Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a glorious game, and quite frankly it’s the main reason I have a Wii U sitting on my desk right now. As the latest in the Monster Hunter line, it continues to deliver exactly what its fans have come to expect of it: a huge variety of large and challenging monsters to fight, a dizzying array of weapons to choose from, a humongous selection of 5-piece set armor that grant combo bonuses, and a wide variety of quests to embark on. To top it all off, it also has a great crafting/tradeskill aspect, co-op online multiplayer and some promises of ongoing DLC releases. My goal in this review is not merely to praise Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – it’s to explain just what this game is all about. While great, it’s not for everyone, but if you at all love challenge, tactics and a game that will keep on challenging you and your friends for quit a long time, you’re going to want to check this out. For you guys who already know you love this series, I’ll cover some expert-tailored details towards the end of this review.
New Monster Hunters, Take Heed
For you guys and gals who haven’t really given the Monster Hunter series a try yet, I’ll explain the kind of world the series takes place in. The best way to describe it is a kind of Panzer Dragoon / Shadow of the Colossus tribal-steampunk fantasy setting – a world that gives off the vague impression that there was probably some kind of tremendous cataclysm ages ago, and now most of the world is reduced to some spears-and-warpaint level tribalism, save for a few scraps of technological holdovers here and there. There are occasional vague hints about the greater universe that Monster Hunter is set in, but don’t get me wrong – this is not a game with a heavy emphasis on story. Instead, it’s all about mood, setting, and what amounts to day to day life in a universe where hunting giant, ferocious dragons with a pair of hand-axes isn’t the culmination of a life-long quest, but just another part of life. You wake up, sip some coffee from a hollowed-out gourd, stretch your legs and, later, you may have to kill some dinosaur-monster wandering near your village during its mating season. Just another day in the Monster Hunter universe.[singlepic id=11280 w=320 h=240 float= right]
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does have a more detailed campaign than this, focusing around investigating the source of some earthquakes in a village. (Spoiler alert: a huge monster is causing them.) But this whole campaign functions more as a way to ease you into the real meat of the game: hunting progressively more dangerous monsters in order to craft a wide, WIDE variety of weapons, armor and tools. It’s important to stress that when I say ‘hunt’, I mean it more literally than I would when reviewing another game. This isn’t just a matter of loading a level, facing off against a new enemy, beating it up, then wash, rinse, repeat. No, Monster Hunter lives up to its name – you will, if you manage to stick with it, learn where certain monsters love to sleep, where they typically prowl around for prey, what their weak spots are, what other creatures may be lurking nearby during any given face-off, and more. You will learn how to properly prepare to go on a hunt, when to strategically run away and patch yourself up after taking a beating, where a monster is likely going when it runs away from you after it takes a beating of its own, and more.
Needless to say, this is not a game for everyone – and it’s easy to understand why. First, there’s the difficulty factor – Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, like the rest of the games in the series, has a learning curve to it. Not only are the ‘large’ monsters generally difficult to defeat, but the variety of weapons take some getting used to. Take the great sword, for example. In typical ‘JRPG’ style, this blade is larger than the person wielding it. Unlike most JRPGs, it is – while hard-hitting – a very slow weapon to use. It takes a while to move a hulking piece of metal and bone like that around, and when you first use it you’ll probably find yourself swinging at inopportune times and missing your target altogether. It’s easy to try this weapon for an outing and tell yourself, ‘What was Capcom thinking? This is a slow, useless piece of crap.’ and give up – maybe switching off to one of the crossbows. Except now you’re going to have enemies not only running out of your line of sight, but closing in on you to beat you up, reminding you that you’re near defenseless once something’s coming at you in melee range. Add in a few incidents where some humongous bird-dinosaur kicks your ass while you’re struggling with these weapons, and you have a game that a lot of players will quit.[singlepic id=11272 w=320 h=240 float= left]
But what if you don’t? What if you pick up that great sword or that shield and spear or any other of the dozen weapon types Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has to offer and just keep going at it? Well, then a funny thing is going to happen: you’re going to get better. You’re going to learn the opportune times to swing that humongous sword so it comes crashing down right on top of the skull of the annoying Great Jaggi that’s been knocking you around, and it’s going to die, and it’s going to feel pretty damn satisfying. Then you’re going to rifle through its corpse for loot, go back to town, and craft yourself a newer, bigger, nastier weapon – and you’ll start thinking about the best way to plant the business end of it into the body of a huge, fast, dangerous Barioth or some huge freaky and unfortunately named Nibelsnarf or any other of the dozens of monsters you’ll be coming up against. You’ll learn to hit them with paintballs so you can follow their every move on the game’s minimap, you’ll learn about what you can scavenge and where in order to whip up some emergency healing after getting knocked around, and you’ll make plenty of mistakes and smart moves and have a lot of fun playing a game that makes you want to call someone up and tell them a story about your latest by-the-skin-of-your-teeth kill.
