recuperation as players wait for hunters to join in. In this area, you can eat food to buff your hunter for the next quest, buy items, access your items and equipment, which is handy when you need to switch gear aimed at specific monsters through the equipment set save system. The game makes it easy to add companions to a friend list and see when they are online, perfect for anyone who has a close group of friends who hunt together.
Moving the action to the field and seeing how other people are geared out is fascinating. Weapons you think are terrible might, in the hands of the right player, far better than you anticipated. I watched one dude work his magic with the bagpipes, a weapon that hits somewhat like a hammer, but allows the user to also play music to buff party members close by. For me, that weapon is like a no-go area; it just doesn't click with me, but I am sure some other people think that about the switch axe or the dual blades. Playing 3 Ultimate with a full party is a testament to the detail and depth that has gone into making this game excel at its trade – fighting monsters. There is something magical in battling these towering titans, watching one guy take the aggro, while another lays down a trap, another dude staying out of harm's way and shooting healing bullets at the team to keep them healthy, and the final guy going all in with a giant sword. Plenty of things could go wrong with the game in a situation like this, such as buggy AI, but Monsters manage to handle a group well and keep the challenge intact. Even when you're an expert in defeating monsters, one slight misstep in concentration can cost you a large chunk of health, so you always have to be vigilant as the group share three lives between them.
Sadly, the 3DS iteration has no online access; instead, it's limited to local player only (it's still the same content, so no worries about anything being cut) with other 3DS systems or playing with a Wii U close by. If you do own a Wii U, then you can download an application off the eShop to make the Wii U an access point for the 3DS to go play online, but if you already have the Wii U version, then there is no point in doing that. It's a real shame Nintendo hasn't employed the concept of cross-buy, something Sony is doing, where you get aPlayStation 3 and Vita version of a game for one price. Even if Nintendo isn't willing to sacrifice the profits for it, at least offer some discount to allow fans to get both versions together for cheaper, because a game like Monster Hunter is ideal for the built-in save swapping feature.
Regarding the graphics, the Wii U version is crisp and clean, but it's not a game that shows off the power of Nintendo's entry into high-definition. The textures are low detailed in sections and the environments aren't exactly what I would call populated, but it's atill the best the franchise has ever looked, so I can't put much blame on them for porting the Japanese 3DS release to the Wii U. Running on the 3DS, the game turns out rather well and the use of 3D is good. It makes a sense of depth between you and the monster seem more apparent. The game does suffer from bad aliasing, which I assume is to keep the frame rate up, and I don't know what they were doing with the game's apparently smudged font. Turning on the 3D seems to make the text clearer, but it's a strange thing to have in the game, and if no one noticed that during testing, then I have to question his eyesight.
Regardless, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the best entry in the franchise. It's content is packed enough for fans to return to, while for newcomers, it's like a best of series, containing most of the monsters and gear from past entries and sandwiching them all into one lovely package. I can see why Capcom is changing gameplay in the upcoming Monster Hunter 4, because here is the perfect representation of what Capcom was trying to achieve with the franchise. While we wait for an announcement to see if Monster Hunter 4 does arrive for us, let's just take the time to play Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and be happy that we have the best game in the series to play, no matter if you're on handheld or – especially – Nintendo's Wii U, as for me this is the best game on that system to date.