When Monster Hunter Tri for the Wii was released in 2010 it quickly became the most played game on average by its users according to the statistics from the Nintendo Channel. Since then there has been a PSP expansion that will probably never see a western release at this point and a further expansion under the name of Monster Hunter 3G for the 3DS. This 3DS release as well as a Wii U version of the game now dubbed Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate has finally made its way out of Japan.
Featuring the same basic plot from the Wii game, Ultimate keeps its narrative pretty simple. A large monster known as the Lagiacrus has been causing cataclysmic earthquakes around Moga Village, threatening to split the community off from the mainland. In order to combat the terrifying creature they enlist the help of a Monster Hunter, being you the player.
The player begins the game by creating their hunter character. The choice and variety in what can be achieved with the base character is somewhat limited in comparison to the likes of Dragonís Dogma or Skyrim, but once youíve decked them out in a complete armour set it may make you wonder why you took so long creating the character to begin with. Upon arriving at Moga Village you are briefed by the Chief about the Lagiacrus and why you must help the islanders.
The core progression through the game is done through the Guild Quests as you build yourself up to being able to take on the Lagiacrus yourself. The first few tutorial missions and Guild Quests ease you into the rhythm of hunting and gathering with you being asked to collect mushrooms, go catch some fish and carve up herbivores and smaller monsters for resources before pitting you against the more dangerous creatures. In between quests players will return to Moga Village where they can talk to the inhabitants, organise and upgrade their gear or venture out onto the mainland to freely hunt and gather as they please.
Guild Quests must be completed in batches according to difficulty in order to progress through to the next series which will be unlocked after an Ďurgent questí is finished. There is generally a fifty minute time limit to quests, encouraging players to use their time effectively especially in locations that offer a variety of resources on top of the primary objective. Upon initiating and paying for a Guild Quest the hunter will then be transported to the location required.
Once dropped off at base camp the hunter has access to several supplies from a map of the area, meat rations to regain stamina and traps to capture monsters with if the quest specifically requests a capture. Each hunting ground consists of a location split into around a dozen smaller zones which can be explored with each one providing various monsters, herbs and ore. The first quest given in a new area asks you to wait for a pass to be delivered for you to collect and turn in to complete the mission essentially allowing for you to freely explore the area and note where the various points of interest are for when you are given more quests in that location.
When you do get to the larger monsters you will be asked to either kill or capture them. Once located the monster will identify you as a threat and begin to attack. Each monster has their own unique attack and behaviour patterns which players must observe in order to know when itís safe to attack. Just diving in and hacking away wonít get you very far as especially the largest monsters can easily hit you out of a combo or stun the hunter completely. When a monster has been damaged heavily they will generally attempt to retreat to a sheltered area, occasionally taking shortcuts inaccessible to the player. In order to prevent yourself from losing them and letting them regain stamina the hunter can throw a paintball onto the monster which acts as a homing beacon of sorts.
When a monster has been slain in a quest situation the player is then normally given a minute to carve it for resources. Some items gained from the carving process are much rarer than others so in order to craft various items itís usually required to hunt the same monster again and again until it provides enough materials to create the weapon are armour needed. Capturing a monster can get quite tricky as theyíll need to be significantly weakened before a capture can even be attempted. Once a trap is set it cannot be packed up and reset so setting one up while a monster is trying to flee the zone is futile since they canít be coaxed towards the hunter. Once trapped the monster will then need to be subdued either through force or with tranquilisers.
The combat has a genuine weight behind it and once you get into it battling the monsters is immensely satisfying. Smacking an airborne Rathian in the face with a greatsword and knocking her out takes some working up to but once players get there theyíll be able to pull off some amazing feats that perhaps would have seemed impossible on a first encounter. Underwater combat slows the hunter down considerably and beyond the added vertical movement there isnít too much difference to land combat, although the target camera does become very useful in aiding with your hunterís maneuverability.
Unlike the original Tri there arenít any explicit secondary objectives to a quest. Previously the Guild would ask you to sever the targetís tail or wound its head. With Ultimate the game rewards the players on top of the base payout depending on what kinds of damage the hunter has done to the monster. While there isnít the massive increase in cash revenue from the fully complete quest the extra resources that can be gained from this less rigid objective system are always useful, rarer monster parts.
Itís important to come prepared for each quest as they will throw up different trials for the hunter. The supplies given at the beginning of a quest will usually suffice but as you progress you may feel the need to bring more supplies. If the monster youíre up against is giving you a lot of trouble you may need to bring extra potions and herbs, or even get the chef to cook you a meal before accepting the mission to grant you a health boost. Hot and cold areas affect the hunter by reducing his stamina gauge faster than usual requiring temporal-specific drinks to maintain body temperature. Keeping weapons sharp is also essential especially with the earlier weapons that get worn down faster, losing damage output the blunter they get. Of course it all comes with a risk as sharpening weapons or drinking a tonic will leave you vulnerable to attack.
