By Ishaan . March 18, 2010 . 12:55pm
Did you ever have to drop a racing game because you either found it too arcadey or too realistic? I’ve done it on multiple occasions for the latter reason. I tend to suck outright at racing sims, and the last time I tried one — GRID — more often than not, I couldn’t make a turn without my car ending up facing the wrong direction. Eventually, I ended up abandoning it to pursue other racers that didn’t make me feel like I was being penalized for — what do you know — driving fast in a racing game!
Simulation racers aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, and I have a fair number of friends that swear by them. They’re just too…anal…for me, for lack of a better word. It’s the same reason I dislike flight simulators — too slow, too technical, not enough action to balance out the monotonous bits.
Luckily, striking a balance between technicality and fun is something Monster Hunter Tri excels at, if the demo is anything to judge by. Think of it as a hack-and-slash RPG combined with a tracking and hunting simulation. Since I’m new to the monster-hunting craze, I’ll be providing the perspective of a newcomer to the concept. There’s also a lot of information to digest, so I’ll break it up into sections for the purpose of this playtest. Let’s start by discussing character classes.
Weapons and Classes:
Before I booted the demo up, I skimmed over the instruction sheet that came with it, since it gave you an idea of how to use the different weapons. Classes are based on the weapon you choose. Here’s a quick rundown of each one in the demo:
Sword & Shield: Your bread and butter "average" class.
Great Sword: Sacrifices speed for offensive power.
Hammer: Sacrifices defense for offensive power.
Bowgun: Your long-range class. Comes in light, medium and heavy varieties, which influence speed and firepower, conversely proportional to each other.
Lance: Appears to be more of a defensive class. Block frequently, strike from a distance.
Switch Axe: Your weapon transforms between an axe and sword. This class had some very interesting effects on the demo, which I’ll detail below.
Long Sword: Uses a giant Japanese-style sword with a damage gauge that decreases over time. The focus here is to keep your weapon at the highest possible level of damage by using regular moves to hit things. The one you start out with is charged with electricity.
Before you’re even in the game, the sheet emphasizes two things, from what I could tell:
The Tri demo consists of two quests, both of which are timed. The first, easier one involves hunting down The Great Jaggi (pictured above), leader of a pack of dinosaurs named Jaggis, and clocks in at 20 minutes. For my very first monster-hunting experience, I decided to play it safe and chose the Sword & Shield class, since it’s described as a "basic style known for its flexibility," mumbled a faint "please be gentle with me," and hopped into the game. Since I had no idea what I was doing whatsoever, I took a moment to acquaint myself with the controls.
Melee weapons in Monster Hunter Tri perform different moves depending on how you’re holding the Wii remote when you press the A button, kind of like in No More Heroes. For example; the Sword & Shield register holding it straight up, pointed at the screen, twisted to the left and twisted to the right. It’s very convenient not having to use a button to switch between moves. On the flipside, you control the camera with the d-pad like in most Wii games, which initially kept me from touching it entirely.
Journey to the Jaggis:
Soon after, I set off to find The Great Jaggi, whose position was denoted by a blue marker on my map. The short journey to the Jaggi’s lair wasn’t very interesting in and of itself, since the demo only features one small region, and it isn’t inhabited by much other than your quest target and a few other creatures loitering about. Once I left the camp you start out at, I got a chance to try out my moves on some of the more harmless herbivores wandering about. They appeared to be fairly docile and went down without putting up a fight despite their deceptively large size.
However, something that did stand out during the short journey is that the freedom of movement the game affords you is remarkable. For instance, every object in the environment — whether it’s a tree branch or a rock — is modeled using actual geometry. So, if you come across a tree branch blocking your path, chances are, you can crawl under it. While you can’t necessarily climb to the top of every cliff you come across, it is nice that every object on flat ground acts the way it’s supposed to, instead of being an "invisible barrier."
