Monster Hunter is often described as a game about hunting big monsters, finding loot, getting stronger, and then hunting down even bigger monsters. However, I’ve always felt that description doesn’t quite do justice to the series. It makes it sound like the games are just about hunting for sport, and while that is one of the many emotions you experience—especially in multiplayer—there’s more to the Monster Hunter games than just killing beasties for fun.
Monster Hunter is more a game about living in a world filled with fantastical creatures, rather than one where you simply do battle with them. The setting is a convincing mix of prehistoric and medieval, where men and a wide assortment of creatures encompassing dinosaurs, sabre-toothed bears, giant rabbits and more live together in an uneasy arrangement governed by the food chain. The creatures aren’t evil. They just want to eat, sleep and mate like all animals. Meanwhile, the humans need to live with the knowledge that their neighbours just so happen to be angry fire-breathing dragons and sea monsters. This is how everyday life is in the world of Monster Hunter.
There’s no animosity here or good-versus-evil story. The creatures in the game aren’t the reincarnated form of some ancient deity out to conquer the world or what-have-you. They’re just hungry and territorial. Meanwhile, living alongside all these monsters has made for a tough human race that still shows that familiar affinity for science and progression and trade. Monster dung makes for good fertilizer. Monster claws and teeth make for sturdy tools. Monster hides make for good clothing. Certain monster parts make for valuable trade items. Living alongside monsters is a way of life. It’s a little bit like Pokémon, but more realistic in that these creatures aren’t nearly as tame as Pokémon tend to be.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does an especially good job of creating a convincing backdrop along those lines. Moga Village, the game’s setting, is a tiny, hardworking village of people that has recently been thrown into panic by recurring tremors in the area. At the root of these tremors appears to be a terrible sea creature known as the Lagiacrus. Determined not to let the Lagiacrus disrupt their way of life, the people of Moga send a request for a hunter—mercenaries for hire that are capable of holding their own out in the wild against the worst of these creatures. Your character—who you can create and extensively customize—answers the call, and before you know it, you’re not just helping protect the village, but also helping it grow by gathering resources, developing a farm, engaging in trade, and taking on assignments for the Hunter’s Guild.
Sure, at the end of the day, most of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate involves running around, plucking mushrooms, mining ore, and using these materials to build weapons to slay monsters with, but the game’s world provides a very comfortable backdrop for you to do this all in. Hunting doesn’t feel overly violent or glorified in any manner. It never feels like you’re doing it for any purpose other than that it’s just how life is in this world. You hunt, you scavenge, you eventually get stronger, and then you hunt some more. This is one of the many reasons that there’s nothing else quite like Monster Hunter out there.
The above is an introduction you may find insightful if you’ve never played a Monster Hunter game before. If you have, though, think of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate as exactly what the title says—the “ultimate” version of the third generation of Monster Hunter games. The Pokémon Crystal or Emerald or Platinum of the Monster Hunter 3 series. There’s a whole lot of content, both completely new and returning from the previous games, a significant visual improvement, and a much needed streamlining of the series’ controls.
Most of this streamlining comes from the availability of a touch screen, which works great for a game like Monster Hunter, where you have to manage a dozen things all at once in the heat of battle. On the Nintendo 3DS, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate makes smart use of the system’s touch screen by allowing you to customize it with the game features you use most. You can now access your entire item pouch from the touch screen, move your map down there to keep it from cluttering up the main screen, view your item combo lists, view the status of your team and more. Having your item pouch on the touch screen is immensely useful, as it effectively allows you to select an item with just a couple of quick taps without having to stand around and scroll through your inventory like in previous games. It also means that you can now have, say, a potion, hot-keyed to your item button (Y), but also have quick access to other frequently used items like bombs or traps via the touch screen.
Another immensely handy feature is that you can now simultaneously move the camera and your character at the same time without having to contort your hand into absurdly painful positions. This may not seem like a big deal to the folks that played Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii, but it’s a boon for the folks that tend to prefer their Monster Hunter games on portables. On the 3DS, the camera can be controlled by using a digital D-pad on the right-hand side of the touch screen. It might take an hour or two of playing to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it’s smooth sailing the rest of the way, especially in conjunction with the new “Target Camera” feature.
