Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, like each game in the hugely popular but culturally divisive series, is all about learning on the job. You might get a few pointers at the very start regarding the most basic principles of combat and collection, but other than that, you are left to your own devices in a world that loves nothing more than to make you feel like an utter newb.
Monster Hunter has always represented the very definition of sink or swim gameplay. For many, the early grind, slow pace and odd design choices prove too much. There is no doubt about it, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, like its predecessors, can be a slog. When I said Monster Hunter was all about learning on the job, that’s exactly what I meant……a job. Your role as a hunter in the game is essentially your means of employment and the very definition of your livelihood. While playing, it can feel much the same – especially in the early going.
Like the best jobs out there though, you get what you put into it and the rewards, while sometimes arduous to achieve, are all the greater when you finally get there. Be it acquiring a new piece of armour, an upgrade to your weapon of choice or the felling of a particularly tricky monster, few games provide the sense of accomplishment that lies at the very heart of the Monster Hunter experience.
As you may well know, Monster Hunter is something of a cultural phenomenon in Japan, but over here in the west, well, it’s better know for its popularity in the east than for anything specific about its actual gameplay. The primary reason for that? The simple way in which we play games. While still a relatively lonely affair for western gamers (certainly in the handheld world), in Japan, where playing games in public is much more socially acceptable, a sort of country-wide fraternity of gamers has been created in which strangers are happy to help each other out on their quests with skilled layers both readily available and often eager to show new hunters the ropes. That’s rarely been the case over here and the experience is nowhere near as revelatory or enjoyable without it.
With Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate though, being a console/handheld release, one that should see more players, if nothing else, available online, this move to Nintendo might see western gamers get at least a glimpse of what the big deal is all about. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the game to bring mass appeal to a game that has built up a few too many foibles over the year’s to draw genuine widespread success, but by combining what was already great about the Wii’s Monster Hunter Tri and building upon that framework, Ultimate is certainly in a better position than ever to at least nudge the series away from its relative western obscurity.
For anyone who has played a Monster Hunter game in the past, and specifically for those that have spent any time with the Wii’s Monster Hunter Tri release, there is nothing particularly new amidst the game’s many, many hours of monster hunting gameplay. There are new classes, new monsters and eventually new lands, but the first God knows how many hours are almost a retread of that release and will subsequently prove a hard sell for anyone who has already put in the time with Tri. For everyone else though, it’s the same old story – a slog when you’re on your own, an array of trying design quirks, but ultimately (no pun intended), an absolute joy when it all comes together online.
Rummaging through items, figuring out the best way to utilise a new class and deciphering the best approach to even the most basic of battles can often be daunting, but join in with a few seasoned hunters or simply band together with some likeminded gamers, and each and every struggle suddenly becomes worthwhile; heck, even the odd design choices start to make sense.
There are few things better in the world of gaming than simply witnessing (let alone taking part in) the skilled dismantling of one of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s larger foes. With a crafty combination of skills, classes and attack and defence patterns, bringing down the biggest and baddest is akin to a well planned chess victory; you move your pieces into position, use their unique strengths to your advantage, all the while, keeping an eye on the enemy’s plan of attack. Like chess played with 4 players on the same side then…….and with swords and monsters and that…….believe me, it’s like bloody chess.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a time sink quite unlike anything else out there, but for those who commit, for those willing to learn the ropes and to genuinely submit to its unforgiving world, Ultimate will provide an experience quite unlike anything else out there. In an industry ever eager to hold you by the hand, to ease you through your experiences, it’s genuinely refreshing to find a series willing to let you learn yourself, to let you run free and to play the game how you see fit. Sure, there is a framework of sorts, but what you do with your time is up to you. Hunt, forage, mince about with your friends – it’s your call, and the game is all the better for it.
While Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does eventually deliver the experience that has made it the sales sensation that it is in Japan, you’re still going to have to put up with a few issues that are likely to initially enrage and bewilder in equal measures. The Y axis for instance, can only move in increments, the menu system (despite the ability to move basic menus and controls to the GamePad) is rarely anything less than cumbersome and, despite the new classes, combat, at least until you figure out the game’s many quirks, will likely prove imprecise and clumsy. The visuals too, despite being home to some truly spectacular art design, from a purely technical perspective, are a bit of a turd. Low-res textures and minimal details abound in a game that can’t escape its original Wii roots.
Still, while the faults are certainly there, they’re easily forgotten in the heat of battle or the final moments of a search for rare items and resources. Capcom has created a world quite unlike any other, and while this is arguably the most user-friendly release in the series to date, the learning curve is still outrageously steep. It’s certainly not for everyone (well, not in the west anyway), but for some, this will be the justification for owning a Wii U and probably the reason that they no longer have a girlfriend, wife or any kind of social life for that matter. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, is big, cumbersome, unforgiving and utterly fantastic.
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Version Tested: Wii U