Monster Hunter: Killing Huge Monsters Since 2004
Let's get this out of the way first: Monster Hunter Tri is less a Fantasy Action RPG, and more a Fantasy Simulator. Just like Microsoft Flight Simulator gives you an in-depth, comprehensive flying simulation, Monster Hunter gives you an in-depth, comprehensive simulation of the totally made up act of killing monsters. Also just like MS Flight Simulator, don't expect to just jump in start zipping around like a pro. You start at the bottom of the food chain in MH:Tri, and the climb up is gonna be rough.
Tri is the first console version of MH to reach North America since the original on the PS2. Those who have been following the series on the PSP will probably be able to hop right in, particularly if you pick up a Classic Controller or new Classic Controller Pro. For everyone else, here's the basic setup; You are a monster hunter, you hunt monsters for small fishing village that has just experienced a big earthquake, and needs your helping getting back on it's feet. You kill monsters and bring resources back to the village, using them to improve your arsenal and open up options in the village to aid you in your hunting. It's a tried and true loot formula that many games have used for years, and Tri does it just as well as any other. But getting the resources and killing the monsters you need to advance is a very different experience in Tri.
The game does a better job than previous entries getting you setup, using a new free hunting area (Moga Forest) to get you acclimated early on to the intricacies of killing big fantasy dinosaurs. It's not the most exciting tutorial, but it gives you the needed skills and basic understanding of how the game functions. Gathering resources, skinning, cooking meat, and combining items are all skills that are covered in the early goings, along with basic combat techniques. The Moga Forest is a very good addition, as it allows new players to freely practice hunting and gather resources early on, with no time limit and monsters that should serve as good practice early on (as the player finishes quests, newer more powerful monsters will appear, but only after they are defeated in quests). Also, any monsters killed, and certain gathering items provide resources that the player can then spend to improve the Moga Village.
Once you get your feet wet, and get the Moga village up and running again, quests will open up that offer more focused goals, and bigger fights. Here is where Tri, and MH in general, diverges from most loot based RPG's. The prep work for most action RPGs is usually just getting the quest and going out and killing or collecting whatever you need. In Tri, you need to do your homework ahead of time. Knowing what supplies to take with you can mean the difference between sweet success and brutal failure. Early on, the quests will usually give you the supplies you need to get things done, but at higher levels you need to bring your own stuff, and the list of things you need can fill your inventory before you even enter the quest zone. Everything from healing items to bombs will be need later on, and forgetting something can easily cost you the quest. Once in the quest, the objectives breakdown to either killing a monster, capturing it, or gathering resources. All these modes will probably require some sort of combat, as even gathering quests have monsters around that have to be cleared out to get the item you need, or in fact drop the item in question. Kill what's asked for or return the items requested and it's mission complete. As you finish the required quests, newer ones unlock and open up new areas for you to ply your monster hunting trade.
Control in Tri will be familiar to anyone that has played a MH game before, provided you have chosen to get a Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro. I recommend the latter if you are going that route, as the Pro is far more comfortable, especially considering the amount of time a single hunt can take (often between 30-40 minutes). A lot of the camera control issues that have plagued the game on the PSP are improved here thanks to having a second analog stick to work the camera with. Still, the lack of a lock on targeting system will probably irk some, and the camera can still get jammed in awkward positions from time to time. The new underwater missions add another layer of challenge to the whole affair, with players now having to consider their Z axis and oxygen bar, on top of all the other things like health, stamina, weapon sharpness and inventory. It can be a handful, and juggling the many actions required during a hunt might be too much for some. Those looking for a simple monster bashing experience should look elsewhere, practically every boss battle in Tri is a multistage event, with various tactics and skills being called upon at different times.
The Wii mote and Nunchuck combo is perfectly playable, and I used it for a number of hours, but once you give the classic controller a go you won't turn back. Luckily the only Wii mote required feature is used to add to your hunters notes, a simple glossary of monster info. By holding down the Z button you can get a pointer you then use to click on the monster and drag the info to your book in the lower right hand corner. In quiet situations against more docile opponents, it's okay, but in combat against a boss monster it's nothing less than frustrating. Again it's not an essential thing, so players shouldn't worry about it.
The different weapons in Tri also deserve mention, as they all require knowledge of their unique controls. Generally speaking, light weapons afford you more mobility, and faster attacks, while larger weapons slow you down, but can do more damage per swing (or shot). Each weapon also has a certain set of attacks that can be combined and chained into longer more devastating attack strings. While it doesn't have the same large arsenal that Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite had on the PSP, the selection here will still please most fans of the series. From fast combo of sword and shield, to the slow and crushing hammer, there is a weapon to suit every style.
Graphically, this is one of the best looking Wii games out there. Great Capcom art design combined with solid visual effects make this the fantastic looking game, especially considering how many other third party Wii games look. Animations are smooth all around, and the monsters body language will give you a solid indication of their status, which is good seeing as how they don't have life bars for you to monitor. The game's characters deliver all their speech via text, and while it's generally well translated, and even funny at times, your could be excused for skipping through most of it, especially after you get the hang of the game on your own. The soundtrack remains very similar to previous games, with all the iconic favourites making a return, giving you sound ques for victory, defeat, or when a big hunter devouring monster has just spotted you. The BGM is overall solid, and subtle enough that it doesn't grate on you even after dozens of hours of play.
The real big leap for this iteration of Monster Hunter is the online. Again, not since the original PS2 MH has North America had the ability to play Monster Hunter online. While the Wii is probably the last system anyone thinks of for online play, Capcom has made a solid offering here, and given the best online Wii experience yet. Gone are the Wii friend codes, replaced by a instance based server system that makes it easy to find players and team up for missions. If you find some hunters you like, you can add them to friends list that shows online status, another refreshing change on the Wii. Communication options are solid, with a selection of emotes, stock messages, keyboard support and even support for the much neglected Wii Speak. Online play seems very smooth, and outside of a few lost connections, Capcom's net code here seems solid.
In the end, Tri is still a game for those looking to simulate, not play, a Monster Hunter. It's not quick game by any means, and failure will probably come more often than most modern gamers are used to. The pacing in Tri is very deliberate, as it has always been in this series. There is a lot to think about, both inside and outside quests, and how you balance both is important to your progression. It is absolutely not for everyone, but for those that find something they like here, and can put in the time needed to really get at what makes this series so addictive, Monster Hunter Tri offers an amazing value.