Target Camera is a handy feature that lets you decide where you want the camera to focus when you press the L button. Normally, pressing L centres the camera behind your character. However, if there’s a large monster in the area, its icon will appear on the touch screen, and tapping it will turn on Target Camera. From then on, whenever you press L, the camera will turn to face the monster, bringing it back into your sights. If you’re fighting two large monsters at once, both of their icons will appear on the touch screen, allowing you to choose whichever one you want the camera focus on. This is useful if you’re fighting two of the same kind of monster, and want to focus on beating one of them before taking on the other.
Target Camera should be most useful for players that like to use ranged weapons. Prior to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, I was never fond of using Bowguns, but since I have the Target Camera to help bring a monster back into my sights now, it’s made me switch to using a Light Bowgun as my main weapon. It’s a thoughtful feature that serves as a nice middle ground between the inaccessibility of previous Monster Hunter cameras and the threat of making the game too easy by adding a lock-on function.
For all its advancements and improvements, though, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate probably isn’t going to help make the game more accessible for people that weren’t already invested in the series. There’s still a whole lot to do with little to no explanation of how things work. Even if you’re a seasoned player, you’re still going to have to be resourceful and look things up on the Internet or get help from more knowledgeable friends when it comes to understanding all of the weapons, skills and plethora of other features in the game. For example, I didn’t know that free hunting at night is no longer accessible until much later in the game, which wasn’t the case in Monster Hunter Tri. Nor did I understand the differences between doing Solo quests in Moga Village and Tanjia Port until I Googled the info up. In a nutshell, this is still Monster Hunter.
I’ve been playing both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS versions of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. While the Wii U version has enhanced graphics it’s clearly a port of the 3DS game, which was an enhanced port of a Wii game. Perhaps the biggest issue with the graphics is the tiny text boxes that pop up in the bottom right hand corner. If Capcom didn’t want to disrupt the game’s atmosphere they could have put the text boxes on the Wii U GamePad. I suppose that problem will be solved when Capcom releases an update in April that adds off TV play and cross-region online play.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate lets 3DS and Wii U players hunt in the same game. Only the Wii U player gets the big screen, but it’s a nice addition for hunting parties. I’ve been playing the game mostly through an ad-hoc Wii U to 3DS connection and sometimes the screens are out of sync, like my hunter clipped through Lagombi once. What’s really nice about the 3DS and Wii U connectivity is the data transfer feature. On Friday, Capcom released a free app that transfers save data between the 3DS and Wii U version. Being able to take your hunter on the go and enjoy Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on a big screen is a great feature since there’s so much to see and do in the game. Of course, you’ll need two copies of the game to make use of portable to big screen hunting. Data transfers are full transfers so if you want to take your hunter on the go you cannot have another character on the 3DS cartridge.
The Wii U controller makes Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate a bit friendlier to newcomers. You can customize panels on the GamePad’s touchscreen to access your item belt, sort through ammo or add a virtual control pad (not really necessary for the Wii U version). Basically, you have shortcuts you didn’t have in Monster Hunter Tri. Starting out with all twelve weapons was another good idea since it gives players a chance to figure out their play style. While there are some resource hunting quests in the beginning that act like a tutorial, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate still has a steep learning curve. I think Miiverse is chipping away at that problem since members thus far have been answering questions and you can browse through answers while you’re playing the game.
Food for thought:
If there’s one thing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is really good at, it’s getting you excited for Monster Hunter 4. My only real complaint about MH3U is that, like in previous games, there’s a lot of fakery going on with the environment. You’ll see lots of areas in the environment—little nooks and crannies and ledges—that you can’t actually reach. Monster Hunter 4, however, looks like it’s going to let you go to just about any place that you can see, which is very exciting. The game’s world, in general, looks far more animated and alive than in MH3U.