Review: Monster Hunter Tri
Dinosaurs and assless chaps. That was my introduction to Monster Hunter Tri.
No really, watch the intro video here and at 00:56, BAM, assless chaps. And for some reason only the men are wearing them.
Monster Hunter Tri is a heavily Japanese-culture infused game (not necessarily related to the assless chaps, but you don’t normally see that sort of thing in western games do you?). By that I mean it was not designed for western audiences. The Monster Hunter series is pretty popular back in Japan, but it’s never really caught on over here in the states, and with the release of Monster Hunter Tri, it isn’t likely to any time soon. Good or bad, Monster Hunter Tri is basically the same game its predecessors were.
So, what else do I mean by “a very Japanese game”? Many Japanese games often have some element of grinding that’s core to the gameplay. In Final Fantasy 7, if you wanted the best material, you had to obsessively grind exp from battles to level them up until you got to unlock the master material. In Earthbound, to get the best weapons for each character you had to fight a nasty respawning boss and there was a 1 in 128 of it dropping the best weapon in the game. And in Harvest Moon, you just farm. Not a bad list but, I think it gets the point across. You do get grinding in western games, but there’s been a big push away from it because most gamers over here think it’s a mind numbingly stupid tool used to milk extra playtime out of users. Sadly, rather then abandon mindless grinding, Monster Hunter Tri embraces it.
Monster Hunter Tri feels like an odd mix of familiar themes; one part Harvest Moon, one part Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and one part Jurassic Park. The world of the Monster Hunter games is a strange and savage land where people live alongside alien and imaginary looking dinosaurs. There are a whole lot of ways I could try to describe this world but let me simplify by saying that it’s basically your generic Final Fantasy barbarian setting. Villages are protected by hunters, who go out, randomly kill anything that moves and then drag the remains back to the village where it becomes the foundation of the economy. And that is the entirety of the gameplay in Monster Hunter Tri. You live in a village and you have 2 options.
1. Go to the deserted island and kill monsters and harvest their remains, or wander around and harvest herbs, mushrooms, ore, bugs, etc... Then bring them back to the village and sell them or use them to either improve the village or craft better equipment.
2. Take a quest from the Hunter’s Guild. These quests vary from fetch/kill 10 whatever to boss fights, and are a great way to earn $$ and harvest rare items.
By repeating quests or just grinding the hell out of the desert island you collect the materials required to craft better weapons, armor, potions, ammo, traps, and other assorted power-ups. Your character doesn’t level up as you fight and defeat monsters. Rather it’s through equipping more and more powerful items that your character will grow in strength. While this means that your character’s advancement is entirely in your control, it also means that in order to make your character strong enough to take on the big sea dragon boss, you’ll need to replay the same damned quest 20 times in order to get enough material to craft a good enough sword. So grinding is not just an option, it’s the only option, and that sort of mindlessness is the kind of thing that will probably turn away western audiences.
That’s pretty much it for the single player game. The multiplayer side of the game has you importing your single player character over from the village to a city where you basically have 3 options; do either of the 2 from the single player game except as part of a group, or fight big monsters in an arena. And I must admit, the multiplayer game is pretty fun. Your character can go back and forth between single and multiplayer at will, so both game styles blend together really well. Where the multiplayer fails though is in it’s organization. You pick which of the 4 server types you want, then you pick a “city gate” from a long list, and then you pick a city, which holds 4 players max. While I’m not a big multiplayer fan, I do have some experience with it and this system felt a bit overly complex and clunky. In an attempt to appeal to western gamers, this is the first Monster Hunter game to include voice chat. While voice chat makes communication easier, it’s not as much a selling point as it is a necessity in any damned multiplayer game. There’s also a split-screen mode so you can play at home with a friend, but I live alone with a cat and her lack of thumbs makes using the Wii impossible, so I don’t know if it’s any good.
Damn cat also cheats at Gears of War.
I got into the Monster Hunter games after picking up a copy of Monster Hunter Freedom Unite for the PSP. So when I bought my copy of Monster Hunter Tri, I expected better gameplay, better graphics, and some Wii functionality since it is a Wii game. The game met my expectations in some ways, and greatly disappointed in others.
Let’s start with the good parts of the game.
1. This is the prettiest game to come out for the Wii so far.
The quality of the graphics in Monster Hunter Tri even outdoes Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Sadly though, if you stand it side by side with anything on either the PS3 or X-Box 360, it simply cannot compare. Also, apparently the best the Wii can produce in this case, is on par with the very best they could achieve with the PS2. But what the hell, we don’t play Wii games for their pretty graphics do we? No, we play Wii games for their unique concepts, casual gameplay and lighthearted joyousness…so why is this on the Wii and not the PS3?
It’s so pretty you’ll forget how long this damned boss fight actually takes.
2. Underwater combat.
Monster Hunter Tri also includes a new underwater mode where you get to dive into the water and hunt giant sharks, fish, and Nessie looking things. This addition now puts the Monster Hunter series on the same level as adventure games from the late ‘90’s like Super Mario 64.
3. New monsters.
If you’re a fan of the Monster Hunter series, Tri adds some new beasties to the roster while ditching some of the old ones. A few new bosses make a comeback, but mostly it’s a lot of new scaly faces. If you’ve never played a Monster Hunter game before, none of that means a damn thing to you. Just be excited about a wide selection of things to murder, skin and gut.
Lagiacrus: a new boss monster with a stupid name. Though if it was a Pokemon game his name would probably be Fishyguanados.
