Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – A Newcomer’s Diary

by on March 22, 2013

Monster-Hunter-3-Ultimate-DiaryI’m an RPG player by choice. There’s nothing I like more than creating a character, naming them, choosing their appearance, profession, personality, and tossing them into a world full of dungeons to raid, monsters to slay and loot to pilfer. As a general rule, I’ve a western bent, and would choose Dragon Age over Final Fantasy, Skyrim over Atelier, Dragon’s Dogma over Monster Hunter any day of the week.

But recently, having played the demo of the Wii U port of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I was asked to write an analysis of the 3DS version to go alongside our Wii U review. Being almost entirely clueless about the franchise – but being a fearless, intrepid games writer – I accepted the challenge with both hands and entered the strange world of Capcom’s hugely successful series. It’s now been five whole days, but what have I learned?

As is to be expected, there are a few differences between the 3DS and Wii U versions of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, some barely registering and some going so far as to affect the way you play the game. The first hurdle presented by switching down to the 3DS version after spending a few hours with the Wii U demo, was the device itself. My hands are hardly those of a concert pianist and the 3DS doesn’t exactly sit comfortably within my clumsy paws. I’ve always said I like my handhelds how I like my women: Big and manly.

Being big and manly myself, and having a few years of RPGing experience under my belt, I jumped directly into the character creator without bothering to even glance at the electronic manual. The opening cinematic (glorious on the 3DS’s tiny little 3D screen) told me what I wanted to know. There are big weapons, bulky armour sets, and you hunt monsters. I sculpted an Adonis and named him Huxley, declaring him to be the greatest hunter of monsters who ever lived, before striding, in big and manly steps, into the world of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.

Even my unbridled love for Dragon’s Dogma and my previous dalliances with the JRPG scene didn’t prepare me for how ponderous MH3U is. I only managed to read the first three blocks of text before my hind-brain kicked in and I started hammering A until I could walk away from the dull conversation and find a shop. The chief of the initial village gave me some money for no apparent reason (Note: There may have been a vital reason, but I skipped it) and Huxley wanted to buy a hat. Having bought a shiny new chain mail coif, I wandered down to the docks where a cat sailor offered to take me to a new island. Since nothing was happening in the village, I took him up on his offer and left for far Tanzia.

Upon arrival, I found the Monster Hunter’s Guild there to be brimming with quests, so I took one at random, still firm in my belief that this game would be a cakewalk. It said I had 50 minutes to hunt and kill an unpronounceable beast, somewhere in the world. I found a gate and departed on my quest – only to then run around blindly for the next twenty-five minutes, developing a nervous tick in one eye as I struggled to find anything remotely interesting to do that didn’t involve the savage murder of Monster Hunter 3’s equivalent of grazing animals. Twice I found myself swimming, but after struggling to control my movement with the silly touchscreen-based right analogue “stick”, I vowed to avoid water for a while. Huxley would just have to smell.

I was also having considerable difficulty with the combat. Not because the brainless livestock I was attempting to butcher were particularly skilled in the arts of mortal combat, but because I kept hitting X to attack and instead sharpening my sword mid-battle, or finding myself thrashing ineffectually at thin air because I’d gotten locked into a combo whilst facing the wrong way and my victim had buggered off.

After about 40 minutes of random activity that resulted in me not even once spotting my intended quarry, I did the only thing I could think to do – I emailed Adam, and ranted for a bit.

After being instructed by my patient – and far worldlier – Editor that, despite my protestations, I would have to submit to at least some reading if I wanted to fully understand Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I went back to the drawing board. I remade Huxley, restarted the game and – with a little new-found respect – tried again. The lesson learned? Don’t rush into Monster Hunter. The games themselves aren’t necessarily that deep or complex, but they are governed by a set of rules (some of which were bastardised to suit purpose in Dragon’s Dogma) that you’ll have to follow to get the most out of the experience.

So, on my second foray into Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I took a more leisurely pace. I listened to (read) what people were saying, and realised that if I merely followed a very simple set of instructions I’d find a very straightforward and un-intrusive “tutorial” section. I followed it, and oddly enough it didn’t once instruct me to assault the nearest non-human creature with a 200lbs hammer made of bones and stone and then run around in circles for forty minutes chewing my own tongue in the hope that the pain would break the monotony. I completed the tutorial, learned all about foraging and fighting, and then, happily, the Guild in the village was suddenly back in business.

Before I accepted any quests I thought it would be a good idea to mess around with the various weapons that are on offer from the beginning. Instead of choosing a class in Monster Hunter, you choose a weapon, and then wear armour designed to work with that weapon, pigeon-holing you into either the Blademaster or Gunner category. You can only switch weapons in your house in the village prior to accepting a Guild quest, and can only test them in the wild. It took a while, but I finally tried them all and settled on my immediate weapon of choice in any game that lets you choose: Dual-wielded blades. They’re fast but weak, but they make more sense than a 9-foot kitana or a giant, offensive set of bagpipes.

