Let me begin this review by dispelling a silly notion: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is not a port of Monster Hunter Tri for the Wii. That idea is just about as misinformed as saying that Resident Evil for the GameCube was the same game that the original Resident Evil was on the PlayStation.
I offer a more detailed response to the question of whether this game is a port in the second page of this review, under the subtitle “port, expansion, or sequel?”
In times of great peril, there must come a hero to save the people. In the midst of a rough drought of games on the Wii U console, the Heroes of Light Three have come to save us from this dangerous boredom (and from our real-life responsibilities): Need for Speed, Lego City, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. It’s only fitting that this game came to us in such a heroic way, as it will also make you feel like a hero when you’ve defeated its terrifyingly massive beasts in grueling, 30-minute-long combat. Even better, if you play the game online you won’t only feel like a hero, but you will have the chance to actually be a hero, as you help your teammates survive against, and overcome the worst encounters the game throws at you.
In reality, though, you will often be much less than a hero — in multiplayer, you’ll likely be the goofy foil that is constantly being saved by others. Even when you are good, chances are your brilliance will go unrecognized, as the subtleties of your support work can only be appreciated with a sharp eye. It’s all good in the end, as the sense of camaraderie such dynamics present is no doubt the largest appeal of this game.
You are a hero, brought to the remote and quiet Moga Village to help its residents discover and fend off a terrifying monster threatening to destroy the village, and more. It’s really all just an excuse to send you out to hunt; in spite of the game’s insistence with the heroic themes, in reality you will spend 90% of your time caring more about hunting the next beast and upgrading your equipment than about saving any villagers. The game knows this, as the few NPCs constantly poke fun at you for being a “hero,” and continue to take life a bit too lightly in spite of your constant heroic acts.
This mock-heroism presented through the story extends all throughout the game. The characters are animated cartoonishly (though beautifully), the colors are saturated, the NPCs are content with merely grunting their way through their conversations, the weapon and armor designs are exaggerated to the point of farce, and the music only gets more and more majestic as you advance through the game and fight the more unique monsters. It’s all very Japanese, and it works beautifully.
Technically, the game does fall behind the current generation by more than a couple large steps. While this game does look much better than Monster Hunter Tri largely thanks to having a higher resolution, a better framerate, and some oddly hyper-crisp textures, everything has a distinct low polygon count, and the lighting could be the stuff of jokes — except for the fact that all characters and monsters, mysteriously, are able to cast self-shadows. The result is somewhere around 80% artistry, and only 20% technical prowess. If you are the type of person that is more impressed by art styles than tech, then surely you won’t mind the way this game looks.
One thing to note: animations are truly beautiful. Top-tier artistry went into animating the characters and monsters in this game, and it really helps bring the game to life. I think part of the reason I can’t complain much about the game’s graphics in general is because, having actually played it and seen its monsters animate beautifully and with so much character, much of what I appreciate is hidden in between the screenshots. Judging this game’s looks based on screenshots is self-defeating, as the true worth of the graphical qualities of this game doesn’t reveal itself until you’ve personally seen a Barioth wyvern pounce viciously on you, only to lose its grip on the ice, causing him to skid and spin a little before coming to a full stop.
At its core, Monster Hunter is a game about hunting monsters. I know that is an awful obviety, but truly, there are many people out there that don’t want to take that for its face value. Some people may want to add their own context to it, such as “hunting monsters to save the princess and solve political intrigue.” No, it’s pretty much about hunting monsters. If you know any people who, in real life, hunt deer and make trophies out of them, then you can very much translate that into the experience of Monster Hunter.
Of course, you don’t hunt deer in Monster Hunter — you hunt monsters.
Let me give you a quick rundown of the process behind a typical quest in Monster Hunter. First, you make sure you are prepared with potions to heal yourself, food to restore your stamina, whetstones to sharpen your weapon, cool drinks to brave the desert’s unbearable heat, and a pickaxe in case you need to mine some rocks for precious resources. Because you have limited space in your item pouch, and you want to be able to carve up your fallen enemies for the precious items they offer, you make sure to transfer stuff from your personal item pouch to the item storage box that will stay in the village. Then you go to the tavern, which is run by a cat, and you eat some food to get a helpful boost — specifically, because you know you are going to be fighting a very fierce fire beast, you eat food that will give you fire resistance and a health boost. If you are still lacking in some items, you buy them at the store before heading out. You then visit the guild receptionist, sign up for the specific fierce fiery beast hunt quest, and set out on your voyage.
