Relationships are tough—and often quite perplexing. Sometimes the only solution to a murky introduction is to stick it out and spend the time getting to know the other party. On that note, my relationship with Monster Hunter Tri has been genuinely perplexing. In the beginning, I honestly couldn’t find much to enjoy; I found the design overcomplicated, confusing, and just generally excessive. But after spending enough time with the game—I think around 10 hours or so—I really began to warm up to it. Before long, the depth of the content and social emphasis inherent in a well-designed online mode began to grow on me. And now, here I am mentally contemplating the comparisons to such addictive and prolific titles as Diablo and Final Fantasy XI.
But before we leap into such topics, let’s regress for a moment to prepare. First off, you should know that Monster Hunter is far from your typical Wii game. It’s unapologetically demanding, relentless, and it presumes persistence on the part of the player. But it’s also uncommonly ambitious; graphically, it’s simply stunning, and it exhibits a rare competence in terms of online gameplay on a Nintendo platform, entirely devoid of mention of Friend Codes and other such impractical nonsense. In other words, this is a game that Wii gamers have been expecting for years, but it’s only just now arrived.
When sedation dentistry works best
Just don’t expect it to be obvious from the start. Yes, the game is eye-poppingly gorgeous, but it’s equally mind-numbingly confusing and repetitive in the beginning if you’ve never played a Monster Hunter game before. Expect to engage in numerous “chore-like” fetch quests, collect expansive amounts of random items, and spend upwards of 45 minutes fighting a single boss monster, sometimes repeating the same techniques for the majority of the battle. It’s also important that you don’t mind plenty of comprehensive reading, as the game isn’t afraid to throw walls of (admittedly amusingly-worded) explanatory text at you. It isn’t quite as inelegant as that might sound, but that’s the sort of thing the game expects you to do. While it all might seem for naught, give it time and the game will suck you in by way of its various devices.
Monster Hunter is built on the exploration of exotic, dangerous environments and the completion of targeted quests within them. In Monster Hunter Tri, you work out of a small village floating on the waves of the ocean, answering the call of a tribe that has been long terrorized by a frightful sea creature known as the Lagiacrus. Of course, that’s only a tiny part of your actual involvement in the community, as the people constantly ask other favors of you in exchange for payment in the way of collectible resources (which you can then combine, sell, or use to make weapons and armor).
For the most part, everything is presented in the form of selectable quests (sorted by difficulty), all of which take place in one of five different environments (e.g., island, forest, desert). Each environment is split further into around 12 different interconnected areas. The paths bridging each of these different areas are not explorable; all of the action takes place in the areas themselves, which are generally teeming with all manner of plant and animal life. While action is at the core of the formula, the Monster Hunter experience is front-heavy with exploration. In general, between the occasional brushes with peril, the first couple of missions in any new environment are laden with beauty and wonderment, to the extent which the 345,000 pixels the Wii supports can communicate.
He’s swimmin’ with da fishes
And it is indeed a sight to behold. Screen resolution be damned, Monster Hunter Tri will make you a believer in the Wii’s capabilities all over again—however pale they may seem in comparison to the 1080p gang. The game’s photorealistic beauty is rooted in its striking attention to detail. Water pours over the cliffs and trickles off the leaves of the forests around you; herds of creatures migrate through the grassy plains in the background, seemingly a mile away; the blue ambiance of the caves echoes with indigenous sound. There are reflections in the water, impressive lighting effects… and even the smoke from the blacksmith’s kiln follows the same patterns at the mercy of the wind as the smoke from the torches burning in the foreground. It’s apparent that the developers cut no corners in the way of presentation, as every area in every environment carries its own distinctive flavor, providing a sense of atmospheric realism which is rare in any game on any console. You could almost enjoy a leisurely hike through nearly any of these locations—that is, if it weren’t for the sporadic mega-insect or hellbeast encounters.
And hellbeast battles you will endure, waging war against overgrown lizards and mammals of all types, nearly all of which bring along lesser versions of themselves as henchmen just to piss you off. These creatures will run from area to area, begging pursuit across various forms of terrain and underwater—and they’re often ridiculously challenging. This ain’t your grandpa’s… actually nevermind, I’m not using that one.