4. Old school gameplay.
This is a hard game. No really, this game will kick your ass, and considering the kind of kiddy pool crap we’ve been seeing in the video game industry in the last few years, this is somewhat refreshing (Regenerating health bars are not a right, they’re a privilege, and they don’t belong in every game.). If you play this game your character will die a lot. Monsters will bitch slap you while you stop to chug a health potion, knocking it out of your hands (ok, it just stops it from taking effect, but that’s basically what’s happening). You will scream at the TV and clutch your Wiimote until it cracks.
5. A non-homoerotic Japanese video game (kinda).
Ok, assless chaps from the opening video aside, Monster Hunter Tri has some of the butchest character design I’ve seen in a Japanese game in a long time. Hell, even Mario has a bit of a “Fire Island” vibe going down these days (Does he ever get the damned princess? At this point it should be Crown Prince Mario of the Mushroom Kingdom). Character creation starts your character off in some of the gayest underwear in a video game so far, but you soon get to start equipping armor so rugged that only the craziest of leathermen would be turned on by it. Your armor tends to be big, bulky, spiky and to be honest, the kind of thing you’d expect to see on evil barbarians warlords in a Final Fantasy game. This is the kind of thing I like to see in the games I play. Maybe it’s me, but I like it when the male protagonist in a game can’t be mistaken for Meg Ryan.
I’ve got a thing for girls with long hair.
Now for the bad aspects of the game.
1. “Old school” isn’t supposed to mean stupid and resistant to change.
I’ve heard this issue pop up on a lot of forums and message boards, and every time it does the diehard fans respond with some variant of “suck it up and stop bitching.” Monster Hunter games use the same basic gameplay concept as games like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Basically, you run around and engage in fast paced combat with monsters that leap and jump all over the damned place like a ferret on crack. However, unlike in Ocarina of Time you don’t have an overly chatty and codependent fairy to help you lock onto enemies. So you run around the map with your slow, clunky avatar, trying to attack monsters that won’t stop hopping around. Do you know how hard it is to hit a giant flying mosquito-wasp thing that keeps darting around? It’s pretty damn hard, and this is the kind of game where that shouldn’t be the case. There are games where movement is fluid and swift and you don’t need a lock on system because you just point your character in the right direction and start the killing (coughGodofWarcough). However, when hitting the damn target is so difficult that you have a better chance of hit the ground right next to them, then something has gone terribly wrong.
That annoying Navi is looking pretty good at this point isn’t she?
2. It’s not really a Wii game.
I mentioned earlier that while Monster Hunter Tri is the prettiest game out on the Wii right now. That basically means that it’s about the same as a high quality PS2 game. I started getting a few other PS2, deja vu moments after I loaded up the game. To put it simply, Monster Hunter Tri does not really use the Wiimote to any extent. In fact you could very easily play it using the classic controller. The only time you ever get to use the Wiimote to move a curser around the screen is when you initially research a monster. You open a menu, click on the monster and it’s saved to your guide book, and that’s it. Where this pissed me off is when you equip the bowgun. While using the bowgun you can shift over to a FPS view of the screen that lets you aim the crosshair and begin targeting specific body parts. Well, rather then use the frickin Wiimote like every other damned game on the Wii; you move the crosshair around using the thumbstick on the nunchuk. This gave me the feeling that putting Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii had less to do with the unique capabilities of the system, and more with the developers being too cheap to put down the time and money needed to make this a PS3 title.
What the hell? Even he’s using the classic controller.
3. What the hell is going on and what am I supposed to do now?
Monster Hunter Tri is a game that tells the player very little. There is a rather simplistic tutorial system that consists of little more then a few lines of dialogue added here and there, but it doesn’t really tell you anything. If you want to learn anything complex like how to craft any of the million or so components into the items you desire, or how to finish a quest, then you’re better off looking online then trying to find answers in the game. Here’s how bad it can get. In the game there’s a quest that enables you to enlarge the village’s farm. The farm allows you to grow plants rather then have to go out searching for them, so this is a great idea. The quest requires an item called “Monster Fluid”, and that’s all it tells you. This begs the obvious question: what the HELL is “Monster Fluid” and where do I find it? Is it blood? Do the raptors drop it? Or do I need to wack-off a stegosaurus to get this stuff? What the hell is going on here? I finally found the “Monster Fluid” after I killed some random monster. A good game would explain this shit to the player, or at the very least it would hint that it was dropped by a specific type of monster. In this regard at least, Monster Hunter Tri is not a good game.
4. Unskippable cutscenes.
I know it’s a piddly little complaint, but it started to bug the hell out of me and it’s inexcusable these days. When you first encounter any of the boss monsters, a little cutscene starts playing. While these can be a bit long, they’re also pretty cool so it’s ok at first. But then if you die and have to come back, the cutscene plays again, and again, and again and there’s no skipping it. Then you realize that you’re going to die a lot in this game because not only are the bosses are tough as hell, but the combat system sucks donkey dong, and that’s when I started drinking.
Monster Hunter Tri is a good game and a fine addition to the series. If, like me, you’re a fan of the previous games then you’re going to enjoy this one. The multiplayer is fun and the single player game is just more of what you love. On the other hand, if you’ve never played a Monster Hunter game before you probably won’t like this one and you’ll wonder how the hell this became popular over in Japan.
There’s no way in hell this will be the game that makes Monster Hunter as successful over here in the states as it is in Japan. If this was ever the developers’ intent then they missed the mark completely. It’s an example of the sloppy design and repetitive gameplay that’s driven western gamers away from Japanese games and helped fuel the success of western game designers in recent years. However it’s worth a rental if you don’t have anything better to play.
I’d recommend Minecraft.
This review was based off a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.