Bringing extra supplies does help with being prepared for a variety of situations but it also limits the amount of resources that you can acquire and take back to the village with you. Fortunately back in Moga Village youíll have access to a crate with a huge amount of storage for all of the various consumables and materials. In the item box itís possible to combine materials to create more useful items. Combining herbs, mushrooms, berries and other consumables saves money but also requires constant restocking so players will need to make the choice whether or not they want to forage and carve the necessary materials or simply buy them from the shop.
Separately from the main Guild Quests the player will spend a lot of their time rebuilding Moga Village. By venturing out into the main island the player can freely hunt whateverís roaming around. Killing monsters in this free hunt will generate resource points that can be spent on services in the village that reduce the amount of foraging the player has to do. Itís possible to send boats out to collect fish or treasure and use the farm to grow more healing herbs. The villagers will also have several requests to make of the hunter as they progress through the game asking for various materials in addition to resource points to upgrade their farming or fishing capabilities. After a while the hunter will also gain two companions who can aid them with hunting and gathering. By equipping them with different masks and dances they can also cast heals and status boosts.
New players may find the game handles quite similarly to Dark Souls, however they may find the extended character animations when attacking and healing quite difficult to get accustomed to. Hunters donít change direction quickly, they recover slowly from large swings of the heavier weapons and their dodge ability isnít as safe as many other titles. The controls however are responsive and it may be easier to think of the hunterís moveset as being more similar to that of a fighting game like a Street Fighter where you have to think more about spacing and the safety of the attacks you are about to perform. If you commit to a double swing with the switch-axe as a Barroth is about to charge at you, youíre going to get punished badly for it.
The camera system also takes some getting used to. Unlike a lot of other games featuring third-person combat there is no permanent lock-on feature to keep the view and character movement centered around a specific target. In past Monster Hunter games you would have to manually adjust the camera to keep the view on what the player wanted and with Ultimate this is largely the same but with a quick lock-on that can quickly recenter the camera onto a larger monster. This feature does come in quite useful especially in underwater battles or fights with monsters that can move quite quickly.
The weapon selection from Tri has been increased as hunters now have twelve weapon types to choose from and a basic set of each is now available from the beginning. Each different weapon has their own unique moveset along with advantages and disadvantages. For example, the larger weapons such as the switch-axe offer greater strength at the expensive of defense and mobility with the weapon unsheathed while the sword and shield allows the hunter to be more nimble and be able to use consumables with the weapon drawn. Ranged weapons can also be spiked to inflict additional elemental damage or healing properties to help hunting partners. The variety of playstyles catered to with the weapon selection makes it more than worth experimenting with different weapon types and seeing what works best for you, especially now thereís no wasting of cash and resources to invest in something you wonít use.
Crafting plays a central role as players take on larger and meaner monsters. By using a combination of monster parts and natural resources players can craft a huge variety of different weapon and armour types. Each weapon armour set has their own strengths and resistances to the various elemental effects that monsters can inflict upon the player, adding another level of strategy to effectively defeating the more fearsome beasts. The drive to forge that next weapon or finish the set of armour with a helmet made of the face of some monster youíve already killed ten times before getting the materials for the rest of the armour is an addictive cycle. Walking around wearing the skin of a monster youíve slain acts as a display of your achievements in the game and throughout the course of the adventure you will wear and wield many fashionable beast designs.
The multiplayer components are now accessible via transport from Moga Village unlike Triís system of having you choose which mode to play upon booting the game up. The multiplayer relocates hunters to a more bustling port where they can still purchase goods and get smiths to upgrade their weapons. Split across several servers each port allows four players to prepare before setting off on quests in a very similar fashion to Tri. Communication is much easier in Ultimate thanks to the GamePadís touch keyboard and the ability to use a headset for voice chat is certainly far more convenient than getting hold of a Wii Speak unit. There is still the option to use a USB keyboard for users wanting a more physical input. Friends can be added relatively easily although it is hidden in the ĎRoomí menu rather than the userís stat page when you interact with them.
Once a player either creates or joins a room they are free to roam around the port in order to make their necessary preparations for the upcoming quest. The Hunter Rank system from Tri returns but thankfully removes much of the grinding required to level up. Rather than having to achieve a certain rank to move onto the next tier of quests players will now level up when they complete an urgent quest that unlocks the next series of missions. Quests take on a similar form to that of those from Moga Village only with up to four players working together to complete the task at hand. There will be supplies for a full party of four hunters although thereís no stopping a greedy hunter from taking what could be considered someone elseís supplies as well as their own.