But when you aren’t taking on massive so-called “boss” creatures (or poaching their young), you’ll be requested to catch a certain type of fish, mine for a specific mineral, or gather a unique plant. All of this is explicitly demanded by the quest you choose to undertake, of course, which sends you on your way to the relevant environment via boat and drops you at the base camp. Here, you’ll gather the limited supplies you can carry with you from the supply box (to add to those you bring along yourself) and then set off into the wilderness to complete your task.
You’ll have to watch your health as well as your stamina, both of which can be replenished via certain items. Stamina regenerates automatically, too, of course, but the bigger problem is that the maximum capacity actually decreases as well over time. By eating, you can restore and even extend your stamina meter.
I knew we should have built the fence
Apart from the aforementioned monsters, the only other thing you’ll have to wrestle with is the clock, which typically grants you a generous amount of time to finish the job (once you manage to figure out what that entails). There are optional subquests as well, and it’s possible to complete them and surrender the main quest if you’re having trouble. Anything you accomplish will earn you resources and money, even if you abort the main quest and only finish a subquest. And the resources and money you earn can either be donated to the tribe (to open up still other possibilities) or used to acquire/develop new weapons, armor, and accessories. You even get a little sidekick once you reach a certain point, and he’s helpful in his own predictably dumb-AI sort of way.
Speaking of dumb, Tri’s story is pretty lame, so the sole motivation to continue playing is to improve your character and explore each of the five environments (it takes some time to reach the last two, and the final one is truly perilous and pretty exciting). Completionists are sure to herald this game as both a gift and a curse, as it’s sure to keep them busy for dozens of hours once they’re hooked, but there’s so much to collect that it’s likely to drive them partially mad in the process.
Great, so is that it?
That’s precisely what I was asking myself… before diving into the Nintendo WFC multiplayer, that is. Monster Hunter Tri might be lengthy and deep, but its real strength lies in its online mode. Here, you’ll pair up with complete strangers (or friends, of course) and litigate some lizards in style.
It’s a totally different game online, starting with the actual hub world. As opposed to the village, you first choose a server, and then are taken to a City Gate. Here, you can engage in Arena battles (where you take control of preset characters with friends and battle a super-powerful enemy) or enter a City, which contains up to 4 live players (sure, 4 isn’t a lot, but the design works well).
Once inside the City, everything is at your fingertips: shops, the blacksmith, the arena, and a tavern where you can socialize with others (arm wrestle, chat, etc.) and eat meals to boost your stats—and, of course, take on quests, together. What was once somewhat repetitive and excessive offline becomes riveting and engaging in a group of four.
The rest of the online package is well-executed as well—everything from the interaction (support for both text input via controller or keyboard and WiiSpeak) to the pairing (players are sorted by HR points, which are essentially the Monster Hunter equivalent to EXP). The only real chink in the armor is the combat, which, while perfectly functional and enjoyable, sacrifices some coherence due to the lack of synchronization of enemy positions. The boss battles are excluded from this issue; it’s only the general wildlife that is unique to each player’s game world. The upside to this is that you don’t have to worry about stealing drops from other players (or them stealing from you); every player gets their own drops.
There’s enough to do online to last you quite some time. You’ll find seven tiered difficulties of quests to choose from (gradually made available to you as you progress), plus special Event Quests which are regularly added. It’s an entirely different experience from single-player altogether, and it’s the way Monster Hunter was meant to be experienced.
Speaking of which, Monster Hunter Tri might be playable with the Wii remote and nunchuk, but that clearly isn’t how it was intended to be enjoyed. Instead, you’re highly advised to pick up a Classic Controller (or better yet, the new Classic Controller Pro); the game is much easier to manage without having to stretch your fingers constantly to the 1 and 2 buttons positioned vertically at the bottom of the remote, praying that you happen to find the correct one in the heat of battle.
So remember, if this all sounds enticing to you, when things start off and you’re drowning in the details, stick it out and give Monster Hunter Tri a chance to woo you. Spend time in its environments, complete its quests, and explore its weapons customization systems. Let it quench your thirst for a deep online gaming experience on the Wii and massage your deepest desires for stunning presentation.
…Wait, what were we talking about again?