Once out there in the desert plains area where you will fight the fiery fire beast, you first look for it — chances are it is in the hotter parts of the map, so you take a hot drink as you go there, and make sure to eat and increase your stamina, just to be prepared. Once you find the monster, you fight it; noticing that the monster relies on his tail to attack you when you least expect it, you proceed to hack at it until it comes right off, and in the first chance you get, you carve it for its materials. Likewise, you make sure to ruin the monster’s horns and claws, so that you can get better items off him at the end of the quest. Throughout the grueling, half-an-hour-long battle, you continue to eat and drink potions and cool drinks to stay at the top of your game. Once the monster is defeated, you carve his body for your rewards. You return to the village, where you may use the items you got from the monster to craft your very own wearable trophies, in the form of powerful weapons and armor.
That’s just about the daily grind of the game, and the baseline at which most players enjoy the game. If what you’ve read so far was enough to convince you to buy this game, then I suggest you stop reading right here, as the following paragraphs will delve deeply into the game’s mechanics and systems, and are aimed only at players who are interested in seeing just how much depth there is to this game. If you must know the score: it’s a 9.5/10. There, now go buy the game, and don’t worry about the untold depth of this game until you actually need to, a hundred hours of gameplay later.
Now, let’s talk about this “untold depth” for those players that get used to the daily grind and want to enjoy the game at higher levels. If you want that extra push that will help you defeat the higher level monsters, you must learn to use the appropriate armor that has the right elemental resistances, high defensive stats, and most importantly, the skills that suit your play style best. If you want to go further, you can mix and match different armor sets for the different skills, and then set jewel decorations and wear charms that will help you get some of the more rare and effective skill combinations.
If you feel that the everyday potions are less than enough for your needs, you can set to combining items to make better ones: the simplest example is to combine potions with honey to make mega potions — a more advanced example would be to combine a Catalyst with a Might Seed to obtain a Demondrug, which increases your attack slightly throughout an entire hunt, and then combine that with Pale Extract, a relatively rare item, to obtain a Mega Demondrug, which increases your attack even more and gives you an increased advantage in your quest. You can also make bombs of various uses and power, ammo of all kinds (if you use the gun weapons), traps to help you capture — or simply kill more effectively — a monster, and all sorts of other useful items that are optional, yet more and more necessary as you move into the more difficult missions.
Then, of course, is the horizontal depth of learning the various weapons. In addition to all the remarkable depth described above, the variety and depth of weapons in this game adds entire new layers of learning to the game. If you ever wondered how it could be that people who played 400 hours of Monster Hunter Tri could somehow decide they also want to play Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, let me tell you right now that a huge part of it is the fact that they can do everything all over again with new weapons, or with weapons they didn’t try before.
Let me go at it categorically: There are 12 weapons in this game. Except for the minor differences between Light and Heavy Bowguns, all these weapons are wildly different from one another. Dual Swords are fast and excellent for laying down the elemental damage, but are often blunt and bad at breaking a beast’s face, and have the worst range of all weapons. Greatswords are very much the flagship weapon for the Monster Hunter series: they have great range, great physical power, can have good elemental power, are almost equally good at both breaking horns and cutting tails, and though they are only moderately difficult to pick up for the first time, they allow for very high skill ceiling play. Hammers are excellent at breaking horns but can’t cut tails, deal fantastic damage in short periods of time but not the best at long periods, can stun monsters by hitting them in the face, are not good at elemental damage, and have poor range. Bows are very tactile, allowing the player to get into a very smooth rhythm; they can break things easily but can’t cut tails, are good for adding status effects such as poison to beasts, and force the player to be vulnerable by wearing low-defense armor. The Bowguns are the most tactical weapons in the game, requiring a great deal of preparation before the hunt, require a huge amount of customization, are a very expensive habit to maintain, are only slightly able to cut tails and not too great at destroying parts — yet if used by a master, they are utterly destructive.
There are many other weapons, and they all have their own intricacies, their specific movesets, and their unique qualities. The difference between using a Longsword and a Hammer is as great as the difference between playing with Dhalsim and E. Honda in Street Fighter.
- The best parts of the game are truly incredible. When you are on an average Rathian run with some of your close friends, and suddenly the mighty Deviljho decides to crash your party, and you all decide to fight him against all odds, and you somehow come out victorious, there is an immense sense of satisfaction and camaraderie at work. After all, you and your friends just spent over 30 grueling minutes relying on each other, every single mistake potentially meaning failure for all, and every single right move bringing glory closer for all. But in the end, you prevailed, and get to take the spoils home. Experiences like that are among the best that videogames have ever offered, and explain why fans of the series are willing to buy whatever system Monster Hunter lands on.
- The very worst parts of the game are when you have just begun playing it for the first time, and when you catch yourself grinding, alone, one of the more obnoxious monsters in the game, all for some armor with very appealing skills. In these cases, the journey is hell, yet the destination is heaven.