Or maybe you won’t be nagging your friend about a kill, but about the latest piece of equipment you crafted up. And man, there is a ton of equipment to create – take a look at the various weapons and upgrade paths you can follow when building a great sword – then realize that that’s just one of twelve weapon types Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has to offer, all of them having their own unique playstyles. The armor sets are diverse as well, typically available in sets of 3 or 5, granting combo bonuses for wearing multiple pieces of the same set and offering a lot of mix-and-match potential, especially once socketable jewels are added into the mix. And this is only the wearable and wieldable equipment! The items usable in the field, ranging from monster traps to self-buffs to ammunition types and more only add further options to your hunt. Options which you will pursue by gathering materials in the view through mining and scavenging and skinning corpses, or through the game’s various alternative resource generating methods, like farming or sending out boats to explore and bring back treasure. Altogether, this game offers 3061 total pieces of equipment, 1294 items and materials, 1663 armor pieces. If you’re a loot junkie, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a title worth looking at.[singlepic id=11269 w=320 h=240 float= right]
There’s more than just monsters to straight up kill, of course. The game boasts 339 quests, not counting the free DLC additions – and these quests range from simple resource-gathering jaunts to multi-monster time-limited hunts, adding a whole lot of variety to your adventuring options. If you don’t feel like going on a specific quest, you also have the option to just freely explore the various environments present in the game. These environments range from the Moga Woods (where the storyline primarily takes place) to freezing snow-covered tundra, to sweltering hot deserts and volcanos to more. There are arena challenges available for straight up mano y monster exploration-free combat. There’s online co-op play to have with your friends, and you can even acquire a pair of NPC shakalaka (think pygmy) allies who will help you fight monsters when you don’t feel like being social with living human beings. The point of all this is, if you find yourself loving the challenge that Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate provides, you’re going to have an incredible amount of things to do, and a game you’ll find yourself going back to again and again – probably until the next version hits, because there really isn’t another game like this around, save perhaps for (also from Capcom) Dragon’s Dogma.
Monster Hunting Experts, Heads Up
For those of you who aren’t new to this series, what’s probably of particular interest is the new additions. As mentioned, this game features 12 weapon types – so you guys who missed the gunlance, the double axes, hunting horn and bow are back, and work underwater as well. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has 580 new items over Monster Hunter Tri, 11 new shakala masks, 1028 new armor pieces, 2042 new equipment pieces, 211 new quests, an additional shakalaka ally, 3 new stages, and 1 brand new monster (Brachydios) with 9 new variants. On top of that, online co-op multiplayer is included, but a word of warning – while it works well enough once you figure it out, this has to be the most pointlessly convoluted multiplayer system I’ve seen in a while. It’s less of a burden once you get a guild card from your friend, but I am honestly puzzled why Japan seems to not totally grok this whole ‘internet’ and ‘ease of use’ thing.[singlepic id=11265 w=320 h=240 float= left]
While a ton of equipment, weapons and quests have been added to this game beyond what Monster Hunter Tri had on offer, the graphics did not get a complete overhaul. The menus and intro screen are particularly sharp, and while the monsters still manage to be impressive due to the context and the gameplay, graphically the game is on the lower side of what the Wii U is capable of. It’s not so bad as to detract from the gameplay, but this is not really the game to present to people who are expecting a next-gen visual feast – or at least as much of a feast as the Wii U can offer up. Still, it’s noticeably better than what the previous Wii version offered up with standard cables, so at least there is that. This is probably partly due to the Wii U / 3DS interoperability of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and for those of you who are dedicated enough to buy this game on both systems, note that you’re able to sync up your saves with a data transfer feature right on the main menu. Great for when you want to get some Diablos hunting in on the go, but you don’t want to play the same game twice when you come back to your Wii U. Aside from some slight control differences (and harder to read text on the 3DS), it’s the same game on both systems.
The Wii U controller enhances the Monster Hunter experience for the most part. First, the controls all feel natural and responsive. The controller’s touchscreen interface is customizable, and can be used to quickly combine items or perform other actions that are a bit more inconvenient and menu-driven if you’re using the on-screen interface exclusively. The series’ appearance on the Wii U also heralds the advent of a lock-on function for the game – something I never really wanted, but I’ve heard enough of my friends say they did, so hey – someone out there’s bound to be happy at the news.[singlepic id=11255 w=320 h=240 float= right]
Intrigued, but not sold? Get the demo.
By this point it should be clear that I love the Monster Hunter series generally, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is an instant favorite. That’s not to say this is everyone’s kind of game – there’s a reason it’s more of a niche title in the West, after all. For those of you who are tempted by the prospect of a game with challenge that rewards tactical thinking and preparation, but who aren’t ready to lay down the money to pick this up, keep in mind there’s a demo available on Nintendo’s eShop – pick it up and give it a spin to get a hands-on experience with this title. But if you’ve been craving an action game which offers up the unique satisfaction of defeating big, truly difficult monsters and carving a new set of armor out of their salvaged skull, get this game now. You won’t regret it.