Not a Homerun, But It's a Solid Tripleplay

User Rating: 8 | Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate 3DS

Well, after over 60 hours of play, I’m gonna take a short break to weigh in on Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (MH3U). I say “a short break” because I’m not done with the game, probably not by a long shot. I haven’t even completed what is, to the best of my understanding, the Story Mode portion of the game (also known as Low Rank/Village), but I feel I have enough to go on at this point.

And this is from a Monster Hunter newbie. I tinkered around with the demo of Tri (Wii), as well as the 3DS demo for this game, and I wasn’t feeling it. So, I took a pass when MH3U first came out. Out of boredom, I re-downloaded the demo not too long ago, and…I still didn’t get it. It then went on sale during the holiday, and with all the positive feedback the game had been receiving, I was determined to see the light with respect to MH3U.

See, the demo simply doesn’t (and probably no demo can) convey what Monster Hunter is, really. You get a very brief glimpse at the hunting aspect – with no real guidance from the demo – but the other massive portions of gameplay that compromise Monster Hunter are absent. You can’t really blame Capcom. How do you show new, curious potential players what Monster Hunter is in a nutshell? Existing fans need no sales pitch; they’re gonna buy the game. But for the uninitiated, what’s it all about?

You begin your Monster Hunter adventure in the village of Moga. The village chief and his son walk you through the basics, everything from character movement and controls, to the essential tasks of gathering resources and killing small monsters. MH3U does a great job introducing new players to the experience, but you’re still going to be required to invest a lot of time into mastering the fundamentals. Monster Hunter isn’t a button masher; it’s not a musou-style combat game; it’s not DmC. There’s an organic flow to the game, and you’ll have to slowly work your way up to the big hunts.

You’ll be gathering herbs, mushrooms, honey and tons of other ingredients that will enable you to perform simple alchemy (for potions, antidotes, etc.) You can buy a lot of the stuff you need, but early on it’s pretty expensive. Once you have enough of a stockpile to get your farms and ships up and running, they will take over a lot of the grunt work for you and allow you to focus more on the hunt. But you will need to keep them supplied with resource points, which are earned mostly from free hunting in the Moga Woods or trading commodities.

Outside of that, the game is mostly focused on quests. The story progresses thusly, and the difficulty ramps up gradually. However, you don’t level up in this game, so in order to meet the challenge the game presents you with, you’ll need to continuously craft new weapons and armor.

Armor is where you’re mostly going to get your skills from, and you’ll want to build your armor around both the weapons you intend to use, as well as the monsters you are tasked to engage. For the most part, there are no “do it all” armor and weapons. That’s where the entrance to the rabbit hole lies: endless crafting and collecting – one more hunt for more materials to craft new schwag. If you thought Demon’s/Dark Souls was addicting, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

There are 12 different weapon types to choose from, with essentially two different classes: gunner and blademaster. It’s no shallow variety, either. Each of the weapons are so completely unique in how they function, it almost feels like a different game each time you switch to a different weapon type. The hammers, for instance, focus primarily on charging up strong attacks while staying mobile, whereas the heavy bowguns can remain planted in a specific area and unleash unlimited shell attacks on larger prey. Dual blades are great for players who want to be constantly “all up in it,” and lances and gunlances are well suited to patience players who enjoy turtling.

The game performs wonderfully on almost all counts. There’s an insane amount of content and monsters to encounter, tons to do and see. The attention to detail is ridiculous. Each piece of armor and gear can be viewed while shopping, and each monster has its own unique and beautiful artwork and descriptions in the bestiary. Weather effects are excellent, there’s no slowdown – ever – and the locations show off some of the best-looking graphics on 3DS.

However, talking to people in Moga Village is usually pretty frustrating because of the way your character moves inside the village, and some of the menu mechanics have been clumsily designed.

The biggest downer of all, though – and this shouldn’t surprise anyone, really – is the lack of native online co-op play. Yeah…it’s so utterly heartbreaking. Though I like to harp on Capcom, I do feel like this time perhaps it was beyond their control at the time of the game’s release. But who knows. All I know is, I wish I could jump online whenever to do some quick quests for farming materials and such. Sure, you can do that if you own a Wii U and an Ethernet adapter, but I don’t. Thankfully, Monster Hunter 4 does offer online co-op, but that’s neither here nor there, really. But I do look forward to its (hopefully) eventual release here in the States.

In spite of little annoyances and one major feature being absent from the 3DS version of the game, MH3U on 3DS is still incredibly addictive and fun. It’s about the closest thing to Demon’s/Dark Souls we’re likely to see on a handheld, and fans of that series should definitely check this game out.

As an aside, camera control on 3DS for this game is…well, it will take some getting used to, and I did, in fact, get used to it. I’ve actually got a Circle Pad Pro on the way that I ordered, but up until now I’ve been using the virtual D-pad and I’ve managed to become quite comfortable with it. In fact, the game’s bottom-screen hub is fully customizable. The developers have done one of the finest jobs I’ve ever seen when it comes to giving players just about all the options they need to make the game as comfortable as possible for their individual play style.

Oh, and the music. Wow! There’s no real voice work, and just a few minor voice garbles here and there, but the music is outstanding. Monster battles are epic, and the village music is enchanting – I don’t think I’ll ever grow old of it. There’s lots of variety, and the mood in some areas is even chilling due to the subtle ambient soundscapes that accompany them.

If it isn’t clear, I’m kinda in love with the game. Who knew? I sure wasn’t expecting that. When I tried the demos of the games, I just didn’t get it. The demos explain so little with respect to how much encompasses the Monster Hunter experience. It’s not an easy game, even after hours and hours of play. Monsters you’ve become comfortable with fighting will still give you a wake-up call should you become complacent during the hunt, and the learning curve is steep. Skills aren’t necessarily explained all that well, and you will need to become part of the Monster Hunter community if you want to get the most out of your experience with the game. If you’re willing to do all that, though, the bounty is rich. You’ll be rewarded greatly for your efforts and likely find yourself addicted to the hunt.