Guild quests taken from the port are much tougher from the beginning when compared to the villageís initial missions which should be welcomed by veteran hunters who will probably find the main storyís missions to be much easier than theyíre accustomed to. As well as taking on group quests there is also an arena that pits hunters against various foes with a pre-selected armour and weapon loadout. There are also free downloadable quests that will be coming at various intervals from Capcom that will replace the Ďbroadcastí Event Quests from Monster Hunter Tri. Unlike the city from Tri, the port is also available in single player mode offline allowing hunters to take on these more challenging quests and gain better rewards for their efforts.
Teamwork is incredibly valuable when taking part in a group hunt. The party will have a total of three lives between them, with less than one each puts the pressure on everyone to be careful while pulling their own weight. Swinging around a large weapon carelessly can knock over your comrades which has the potential to cause severe consequences if thereís an enraged monster tearing through them as well.
Every player also has access to a Guild Card that can be customised to greet other players with. The card also contains an in-game achievement stamp book, a hunting log recording all of your recent quests, weapon usage stats and arena records. These cards can be traded with others online or through StreetPass on the 3DS version to recruit hunters who will appear in the single player port. These hunters can be sent off on their own quests in order to gather resources in a similar fashion to the farmers and fisherman of Moga Village while players can focus on other activities. Sending recruits carries a risk of failure so players may wish to invest more cash into a quest to have a better chance of receiving quality resources when they return.
New players may feel intimidated coming into the Monster Hunter series with this entry as the games are notorious for their steep learning curve. The easier difficulty of the single player component and the opening few hours do an alright job of getting hunters accustomed to the various mechanics and processes but still only really scratches the surface. Fortunately newcomers are generally welcomed into the community by veteran hunters who are usually more than willing to offer advice on some of the more advanced elements of the game such as item locations and equipment skills.
As with previous entries in the series, Ultimate will take players both familiar and new to the series a long time to finish. Even in single player the game doesnít end with the core storyline as even more challenging quests are unlocked upon completion. In conjunction with the separate multiplayer quest line there is more than enough to last players easily in excess of over a hundred hours of playtime. The drive to complete that perfect weapon and armour set will potentially keep players grinding for even longer until they finally get that last rare monster drop they need to create it. Those who prefer experiences that offer a goal that feels more attainable or immediate may lose patience with what is a repetitive cycle of slaying a monster for materials to create better gear. Those who find themselves caught up in the cycle however will find a great sense of accomplishment when they finally kill a monster thatís been troubling them or when they finally get to walk around in that complete armour set theyíve been working towards.
The WiiU architecture is used fairly well in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate with further patches coming from Capcom in the future to further complement the consoleís abilities. The GamePadís touch screen can be used to assign various hotkeys or information panels to prevent clogging up the TV screen with the various HUD elements. A WiiU Pro controller or even an original Wii Classic Controller Pro can also be used in conjunction with the GamePadís touch screen functions although there is no Wii Remote and Nunchuck controller support. At launch there isnít going to be any off-TV play available for the game but the publishers have promised this feature will be available via a patch coming in April along with an unlocked global multiplayer as opposed to being separated by region. Users who also have the 3DS version of the game can transfer save data between the two versions and carry on their quests away from the console environment allowing them to trade more Guild Cards.
Being a port of a 3DS/Wii title, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate looks comparable with similar HD remasters of other titles. While the game does look razor-sharp at the full 1080p resolution, some of the character textures are quite blurry when viewed up-close, although with the standard camera angles throughout general play the game looks much less muddy than Tri did. Thatís not to say the game looks bad though, as the bright and colourful artwork combined with the excellent animation work do still look good, but obviously not of the standard you would expect from a new game built from the ground up for system. The HUD elements are generally fine although some players may not appreciate their blockiness but the text, especially dialogue, is simply too small with there being no option to increase the text size.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate could very well be the best reason to own a Wii U at this early stage in the consoleís life. The reduced difficulty in the single player mode helps with easing in new players into the core game systems while the higher rank missions will keep veteran monster slayers satisfied. Beyond the addition of new monsters and one new location to hunt in the central game mechanics remain largely unchanged from Tri or indeed the rest of the series. Players who donít particularly enjoy the grind for better equipment probably wonít see the appeal in a game that may seem to be just hunting the same monsters over and over again but the challenge when in a group is simply one of the most addictive co-operative gaming experiences available.