Monster Hunter Tri is the latest in the MH series and the first available on the Wii. This title is huge for the series, it being the first on a console with easy online accessibility in the US. The Hunter series is immensely popular in Japan, and this game is currently the best selling 3rd party Wii title by a large margin. I’ve been familiar with the series’ PSP releases but never actually played any of the entries.
Tri has the player create a customizable avatar and start off hunting in a small fishing village. Your hunter learns of an enormous sea monster named Lagiacrus which is causing earthquakes to the village. Your ultimate goal in the game is to defeat this monstrosity and stop the earthquakes, but there is plenty to do along the way as you developer as a monster hunter. For you see, it is truly a unique skill possessed only by you and every other person who plays this game.
Tri started life as a Wii and PS3 game but the decision was made early in development to axe the PS3 version. Capcom was motivated by the cheaper development cost and the comparably large potential audience for the Wii console, at least when measured next to the amount of PS3’s in homes.
The world of Monster Hunter Tri feels very large, vibrant and full of life, and feels very like a fully realized world. And this is even before you encounter any of the game’s MANY many creatures. I like the cliffs that surround the village and nearby farm with the sea not far in the distance, making you aware even early on that you must venture from the relative safety of the land to conquer the dangerous wildlife which waits below the sea and beyond the horizon.
Tri does not disappoint in its renderings of the various beasts. Every monster from the lowly raptor-like jaggie to the huge sea lion-ish Royal Ludroth is visually distinct and menacing in motion. I found myself anxious just to see what monstrosity the game would throw at me next. The Wii sure treats this creation of a world with visual brilliance. I even find myself pausing during hunts, taking a minute to fully admire the landscape’s beauty.
Tri features a good variety of character customization, everything from facial features to body type. Unfortunately, your creative efforts will be stymied by the fact that the game essentially forces you to cover your character in armor and various defensive means. I still had fun picking totally random attributes and designs for each design area and seeing the result. My character ended up looking generic, so I didn’t miss seeing his face at all.
Unfortunately the Wii’s weakness does rear its ugly head in the music department. Aside from a rousing flourish that plays shortly after you depart from the village and head over the horizon, the music is bland most of the time. It also seems to be ambient quite often, focusing more on environmental sounds and the ever-present roars of the various monsters you will encounter. I don’t understand why more music couldn’t have been used because what is here is rather excellent. Sure the game has great presence through its sound effects, but that really isn’t enough to fully realize the world to me. Boss battles have the kind of music that is epic and really draw players in these epic encounters; it is too bad that similar themed music couldn’t have been used more often.
When it comes to gameplay in the simulation influenced Monster Hunter series, you have your standard health bar and stamina bar, which deals with your running ability and how hungry your character is. Weapons come in various types and work based on timed strikes rather than strict combos. Basically you really have to watch what your targets are doing and find the best times to attack if you want to emerge relatively unscathed.
There is no level up system in this game. Instead you gain new missions via the hunter ranking system. It is via these new missions that you obtain new materials for forging various equipment, both for yourself and as part of other quests. It isn’t as straightforward as it could be, requiring specific hunts in order to level up that the game keeps a secret from you. Sure you will find them eventually by simply doing every quest, but streamlining the process couldn’t have hurt. It would seem that fans of the series consider this system to be a unique quirk of the game; I see it as a flawed design. Not everyone is a fan of doing everything a game has to offer, at least not necessarily the first time you play the game.
The rest of the game is functionally similar to most RPG’s. You buy and sell equipment, don it, and it raises your stats in and out of battle. Money can be earned through these activities and is used to buy the healing materials and various items that address status ailments and other areas that would take too long to address entirely here. You can also forge your own equipment using spoils you collect from defeated monsters. Items found throughout the world also play into the forging system, like ore and metals in mines and also plants found throughout the world.
The gathering method for these items is very neat. Rather than a magical treasure box appearing after felling a monster, the hunter must carve into the carcass’s remains in order to find one of many different possible items. You can do this two times per monster, and the results vary each time, encouraging the player to hunt a set creature in large amounts if you seek specific items.
Because of this system, I found myself oddly not concerned about the grinding aspects; having to run between un-adjacent areas just to get enemies to respawn might sound annoying, but the addictive nature of this system just drew me in, always wanting to see if this was the time that I would get that ONE necessary item.
Monster Hunter Tri is one of the few examples of online on the Wii done right. There are no friend codes or nonsense like that to deal with. You simply tell friends your ID number and then they log into the game and you're off, taking down huge monsters, doing quests, and having fun.
You can choose between City or Arena Mode. In Arena, you fight against certain monsters like the Giant Jaggi or the Querapaco to earn special coins that can be traded in for special armor in the main game. It takes some doing, but if you are determined (and have skilled partners) the repetitiveness of this mode are easily overlooked. The ability to choose several predesigned character setups and weapons is nice too.
City mode is your pretty standard online mode, in which up to 3 other players can join you on quests. All the shops present in single player are here as well, just in a different form. To start questing, you choose quests and fellow players join you via the bulletin board. Once all players head to the bridge, the game begins.
Communication is present via the Wii Speak device, but you can only use it between friends which hurts its overall appeal. USB keyboard serve as a great alternative and I not wanting to spring for 20 dollar accessory I wouldn't use much, I found the keyboard very capable, but I was wishing for a wireless one. I applaud Tri for having such a user-friendly online system, and this comes from someone who doesn't really play online a lot.
Challenge in this game is somewhat inconsistent. While it is pretty hard to die early on due to the lack of challenging monsters, failing to understand the game’s intricacies can be deadly. A lot of the larger monsters require you to do a lot more than just hack and slash at them for success. You have to study their attack patterns, watching for the best opportunities to attack.
If you are even slightly wrong about such times, you'll find yourself on the ground quickly. Because patience goes part and parcel with such strategies, this game might be tedious to fans of faster paced action games. To others it will come across as a fine chess match, in which the player constantly looks for the enemy to slip up and punish them accordingly. It's really satisfying when such moments come together.
Replay value is potentially vast with the ability to create various characters and armor and engage in quests mostly at your discretion. However this is perhaps the area most affected by your overall feelings toward the game. Replay value is largely subjective in these types of games, due to the open-ended nature.
Monster Hunter Tri does enough things right to position itself as a great console game. Tri has a lot of fun packed in a system that is daunting but rewards perseverance. While the hunting of monsters may seem like a classic video game occupation, Tri has plenty of fresh takes on this for many a curious gamer.
- Ugly Bob