There is no denying that the Monster Hunter franchise has had some success, starting with the release of Monster Hunter in 2004. Since that time, Capcom has released eight other games on multiple platforms (PC, PSP and PS2). The question going through most people's minds is simple: what will Monster Hunter Tri bring to the table and is the Nintendo Wii the best console to do this on?
The story format is simple and has been repeated since the first installment of the franchise, so fans of the series will not be surprised. For those who have never played the game, the player takes the role of the Hunter; a Monster Hunter to be specific. Their task is the defense of a small village in single player mode, and a large city in online mode. Players are tasked with hunting and capturing monsters and gathering items and materials for the citizens of the town.
When the single player game starts, players are dropped into a cutscene that shows a small sea-side village being damaged by an earthquake. In reality though, the earthquake was really caused by a giant water monster named Lagiacrus, and the main goal then becomes set: to hunt and kill the large water monster. Make no mistake, at the start of the game, this objective is nowhere near achieveable and the villagers make sure they tell make that known time and time again. To help, the game offers a series of tutorials to help teach the mechanics of the game. However, they sneakily hide the fact that they are tutorials by making them part of the story line. Seasoned veterans of the series will fly through them but will be grateful for the new approach. However, beginners are eased into the action and they quickly learn that finesse and strategy are the keys to succeeding in this game. Long-time fans of the game may be disappointed in the beginning however, as the game starts players off with no armor and only two weapon choices. If preference lies with anything outside of the Sword or the Great Sword, it'll take some time before they can be crafted.
After the tutorials, players will take on some quests and missions which are given to them by the Hunter's Guild, the authority that oversees the hunting profession. These are initially quite menial, like gathering materials and fending off small monsters, but that doesn’t last for long. Soon larger monsters will be encountered, and even more powerful boss monsters. Fans of action RPGs need to curve their expectations. This is not a hack-n-slash game. Running in blindly will result in quick deaths time and time again and with only three allowable deaths in any mission, dying once is a steep price to pay. Going into a quest without equipping the proper items and materials such as potions, antidotes, sharpening stones, and gathering items such at pickaxes or fishing lures, will definitely highlight how harsh the game can be.
The gameplay for the Monster Hunter franchise is what makes it truly unique, and Monster Hunter Tri has taken those gameplay elements and have finally honed them down to a streamlined system. The original Monster Hunter games were always plagued with dodgy camera controls, but Tri has relieved the gamer of that with the right joystick on the Wii Classic Controller being assigned to camera operation. It's the same system that's been seen in many other games. Fans of the series have been crying and begging for Capcom to fix this, and fix it they have.
To compliment the gameplay, Monster Hunter offers a unique view on growth and leveling up. While there are foods that players can eat in the village that will temporarily increase their health or stamina, real growth comes from the synthesis and creation of armor and weapons. Materials for these items comes from gathering supplies from the area that's being explored and carving parts from defeated foes. It can present a bit of a grind if, but with careful resource management the grind can easily be reduced.
So, if the gameplay is roughly the same in each game, does Monster Hunter Tri offer anything new to the table? The short answer is yes. Even though the game mechanics have stayed tried and true to Monster Hunter history, the game itself offers new experiences that no other Monster Hunter game has. With the exception of a few minor minions and three boss monsters, Monster Hunter Tri introduces over 20 new monsters to face. Even the familiar bosses have had their AI completely redesigned. Suffice it to say, it's best to go into the game with no preconceived notion about the monsters or how they behave.
Tri also introduces brand new areas for the player to discover, each of which has its own ecological system that is constantly changing. Whether it be day vs. night, the spawning and de-spawning of mining/gathering points, or the monsters that are encountered, Tri stresses to the player that they must be aware of their surroundings more than ever before. The game also offers the new opportunity to swim, gather, and battle underwater. It's a very unique and well executed addition to the game.
Presentation probably won't really surprise any franchise fans, but it's certainly gets a lot out of the Nintendo Wii. Graphically, it is one of the bset looking titles. The music also returns with the tried and tested as the catchy main theme rocks the house once again. The sound design continues to be a beacon of light and really shines with the addition of brand new monsters and new areas. For example, listening to how the soundscape changes once players dive underwater is pretty awesome.
Monster Hunter wouldn't be Monster Hunter without its co-operative play though and having online featured in the game is a great addition. . Single player only offers a small part of the experience the game has to offer. Online is where the doors start to open, and open they shall. With the exception of some unnecessary division and over complication of server choice, this is the perfect example of what Wii should have been doing long ago. The process is simple. Setup takes no time at all. Playing with friends is as simple as adding them to a friend list and then clicking on a button that automatically warps to their current location.
With the party system staying the same by having up to 4 members allowed on a quest, finding random people to play with is simple and quick, but playing with friends is much more gratifying not to mention it's also possible to play split screen on one Wii with a friend in the Arena Mode. Arena allows two people to enter into a fight with predetermined equipment and weapons and offers a great challenge for players looking to test their skills.
In short, Monster Hunter Tri brings new life to the franchise. By tweaking and perfecting past iffy game mechanics and introducing brand new monsters and locations, fans of the series will be able to experience something brand new. New players will find a game that focuses on strategy and simulation. The difficulty curve for Monster Hunter has always been high, but Monster Hunter Tri helps alleviate some of that by allowing better equipment and items to be used earlier in the game. The game will last 100+ hours easily and has no shortage of content. Online mode has been streamlined and offers a great experience. Bottom line, suit up and prepare to hunt some monsters!