This is something a lot of early exploration games like Tomb Raider got me used to, so I always appreciate it whenever I’m granted the ability to navigate through the environment in a manner that I prefer.
The Battle with the Jaggis:
Once I got to the Jaggi’s lair, spotting the leader of the pack was easy. He was bigger and meaner-looking than the others. Naturally, my instinctive reaction was to unsheathe my weapons and charge right in. By about ten minutes and five deaths later, I had learnt four things:
This is where Monster Hunter is a technical game. You aren’t attempting a boss fight — you’re going on a hunt. While you have access to combos, charging headfirst into battle without a plan just does not work. The game expects that you use the full arsenal of equipment provided to you — the traps, the bait, the different varieties of bombs — with careful consideration. Each one serves a specific purpose, and how and when you choose to use them in coordination with your offense is what makes the difference between a quick death and a victory.
Or a higher chance of victory, rather. For you see, Monster Hunter Tri operates on what Capcom say is a virtual ecosystem. Creatures in the game act independently of one another, although, they are very much capable of influencing each other’s behaviour. The Great Jaggi, for instance, can rally his lesser Jaggis against you. And the lesser Jaggis’s only instinct is to protect the leader of their pack, with no regard for their own safety. Another important factor is where you fight your target. Depending on your class and the creature you’re hunting, an open or closed or small or large surrounding environment makes a great difference.
Fighting the Jaggis in a confined space, for instance, means you’re prone to them ganging up on you without much room for you to outmaneuver them. You’d have a much better chance if you managed to chase them into a more open area and laid traps at the exits. This way, you wouldn’t always find yourself on the receiving end of the Great Jaggi’s enormous tail, which he loves to swing about.
Furthermore, the creatures don’t follow a set pattern. I played the quest at least five or six times before I was able take down the Great Jaggi, and each time, he retreated to a different part of the map and my strategy for giving chase had to change accordingly. Eventually, I managed to take him down using the Long Sword class — twice. Every other time, I ended up getting myself killed. There appears to be no chance of a guaranteed victory in Monster Hunter Tri. Even in the full game, where you have access to a wide variety of material to craft your own weapons and traps with, it seems the best you can do is prepare as well in advance as possible.
The second quest in the demo made this even more apparent.
Hunting the Qurupeco:
In the menu, the Qurupeco is described as a creature that can mimic the call of other beasts. I went into the second, harder quest — partially due to the tight 10-minute limit — expecting the Qurupeco to make good use of this ability to rally the Jaggis against me. While I wasn’t wrong, the game surprised me nevertheless.
Quest 2 started out the same way as the first one. Locate the blue "target" icon on the minimap, prepare your weapons and item configurations well in advance, and set out for your hunt. I should point out that I stopped killing the herbivorous dinos after my first and only attempt because I felt bad for doing it. This time, however, I tried to see if I couldn’t, at the very least, get a reaction out of them without resorting to violence. Alas, no amount of clapping or bowing or cheering — gestures for the multiplayer mode — in front of them caused any sort of annoyance, so I gave up and moved on.
Once I’d found the Qurupeco, I attempted to use the same strategy I had with the Jaggi to take it down: keep my Long Sword’s damage gauge as high as possible, perform rolls to evade often and try to avoid fighting in a closed space. Unfortunately, the Qurupeco had the same idea, largely because it complimented his strengths — flight and spitting acid. To top that, the Qurupeco could indeed call upon the lesser Jaggis and trick them into rallying against me. The usual several deaths later, I switched to the Switch Axe class.
Virtual Ecosystem Part 2:
Something I’d noticed about the Switch Axe class while fighting the Jaggis was that there was ample opportunity to send them flying all over the place due to the sheer strength of the weapon. I wasn’t even close to figuring out the nuances of the Switch Axe, but I figured anything that would help keep the Jaggis at bay was only a good thing.
Unfortunately, the Qurupeco didn’t call upon the Jaggis this time.