Once ready, I visited the annoyingly-written girl at the Guild counter who, if this was a fully voice-acted game, would probably drive me to drink bleach, and picked up my first quest: Collect three unique mushrooms and bring them back to town. This was absolute cake, and before I knew it, I was racing through quests and killing the Raptor-like Jaggia like a champ. Nothing could stop me, and the Moga Woods trembled at my very approach…

Bow before me, puny mortals, for I am the greatest hunter of monsters who ever lived.

I am hunt all the monsters.

It’s true: walking around the world of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate with a cocksure swagger before you’ve gotten your bearings will either get you killed or get you lost. It’s hardcore, in that respect – much more forgiving than, say, Dark Souls or even Dragon’s Dogma, but its world is made of rules and a failure to obey those rules will see the effort you put in repaid with diminishing returns.

Armed with such knowledge, I decided to spend a few hours completing the 1-Star quests, building my stockpile of resources and attempting to upgrade my rather snazzy, fur-lined Hunter’s armour. Killing monsters yields you varying spoils, as for some reason only some Jaggia have Jaggi scales, and only a handful of the springbok-like Kelbi have Kelbi horns. Obviously a game of this ilk has to impose drop rates, but it’s irritating nonetheless.

Still, it wasn’t long before I had the money and resources to start upgrading bits of armour and stockpiling potions for use in the field. Preparation is the key, as the game had told me several times in one way or another, and I was determined to be ready for anything. Of course, being ready for anything in Monster Hunter is difficult if you don’t already have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every root, reagent and mushroom going. I took to strolling around the Moga Woods, catching bugs and digging for truffles, before smushing a load of stuff together to see what I could create. Mostly, I created sod all – but at least I was learning.

My combat skills were also improving, and the lack of a dedicated lock-on button that had so irritated me to begin with was no longer a concern. I had – I thought – all but perfected the art of rolling to an enemy’s unprotected flank or rear and dishing out sneaky, underhand punishment. Along with my nifty dual blades, it felt incredibly apropos. All in all, I was coming to terms with the world, taking in my surroundings, learning where to look for certain ingredients, what to keep hold of and what to bin, which potions and items to take into a particular situation. It had taken a few days, but I was finally getting it.

So, after four days spent in the strange and dangerous world of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, what had I learned that I could take with me into my fifth day? And, more importantly, what had I seen that would convince me to stay? To be fair, the appeal is plain to see. Although it’s a little more layered than your average Western RPG, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate repays your commitment with a deep and plentiful world. It’s not a game for loot-enthusiasts and dungeon crawlers, but if you want straightforward questing bookended by a much deeper crafting and progression system, then this is the game for you.

By Day Five I was in my stride, picking up quests and handing them in with the speed and determination that would eventually see me facing off against my first real beast – but that wouldn’t be for a while yet. I was still hacking away at the lesser quests in Moga and Tanzia, trying to avoid too much conversation and forgetting, over and over again, to empty my damn item bag between quests. I understood the importance of going hunting for resources as well as questing, and the difference between friendly beasts and psychotic flesh-eaters. I was even used to the touchscreen analogue. My initial confusion and irritation was gone, replaced by a kind of calm acceptance of Monster Hunter’s rules and a much more palpable desire to play, to improve Huxley’s gear and raise my own level of skill. It had all clicked into place, and I could see what the fuss was about.

Perhaps by Day Ten I’ll have taken down my first colossus and cemented my reputation as a true monster hunter. Or, and this is more likely, maybe I’ll still be chasing after butterflies with a bug net and trying to get the hang of fighting with an enormous set of bagpipes…

SHOULD YOU BUY IT? In comparison, the Wii U version is undoubtedly superior, at least in my eyes. The HD visuals and right analogue stick make a hell of a difference in the field – though you could argue that I’m simply not used to the 3DS’ tiny little screen and dainty proportions. In terms of the actual gameplay, there’s nothing between them – but the 3DS does have the wonderful Streetpass system, and simply feels more natural when playing with others.

There’s a lot to like here for anyone with even a passing interest in RPGs. Yes, it’s very Japanese in its sense of style and occasion, but there’s a certain charm and freedom to the world not often associated with role-playing experiences coming out of the East (which is not to say I don’t find Japanese games charming in of themselves – it’s just usually a different kind of appeal that draws my attention). In the end, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a very simple game dressed in complicated clothes. The central premise is no different from any game in the series, and the “get-in, get-done and get-out” instant questing system is a great antidote to the ponderous nature of the menus and navigation. Whether you prefer the handheld version over the Wii U port is really a matter of preference, and will likely separate the purists from the newcomers, but there really isn’t much between them besides the 3D wizardry in the former and the polished visuals in the latter.

If you’re not a fan of the franchise already, maybe Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate won’t change your mind, but if you’re willing to get into it, and ready to let the strange mix of relaxing exploration and frantic animal slaughter wash over you, you’ll find a decent game that will keep you entertained for a long time to come.

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