Monster Hunter Tri has finally landed on the Nintendo Wii, and unless you have been living under a rock, in a cave, on the 7th moon of Neptune, you’re probably already well aware of the arrival of Capcom’s latest monster hunting adventure. However, with great hype comes a great responsibility to live up to that hype and deliver a game that not only surpasses all of the assumed expectations but raises the standards of the genre and makes gamers demand more from their interactive entertainment. So does Monster Hunter Tri tame this beast of a task, or is it just another adventurer lost on the vast plains of video game history?
The story opens in a small fishing village that has recently been plagued by earthquakes which seem to be caused by the mythological sea-beast, Lagiacrus. These tremors have made life in the tiny town intolerable, and the villagers soon find themselves in need of a hunter that can be trained to slay the Lagiacrus. That’s where you come in, after creating your avatar in the surprisingly robust character creation editor (it even allows you to choose your character's voice, even if all the samples sound like Link’s grunts from Twilight Princess), you are then quickly thrust into the world of Monster Hunter Tri and begin taking on tasks designed to help you become a master hunter and one that will eventually do battle with Lagiacrus and many more fearsome beasts.
The game is evidently based more on gameplay aspects then story elements, as the villagers plight will very quickly take a back seat to the experience of going out in the field and hunting monsters. The villagers all have their own personalities, but these never become integral to the plot's advancement, and generally they will all act like ‘generic villager #1, generic salesman #2, etc.’ This being said the world of Monster Hunter Tri does feel believable with its large vistas such as lakes, deserts, mines and countless other different locations will make you feel as if you are traveling a living, breathing world filled with riches and adventure.
The Monster Hunter series prides itself on a unique style that blends the action gameplay of Zelda with the resource gathering and item crafting of more traditional RPGs. However, unlike most RPGs, you never level your character directly. Instead, it’s your equipment that is in need of upgrading. Everything from weapons, items and the clothing on your back can be upgraded through crafting and forging enhancements. This is where the real meat of Monster Hunter Tri lies, and by going out and hunting more and more fearsome beasts you will gather better resources that can be combined into making better gear for use in hunting EVEN more powerful creatures. This is a design choice the series has relied upon since its very beginnings, and for the most part it still holds up well today. There’s a great deal of fun to be had figuring out the best combination to tame a particular beast and mixing items to make more potent concoctions. However, it’s not all perfect. While the gameplay is solid, the menu navigation can be cumbersome, especially when you’re sorting hundreds of items trying to find the one missing element to a combination.
Monster Hunter Tri offers two distinct control schemes for you to choose from: freestyle mode, which uses the Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo as well as incorporates several motion based moves and the classic scheme that (as the name implies) uses the Wii Classic Controller and features a more conventional control input. While both methods are well implemented, it is quite obvious that the game was designed with a traditional controller in mind, as the Wii Remote and Nunchuck just don’t have a comfortable button layout for this type of game as having to jump between the ‘1’, ‘-’ and the ‘D-pad’ can lead to painful stretching and re-positioning of your digits. However, there are advantages to choosing the motion controller as you can choose between several gestures to execute moves such as side-swipes and slashes, and for the most part these respond well and can add a bit of immersion to your quest, but I would still suggest adding a Classic Controller to your monster hunting arsenal. The only real drawback is having to constantly control the camera that will routinely leave you disoriented as you and your foe circle each other. This issue would have been solved with the simple implementation of a lock-on feature (something that is common in similar games in the genre), so it’s a mystery why Capcom did not include one here.
Fans of the series will immediately feel at home with the third Monster Hunter’s basic gameplay aspects which generally revolve around traversing a wide world in search of prey or completing pre-determined quests. When out on a hunting expedition you have numerous weapons at your disposal to gain an advantage over your target such as traps, items and weapon combos but only with a proper organisation of your tools and clever strategizing will you be able to return to town with a fresh monster pelt in your spoils bag. In town you have the option of shopping the local market for new weapons, items or upgrades, talking to villagers and taking on quests from them or from the local guild leader which sets you up with quests that offer great rewards. One element to make its series debut is underwater gameplay. Once you put on your swim trunks and dive beneath the waves you will find a whole new world teeming with secrets and creatures that require new tactics to sink. Unfortunately, the underwater sections are weighed down by un-intuitive controls that require you to reposition the camera in the direction you wish to dive, which can mean the difference between life and death when dealing with a boss that calls the seas its home.
But before you even think of becoming the top monster hunter the game will have you go through an extensive tutorial that covers all aspects of gameplay. From the mundane task of picking mushrooms and foliage to how to properly slaughter a towering behemoth and cook its remains to restore your stamina, this tutorial will last several hours. While it prepares you for most everything you will encounter, you will find yourself wanting to jump into the action and have the game let you loose on the world instead of going through hours of instructions. But in the end you will thank Capcom for including such detailed lessons as Monster Hunter Tri can sometimes be an exercise in frustration.
It quickly becomes apparent that Monster Hunter Tri is not a game for the gamer looking for a quick fix. The game demands hours upon hours of dedication, learning monster’s tells, coming up with the perfect strategy and item combinations to complete a specific quest and spending long periods of time just sorting through your item box to make sure everything is in proper order. These are not tasks that the average gamer relishes in, but for the truly dedicated the payoff is huge, as the sense of accomplishment that the player gets from completing a particularly difficult quest is best only by the most difficult of games.
