Monster Hunter Tri
Despite its numerous flaws, Monster Hunter Tri is fun, fascinating, complex and undeniably alluring
- Fantastic art design, epic fights against awesome creatures, charming setting, unique sense of humour, addicting "collection" gameplay
- Controls take some getting used to, online is still a bit of a hassle, Wii Speak chat quality isn't the best, requires large time investment for maximum returns, movie cutscenes are unskippable on first viewing
While it's as addictive as its ever been, this particular iteration of the popular beast battler still falls victim to occasional pratfalls, but nothing that takes away from Monster Hunter Tri's epic scale and charming backdrop.
Price$ 79.95 (AUD)
Despite Capcom's best efforts, the Monster Hunter franchise has struggled to gain a foothold with Western gamers, even as their Japanese brethren rabidly devote countless hours to every new release. So it must be reassuring for Capcom that Monster Hunter Tri, the newest addition to the franchise, has a legitimate shot at achieving mainstream success outside Japan thanks to an improved control scheme, a robust online mode that doesn't involve Friend Codes, and a huge combined push from both Nintendo and Capcom. Monster Hunter Tri won't be the colossal breakout hit that it is Japan, but it can carve out its own niche and find a nice measure of success.
The core concept of Monster Hunter should be fairly obvious from the title: a primitive fantasy village has been ravaged by an earthquake, which in turn has awakened many sleeping, ferocious beasts. You've come to aid in the rebuilding effort by hunting said monsters and gathering supplies. The single-player game is focused in the village, with citizens doling out quests involving random tasks or asking you to capture or kill specific monsters. Completing quests nets you supplies to aid in reconstructing your village, but also rewards you with the necessary material to craft and augment gear, tend to a ranch, and even redecorate your house.
But don't expect to just jump in and start killing things: there's a lot to learn about monster slaying before you are able to hunt like a pro. There are numerous available weapons, each of which controls very differently and has its own strengths and weaknesses, but all of which take some practice to use effectively. You'll also need to practice with the controls: despite the control improvements over the recent PSP releases, there are still a few lingering issues, particularly the awkward camera positioning during the much-hyped underwater hunts. The buttons also take some getting used to; despite having played the PSP version quite a bit, my thumb kept on pressing "Y" to attack, as it's a standard attack button in most games. Here, it's the "sheathe weapon" button. Not a good mistake to make in the heat of combat. (Note: I played the game extensively with the Classic Controller -- I tried the Wii Remote/Nunchuck combination for about an hour, found myself extremely frustrated, and switched back.)
Environmental factors, such as extreme heat or cold, can also affect the capability of your weapon, and physical stamina must always be taken into account, lest you find yourself shivering to death with a blunt blade that can't cut grass, let alone dragon scales. Last but certainly not least, you'll need to learn a lot about the behaviour of all the game's fauna. Even with great gear, you'll be utterly demolished by the game's big baddies if you just run in and mash the attack button: combat's all about reading the monster's behaviour, knowing how your weapon of choice works, and figuring out how to react without leaving yourself wide open for retaliation.
The need to practice and learn will probably be what makes or breaks the game for each individual player. Monster Hunter Tri, and the series in general, is built around the idea that sometimes it's okay to fail -- you might get penalised in the short term, but the knowledge you gleam from the experience is reward in and of itself. When a beast mops the floor with you, you shouldn't throw the controller down and complain that it's too hard; you should go back into the hunt again, this time armed with deeper knowledge of the monster's strengths and weaknesses gleamed from experience. Learning and trial and error are part of the fun of Monster Hunter, but not every gamer is capable of repeating these processes numerous times without losing patience. It's a game that gives back fun directly proportional to the amount of effort you're willing to put into it. I personally enjoy this kind of experience, but if you don't, then consider yourself warned.
Hunting solo can be fun, but the real carefully roasted, well-done meat of Monster Hunter lies in its multiplayer battles. Up to four hunters can partake in the thrill of hunting/gathering at once, and things become very different once you've got a posse. You can approach combat and goals in new ways, such as assigning one player to act as a distraction while others sneak on the beasts from behind, or having everyone cover a different area for collecting supplies. The possibilities are infinite, and it's immensely satisfying when everybody involved works together, bringing their own weapons and play style to the mix in a delightful brew of monster massacres. It's far from perfect, however -- despite the elimination of the much-reviled Wii and Friends Codes from the online mix, finding, searching, and grouping with friends isn't as completely intuitive as it should be. To find buddies to monster mash with, you'll have to hop on a server, search for your friend's name or hunter code, hope they're online, send them a message, group in the same area on the server, group in the same city in the area, have one member set up a quest, and then have everybody else join in on it.
Despite the promotion of compatibility with the Wii Speak peripheral, the actual experience of using it was rather iffy. I tried hunting with a friend of mine located in Iowa, and the voice that came through the speakers sounded more like Homestar Runner than the longtime buddy I knew. Our conversations were a bit unclear to begin with, and they became even more tough to discern in the heat of battle -- I'd frequently ask my friend a question only to hear a reply of "Sorry, I can't hear you over the dinosaurs screeching!" Many people playing right now are simply opting to plug in a USB keyboard for their communication -- perhaps they're onto something.
And finally, we get to the visuals, which are, as is usually the case with Wii games, not as impressive as the other two consoles but still manage to hold their own thanks to the fantastic setting and art design. The environments are lush and lively, and the assorted wildlife isn't just fun to whack with an axe -- they're fascinating just to look at and watch. Every creature has its own pattern of behaviour that affects how it interacts not just with you, but with the environment and other beasts. There's also strange and unique sense of humour that runs through everything: exaggerated, slapstick animations for activities like eating, running, and quaffing potions are the norm, and interactions with villagers and your Cha-cha helper critter are frequently laugh-out-loud amusing.
My experience with Monster Hunter Tri was fantastic. Despite its numerous flaws, it was fun, fascinating, complex, and undeniably alluring. I intend to keep on playing it, not on a daily basis, but whenever I feel the desire to experience the thrill of the hunt. Much like its in-game creatures, Monster Hunter Tri is a rare and beautiful beast yearning to be tamed by those brave enough to learn its intricacies; but if your patience is easily tested, it might be wise to let sleeping beasts lie.
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