A preview of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate I wrote for the website www.square-go.com
There was a time, long long ago, when a console wasn’t a console without a Japanese role playing game. Seriously, that was one of the biggest game genres lapped up by millions of adoring fans. In the last few years? Not so much which might explain why Monster Hunter is still something of a cult name in the West. Perhaps the upcoming release of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate will change this?
The fact that Monster Hunter hasn’t found a mainstream audience is surprising at it seems to be ticking lots of the boxes that Western gamers enjoy; online co-op focussed, fighting big monsters, swords and fighting more big monsters.
The game is built around that; you build up your character, crafting your weapons and armour before getting a team together to go out and hunt some big monsters. This is the key part of the game as each monster needs to be taken down in a certain manner so teamwork is paramount. Each player has a role so you can focus on being a healer or a swordsman or an archer or even someone who plays a horn that gives the rest of the team bonuses.
Sounds fun right? It certainly must be as in Japan the game is huge, in fact the first release on Sony’s PlayStation Portable pretty much singlehandedly kept that console alive. But that was also the game’s problem; the only way to play the game properly was to actually get four PSP owning people together which was easy in Japan but way more difficult in the West. The fiddly online system of the hardware the original games were released on didn’t help things either.
So then Nintendo threw their hat in the mix; Monster Hunter Tri (or 3 for us in the West) was wrested away from Sony and became a Wii exclusive, doing even bigger numbers in Japan whilst yet again doing okay in the West.
All this then leads to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, a repackaged and expanded version of Tri that is soon to hit the Nintendo 3DS and WiiU. Considering the previous releases have never really hit the mark, why should we care about this?
Well, the developers at Capcom are doing their best to make it a game more approachable for a wider audience. Camera issues that have dogged the game since pretty much the first version are said to be ironed out including the ability to lock on to your enemies! Can you imagine such a thing?
That’s not all as there is something special to the game being on two consoles; your game save can be played across both machines. With an app on your 3DS you can transfer your data across to the WiiU over WiFi and back again to keep on playing. This also extends to playing the game itself as people on the 3DS version can play with people on the WiiU.
Why is this a good idea? Because the 3DS version doesn’t have online play, so again you have to get four 3DS owning people together to play the game or stick to the WiiU version in order to play online.
Playing the WiiU version isn’t a bad thing as the game looks great in HD with a great scale to the game world. The monsters look big and intimidating so the feeling of taking one down should be even better. Yes, it is an upgraded version of a three year old Wii game so don’t expect miracles but the art style is still good enough to carry it.
This would suggest that the WiiU version is the preferred one as you can easily experience the online co-op aspect of Monster Hunter. That isn’t to say that the 3DS version won’t be worth the price but only as long as people are aware of it’s limitations.
So what we have then is another version of a game that seems to have been hitting it’s head against a Western brick wall for a long time. For those that have clicked with the game the experiences have been great; you only have to check a few forums to find tales of the depths and customisation available in the game. And there is depth to it with over 70 monsters to hunt, hundreds of quests and thousands of weapons and armours to choose from. For Monster Hunter to be as popular as it is in Japan there must be something to it, some certain something that hasn’t yet clicked with that mainstream audience.
Maybe this time will be the one that hits home. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate certainly has the full weight of Capcom behind it and will be lapped up by it’s fans. But will it work for new people coming to the game for the first time? Will they want to take a chance on it? That’s a tricker question.