Speaking of difficulty, the fearsome creatures of Monster Hunter Tri will quickly show you why they have whole villages cowering in terror, as the game pulls no punches in making victory something you will have to work for. Quests are divided into tiers, and by the time you reach the fifth tier you will have had your gaming steel tested to the point where you might think you could take on these beasts in real life. (*Disclaimer: VGChartz.com does not condone actually going into the wild to fight real world monsters, please explore caution when encountering monsters.) The game does a great job of never making the challenges feel unfair and always giving the player enough items and hints as to how to complete a quest.
Now we all know why you’re here. Monster Hunter Tri’s online elements are being touted as one of the game’s major selling points and with good reason, as they are clearly a cut above anything that has been seen on the Wii to date, even trumping Nintendo’s own efforts on their console. First off, there are no 16 digit friend codes. That’s right, no exchanging numbers with your friends and then having to wait till both systems register the new codes. Now you simply select the server you wish to join (Capcom is running servers for beginners as well as more experienced hunters). Once logged in you can browse the message boards to find a hunting party in need of another member. Once your group is assembled (4 player max) you set off on a team hunt. The game incites players to spend their playtime online by offering better rewards to those who complete quests on the World Wide Web, including rarer items and better equipment. With that being said, the online missions are more difficult than their single player counterparts, so it is recommended that you earn your stripes in solo mode before joining a party online.
When it comes to communicating with your party members, the game offers several options. You can use in-game text messages and emoticons to convey a message, however, for gamers so equipped, the game makes use of the seldom seen Wii Speak accessory, which allows you to discuss strategy (or annoy) your teammates in real time through their TV speakers. In short, Capcom has succeeded in raising the bar for online play on the Wii with a seamless and streamlined online experience will hopefully be a sign of things to come on Nintendo’s system.
From the moment you boot the game up it becomes apparent that Capcom spent a lot of time and effort into making Monster Hunter Tri one of the Wii’s best looking games. From the jaw dropping pre-rendered cut-scenes to the exceptional amount of work that went into both the largest landscapes to the tiniest level of detail on your equipment, Monster Hunter Tri is a game that will leave a lasting impression on you and also make you ask why it took more than three years for a developer to get this level of graphical fidelity running on the Wii.
The game's beauty is also accentuated by an art style that gives the game a realistic feel, even when dealing with creatures that boggle the imagination. You will often times find yourself just staring off into the distance at the rising moon, or just admiring the local greenery, and other times looking over the minute details that the developers crafted into every piece of equipment. Unfortunately, there are some hiccups along the way. First off, while the environments are large, there are many unreachable areas that are blocked off by invisible walls. Also, the game is dotted with frequent loading screens, which, while they won’t take up much time, do sever the players connection to the world as it is possible to see over a dozen loading screens while on a single quest.
The designs of both the humans and monsters are exceptionally well done. As stated previously, your character is designed in a robust character creation mode and can be modified as the game goes on. The villagers are also well designed and unique so you will always know who you are tasked with talking to. The game’s monsters are also well designed and animate with a level of fluidity not often seen in games. It’s hard to shake the image of the game’s first creature lumbering around a lush green field with the sea in the background, breathtaking.
As far as the games sounds are concerned, the music accompanies the art style well, using an ‘epic’ sounding soundtrack that really sets the mood when heading out for a lengthy quest. It is, however, disappointing that these tracks are only really heard at the start and end of quests or when facing off against boss rank monsters, as it would have been nice to have an accompanying track while off on quests. Like the soundtrack, the sound effects accent the game’s style well; swords clang and monsters roar, it’s just a shame that the villagers and other people you will meet on your quest speak in gibberish and aren’t voiced by actors. It should also be noted that the text size used in the game is rather small, and having to read all the characters text plus the seemingly endless amount of menus and stats for items and your eyes can feel pretty soar after a while.
Anybody who invests serious energy into Monster Hunter Tri will find a game that will not only last countless hours (easily past 50 hours for the single player quests and endless more online), but Capcom has promised to deliver new quests for its online community that will help keep the game going way past what a similar game in the genre can offer. Combine this with the gameplay’s addicting nature and you have a game that the truly dedicated will put hours into. It should be noted, however, just how hard it is to recommend this game to anyone who is simply looking for a quick gaming fix. Monster Hunter games require serious commitment to extract its full potential and number three is no different, so consider yourself warned.
As a side note, Monster Hunter Tri heralded the North American release of the Classic Controller Pro, a redesigned version of the original that features handles for a more comfortable feel, a wider separation between the joysticks and the shoulder buttons have been redesigned to offer a more comfortable and ergonomic feel. I highly recommend picking up the Pro controller (the black one is mighty sexy) to play Monster Hunter Tri, as it really is a cut above the standard Classic Controller and Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo for this game.
What more can be said about Monster Hunter Tri? The controls are mostly solid with only a few minor issues with the motion controls and camera controls, the gameplay is also very well executed, with the only faults being the awkward underwater sections that can, again, be traced back to the troublesome camera. As for the presentation, the game is simply gorgeous. And the music? Grand and epic. But of course it’s not perfect; the load screen pops up frequently and the vistas, while gorgeous, are mostly filler since you can’t exactly go everywhere you want. But all these shortcomings pale in comparison to the game's fantastic online modes, gameplay and presentation. It’s simply great.