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Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is Monster Hunter Tri – except, well, it’s not. Capcom’s formula of iterating on each Monster Hunter installment over the lifetime of a console generation is working in MH3U like it’s never worked before. At its heart, though, MH3U is still Monster Hunter. That is to say, it’s still a game about two things: boss fights and grinding. Every fight that matters in MH3U is a boss fight, and the first time you kill a Royal Ludroth is a triumph. By the sixth time, required to craft a full suit of Royal Ludroth armor, it’s not so much a triumph as a slog.

The game’s story is divided into village and port segments. In the single player game, you’re a representative of the hunters guild sent to rebuild a village by collecting resources, killing monsters, and carving them up. Your primary motivation to move the story forward is investigating a mysterious earthquake and defending the village against a lightning-spitting sea serpent called Lagiacrus. The story and characters in the campaign don’t stand out, but there’s a playful and charming humor to the whole game. The village is home to the game’s mechanics for reducing the grind, letting you have the villagers undertake the most boring mushroom hunting and honey gathering adventures you’d otherwise be going on. As you play, you’ll realize that beneath the grind there’s a deeper game, because MH3U isn’t just a game about grinding – it’s a game about learning. And since you can play for a hundred hours with just one of the weapon classes, you’ll certainly pick up new skills as you go. The single player is a great place to get to know the game before venturing online, but it’s frustrating when you realize that after moving to online play you’re back to rank one quests – the progression is completely separate.
The multiplayer city of Tri is replaced by a port, where everything is just a little more convenient than the sprawling city. From the port, you collect Hunter’s Guild quests and share them with up to three friends – then go and co-operatively fight some monsters. Your ultimate goal is to reach the highest hunter’s rank possible and get access to the really big hunts. It’s the star of the show, because this is really a co-op game. You’ll come to enjoy the pre-hunt ritual of optimizing what foods to eat for buffs while sharing what you know about the monster slated for hunting. The availability of local multiplayer with a 3DS user is great, since they’re essentially the same game, and it lets you play cross platform with your friends. Aside from some menu arrangements that might frustrate you, everything in the multiplayer just works. It’s easy to set up and play in minutes. The game’s free DLC missions are just icing on the cake, and from posted previews it looks like there will be a healthy slew of free play to come in the next few months. Oh, and, if you’re not interested in playing with real people for whatever reason, you can take your single player NPC companions to a non-online version of the port and complete the quests all on your lonesome.

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Weapon selection is your class, giving you your unique ability and attacks. Your equipment essentially determines your level, and the only difference between a seasoned hunter and a starting character is your equipment and how much you know about the habits of the monsters you’re hunting. You craft all your own equipment from monsters you’ve killed, with greater equipment and experience allowing you to kill more powerful monsters. It’s a nice spin on the RPG, and won’t make you feel hugely inadequate when you’re hunting with a friend who has put in a few more hours than you.

As you go out to fight your first monsters, you’ll learn that there’s a reason for everything your character does. What you thought were straightforward animations are actually balanced to take an exact amount of time, and you’re expected to learn whether you have time to strike, or drink a potion, before your enemy’s next attack. What you thought were just cool weapon swings are attacks that hit high and low spots on your enemy, slashing attacks for cutting tails, or bashes for smashing crests. You’ll learn to identify when a monster is tired and could be knocked out, or when it’s feeling cornered and will fight to the death. This is a game about learning, remember? Learning timing and when to make the right move is key, and in this way Monster Hunter is more like a fighting game than an RPG. The problem is that the game will teach you none of this, and you’ll have to learn it from trial and error, or from reading it on the Monster Hunter wiki. The tutorial is still too long, and fairly uninformative, though the early missions have been rearranged to get you fighting boss size monsters before you’ve played the game for five hours.
Tri has interface problems, with convoluted menus and small text sizes that are hard to read. Most of these are solved by the customizable touchpad interface, where you can choose what buttons are available to you, like easy crafting or a minimap. You can even go HUD free and push all your information onto the gamepad, if you like a clean screen, and there’s good reason to. The monsters look great in HD, and it’s clear that some attention was lavished on their new models and textures. Sadly, the environment textures didn’t receive the same upgrade, so they show their four years of age pretty clearly. It’s not enough to distract you during play, but an update really would have made the graphics pop.

This is a game with a high barrier of entry, occasionally frustrating play, and poorly explained, byzantine mechanics, but there’s nothing like taking down a gargantuan Rathalos, dodging its fire breath, poison sting, and sweeping dive attacks, knowing full well that fifty hours ago you wouldn’t have come close. There’s a certain thrill in saying: Yes, I have mastered this.

Bottom Line: While grinding and idiosyncrasies will get to some, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a great game. It shines particularly bright when played multiplayer.

Recommendation: If you liked any previous Monster Hunter game, this is a must buy. If you’re curious, and willing to put in a little work, this is a solid entry point into the series.

[rating=4]

This review is based on the Wii U version of the game.

Game: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Genre: RPG
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 1
Publisher: Capcom
Platform(s): Wii U, 3DS
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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