Late To The Party: Monster Hunter


I actually tried out Monster Hunter 3 once when it first came out on the Wii, but the game ended up requiring a bit more dedication than I was willing to fit into my rental. After having fully bought the 3DS version through a deal I can give a legit try at a franchise that has transformed the Japanese game market and has probably been Capcom’s most successful throughout this past console generation.

First though I’m gonna bring attention to the apparently little-known pluses of Nintendo’s handling of digital distribution which allowed me to get this game basically for free.

I ended up taking advantage of Club Nintendo’s deal earlier this year which got me $30 in eShop credit for buying and registering copies of Shin Megami Tensei IV and Fire Emblem: Awakening, the latter of which I’d already bought and the former of which I was considering anyway. A few weeks later, if you don’t know, Capcom put the digital 3DS and Wii U versions of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on sale for half-price. I had just enough of that free credit left to add to my pile of free Club Nintendo games what seems to be a seriously thick game that came out just this past spring.

The first time I tried MH3 out on the Wii, I stopped after realizing that I’d put six hours into the game and had not hunted a single monster — not performed the titular activity of the game. I guess you can’t really rent this game because it has a fairly long learning curve. After nine hours over the course of three days however, I think I’m starting to see the hooks that have caused some people to spend over 300 hours playing this game.

I type this after having spent an hour running around gathering herbs and mushrooms for potions to use while fighting dinosaurs so I can carve up their carcasses and then mine ore in order to forge new armor so I’ll have a better chance against even bigger dinosaurs. At a glance of that description you might want to call MH a sort of Diablo-a-like or a loot-gathering RPG but I think it goes a bit further than that.

My nickname for Monster Hunter would probably be “Resource Gathering: The Game.”

Basically, Capcom captivated a whole national market of gamers by figuring out how to make the act of gathering resources fun in and of itself. When you analyze it, it really gets down to the central appeal of almost all console gaming.

Again, at a glance, resource-gathering is usually the busywork part of a game, or at best represents the chains of addiction, but it’s almost never the focal point of a game’s feedback loop by itself. The core of console gaming is getting feedback from pressing buttons right? You press the A button to make Mario jump, or the right trigger to shoot your gun in Call of Duty. Well, in MH you press A to cut into the flesh of a fresh kill to get a little jingle representing the reptile hide or bone you just acquired. I mean, you are using those items for stuff somewhere down the line, but that stuff is just to let you kill more stuff and then press A to cut it up. That’s Monster Hunter from what I’ve deduced so far.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also impressed with everything else Capcom has done to make MH a visibly balanced and polished game. I appreciate how each weapon has its own fighting style with its own animations you have to learn, how actions like eating or setting traps have specific animations you have to plan for when a Tyrannosaurus is chasing you down, and other mechanics like having to hunt and cook food on the field in order to maintain your stamina. That along with various strategies like baiting, trapping, and tracking monsters makes MH a truly deep game. I appreciate the presence of an actual challenging system I have to sit down and learn while it’s drawing me in with a tactile feedback loop.

And yeah, it does take a few hours to slide into MH. You spend those first few hours pretty much just grabbing up herbs and crap. Zero Punctuation’s review of the Wii version pretty much paints what the experience is like if you decide to quit before hunting an actual monster — probably a pretty accurate representation of what 99 percent of a fantasy adventurer’s life is actually like. You grab plants, cook food, fish — things that sound absolutely boring when described to you. It’s actually kind of funny how disappointing it is when you’re gathering shells at the bottom of a lake and a massive sea dragon shows up only for the game to calmly usher you away telling you that you gotta grab up way more crap before you’re ready to take that dude on. Eventually though the game does put you on a quest to kill an actual monster. I think things started to click for me when, after bringing in the haul from that kill, I realized I was one piece of iron ore away from building special armor out of that monster’s skin.

One of the things that’s impressed me the most about MH3 and helps bring the whole thing together is how it manages to maintain 60 frames per second most of the time on the 3DS. That helps the interface, including carving-up-animals part (PETA isn’t all over this game yet is it?), feel smooth and responsive. It also continues to reinforce my belief that 60fps DOES make things look better just from a simple fluidity standpoint.

If I bought a Wii U I would definitely make that version an eventual purchase (what with the cross-compatible save files and all). Partly it would be to have a right analog stick (I’ve been able to manage without it on the 3DS), partly it would be to play the game in 1080p, and partly it would be to have actual multiplayer.

That brings me to what continues to be the fatal flaw of Monster Hunter in countries that don’t have Japan’s population density — the impossibility of local multiplayer. I didn’t buy any of the PSP MH games because I knew I’d never be able to play multiplayer, only eventually trying out the Wii version because of online. At least I was able to get the 3DS version basically for free and at least I might one day transfer my data to the Wii U version and then play that online. For now MH3 is an engaging enough game played solo. I just hope I don’t get into any situations like Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker where a boss ends up being unreasonably hard without four players and you have no online co-op capability. At some point Japan needs to get the message that these handheld games built on local co-op that MH inspired don’t really work outside Japan.

Overall, I don’t know if MH3 is my favorite game ever or anything. It I let it, the game probably could suck up a serious amount of time from me. It’s just a matter of seeing if I continue to think about MH after I’ve gone back to other games.


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