Once I’d managed to do enough damage to make him retreat, he flew out into the largest open area on the map and let out a call I hadn’t heard before. Immediately, I turned to the nearby cave, expecting a stampede of some sort to come charging out at any minute. The herbivorous lizards from earlier perhaps? They’d run scared the one time I had chased the Qurupeco to their territory, but if he could rally the Jaggis against me, there was no reason he couldn’t do it with those guys. But nope, that wasn’t it either.
Instead, moments later, I spotted a giant shadow fly over the ground. Panicking, I turned around to get a look at it, and was greeted by this absolutely HUGE FREAKING FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON thunderously landing down upon the ground. Seriously. This thing was enormous. Like those gargantuan fantasy-looking dragons you see on Monster Hunter covers all the time. And it looked mean. The only thought going through my head at the time was, "They want me to fight this?!" It was so big, I couldn’t fathom the thought of even getting close enough without being chewed up and spat out.
And this guy didn’t care about fighting me. No, he wanted to rip the Qurupeco apart for calling him out…which of course, involved tearing me to shreds as well, since I was right there. And that’s ultimately what ended up happening. This was easily the highlight of the entire demo experience, because it only ever happened once. I haven’t been able to replicate it since.
I later learnt via the net that this beast was Rathian, queen of the Wyverns, and one of the higher level creatures in the game that you aren’t supposed to "officially" encounter until much later.
Eventually, I ended up using the Medium Bowgun class against Qurupeco, which made things a lot more manageable. Turns out the most effective strategy to taking him on is fighting at long-range in an enclosed area, so he doesn’t have too much room to fly about…provided he doesn’t call upon the Great Jaggi to help him out, which is exactly what he did. In this situation, one of two things will happen:
Either way, it makes for an entertaining, constantly surprising experience, and playing with the Bowgun class felt like an entirely different game. It involved a combination of pattern memorization, laying traps and gradually whittling the Qurupeco down to exhaustion by constantly keeping the heat on him. The perfect balance between technicality and game-like design. While I haven’t managed to kill him yet, I find the Medium Bowgun has gotten me closest to the goal.
Out of curiosity, I later attempted the Great Jaggi quest with the Medium Bowgun class and got my ass handed to me.
It’s a good thing Capcom released this demo well in advance of the actual game. From the look of it, Monster Hunter Tri is just packed full of things you wouldn’t expect to see in a videogame, and honestly, I think it could be overwhelming for someone that hasn’t played these games before.
As an aside, I’m also super-addicted to the demo to the point where I’ve neglected my homework, which is due tomorrow. And this is just the single player experience. By all accounts, Monster Hunter is meant to be played with other people, and I’m starting to get an idea of how ridiculously fun that could be at this point.
Food for thought:
1. As odd as it sounds, dying hasn’t felt annoying once, despite my numerous deaths. The game constantly challenges you to be better prepared and focused than you were in your previous attempt, which I really like.
2. The controls are amazing. Monster Hunter Tri is an excellent example of how to use a limited number of buttons as a means to streamline control and design. For instance, holding C on the nunchuk accesses the items menu, while giving it a tap centers the camera.
3. Likewise, in an odd twist, using the d-pad to control the camera manually doesn’t feel so bad either. Once the game gets you in the mindset of constantly constantly controlling the camera to keep your enemy in sight, it becomes second nature.
4. While the game’s "ecosystem" certainly seems to have limitations, they’re masked rather convincingly. For instance, a nice detail I caught was that, sometimes, beasts will make their retreat via routes they know you can’t follow them into, such as a small cave entrance or through the air.
5. For anyone that’s wondering in light of my article from last year, no, I didn’t feel like a sinner after hunting down Great Jaggi and Qurupeco. The only time I felt a little pang of real guilt was when I got the drop on Jaggi while he was asleep from exhaustion following one of our encounters. At the time of that article, someone in the comments said that Monster Hunter appeals to a very primal urge, and after playing the demo, I couldn’t agree more.