Monster Hunter is huge in Japan. Huge. Over here in North America? Well, it’s not as huge, though it’s pretty popular thanks to the slew of PSP releases over the past few years. While these PSP games are quality titles that give you a near endless amount of content to play, there a few things they are missing that keep this from becoming the next big thing in the States. Monster Hunter 3, or tri, as its often referred to, aims to fix many of those issues to make a more accessible and enjoyable game that still retains the hardcore factors you know and love from Monster Hunter.
For instance, the tutorial in the PSP games takes hours. I’m not exaggerating. Every time I thought I was finished with the tutorial, it turned out that I was still learning how to do things by going out on much easier missions than I maybe wanted to. Basically, the game kept you out of the hardcore action and the monsters you want to slay for far too long, which kind of kept people from getting into it if they were impatient. It doesn’t help when it looks like you have hours upon hours of learning to do before you can even kill a monster that wants to hurt you as bad as you want to hurt it.
In tri, the hand-holding is less evident, and you will be out there in the fields fighting impossibly huge creatures before you know it. The tutorial is much more in the vein of, “Hey there, let me tell you about that sword you’re holding” then it is “Now before you can wield a sword, I need to send you out on this overly simplistic sword-based mission”. This lets you learn as you play, and also allows you to dive in to the meat of the game much earlier–I’ll admit I’m a bit of a Monster Hunter rookie, but I’ve played Freedom Unite on the PSP, and I can tell you this is a welcome change.
There are also a lot of little changes that are worth noting–you can now change your gear inside the meeting hall where your online compatriots can see it, rather than going outside to change your equipment and then coming back in. This is nice for showing off some gear you’ve picked up, or if you just need to make a last minute change to your equipment and don’t want to hold your buddies up. Harvesting plants and digging are also much easier now, as a context sensitive button will appear next to these items and let you perform the action–no more stopping and going through your inventory to equip your pick axe before you start mining. This all makes for a smoother experience, and keeps you from having to muck around in your inventory every time you see something you want to dig.
The biggest change is the fact that you now have split-screen co-op and online multiplayer, rather than the more limited online of the PSP titles. In Japan, this service requires monthly payments, but as of now, the American side of Capcom has not made a decision. One reason they can do this in Japan is due to the popularity of the series–people would probably pay way more than Capcom charges to get their hands on it–but that may not fly over here, considering it’s just not as popular. Regardless, the game will be on Capcom’s own servers, and will not require Friend Codes. It’s much more like playing an online game on the Playstation Network or over Xbox Live, which works for me.
I played two levels during my time with Capcom–the first of these had us fighting a brand new monster that would call for help from other monsters if we stopped attacking it for too long. The obvious solution was to beat the thing into submission, but the monster didn’t just stand there and take it, so it’s easier said than done. With four of us working on it though, the fight did not last too long–it showed off how important teamwork can be in a Monster Hunter mission though. I got to mess around with a brand new weapon during this mission, the switch axe. It’s either a huge axe or a massive sword, depending on which mode you choose to use, and you can switch back and forth using the right bumper on the classic controller. Both have their positives and negatives, as axes are obviously swung slower than swords but do massive damage, and vice versa.
One other thing I noticed during this session–you get up from being knocked down significantly faster in the Wii version than in the PSP one, which is great. Monsters won’t be able to get as much of a head start on you if they run, you can get back into the fight faster–nothing bad can come from speeding that up a bit, especially since it took so long to get back up in the older versions.
The other level I demoed was meant for the hardcore Japanese audience that is used to playing Monster Hunter, meaning I had little to no chance of completing it. It did show off the new underwater combat though, which means I needed to give it a go. Water combat is a lot like combat on the ground in some ways–get near your enemy, use your weapon, rinse and repeat–but also very different. Since you need to angle yourself in the water, the combat is more 3D, since the monsters can come from behind, in front of you, on top of you or underneath you. There’s also a layer of strategy here–if you can harass the monster until it gets out of the water, sometimes you help your chances. Not everything that swims fast is as adept on land, and you may be able to turn a once difficult foe into a sluggish, easier target on dry ground. That’s not always true though, as some enemies that you find in the water excel on land, so you will learn when this is a good tactic to employ and when you’re better off fighting aquatically.
Don’t worry about running out of breath, either–you can dive for around 20 minutes without any problems, and there’s an item you can take just like a potion that will allow you to breathe underwater indefinitely.
Lastly, the graphics in this game are fantastic. Despite the gargantuan beasts, Monster Hunter utilizes a realistic graphical style, and it looks like the Wii finally got their graphical showcase for that style of game. Everything is brightly lit, with light and shadows playing an important part in the landscapes (especially underwater) and everything also looks very, very smooth. You can see for yourself in the screens, but the game looks better in motion.
Monster Hunter is one of those series that always intrigues me, and I want to love it, but there’s always something that gets in the way of me either picking it up or diving in as much as I want to. With tri, Capcom seems to have done away with many of these barriers to entry, and may have set themselves up to release their best effort yet on the Wii. We’ll have more info on this game as it nears release, but for now, just know the series seems to be headed in a positive direction.