I once read a comment on the Gamefaqs forums describing Monster Hunter as a game series in which you kill giant creatures and harvest their corpses to make into hats and pants, which then make it easier to kill more monsters to make into better hats and pants. It is quite comical how this statement both sounds incredibly sarcastic, yet is so accurate at the same time. Monster Hunter games are indeed based off of simple ideas and (at first) seemingly simple design, but do not let that fool you – these games are both unforgiving and incredibly time consuming, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (henceforth, MH3U) is of no exception. However, should you give the game a chance until you begin to learn the in’s and out’s of its poorly explained equipment systems and overwhelmingly large amount of materials, you will enjoy nothing but one of the purest, most visceral gaming experiences around.
Like the title of the game suggests, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate places you as a hunter newly arrived at seaside Moga Village. Your role is rather uncomplicated: you must protect the village by slaying all foul creatures that threaten it, which includes determining the cause of a recent series of earthquakes. The story here is pretty much irrelevant, though it does set the stage for introducing newer and stronger adversaries for you to face. Nothing much is given in terms of actual story regarding the monsters (except perhaps for Elder Dragons), but you will be treated to a short cut scene of the wildlife for each village mission with a never-before-seen threat. You won’t miss out on terribly much from these scenes should you forgo the exclusively single-player village content, but they are a nice touch that makes the ecosystem much more believable as a whole.
On that note about “village-quests,” it must first be explained that as with all Monster Hunter games there are two parallel paths of progression on hand for the player. First are the Moga village quests, those which are exclusively single player and which act more or less like the game’s main campaign. Here you are able to progress through the village’s story, but you will only be able to face monsters in the first two difficulty tiers, low rank and high rank. On the other hand are the Hunter’s Guild quests. Even when categorized under the same difficulty tier compared to Moga village, these quests are inherently harder and they may be faced alone, via local co-op (only with someone using a 3DS version of the game), or even via online play (up to 4 people a mission). Additionally, hunters can progress through the guild to gain access to G-rank, the third and final difficulty tier that provides greater challenges and rewards, as well as some guild-exclusive monsters and subspecies. While guild progress and village progress are mutually exclusive, the order in which monsters are accessed suggests that the developers intended the player to progress through both paths at the same time.
Regardless of the way you approach the game, it truly is the combat and the monsters themselves that are the star of MH3U. Yes, above all else Monster Hunter is about gameplay and addiction. The game is structured around timed missions with a set goal, such as collecting x number of mushrooms, bringing back a dragon egg, or killing one or more of the game’s infamous monsters. Although you will start out as always with a number of gathering quests, the true meat of the game is past the original tutorial stage when you are faced with essentially nothing but boss fight after boss fight. You will come to see every monster as a believable, living creature that will both intrigue with its behaviors, but also infuriate you with its craftiness in battle. Creatures will smash you with their tails, grab you in bear hugs, attempt to rip your innards out with claws, and of stun you with devastating lightning strikes. It certainly is hard to describe without playing the game yourself, but you will come to both respect and fear these creatures, and most certainly look upon a number of them as your favorites in a way akin to caring for your favorite Pokémon. It is no wonder that hundreds of figures of these beasts are sold all across Japan!
Where does the addiction aspect I eluded to come into play? Well, that comes down to the loot. Unlike other action-RPGs where you loot full weapons and armor, what you kill is what you get (or I should say, “harvest”) in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Yes, you can either kill or capture each monster to harvest their body for resources, be it scales, horns, or tails, with which you can craft into the gear that you will use. The best part? All of the equipment you acquire looks exactly like what you killed to get it. Do not underestimate the power of addiction that this (along with some notoriously low drop rates in G-rank) can cause. Make no mistake when I say that this game is hard, so if finally downing a beast that has been squashing your hopes and dreams for 3 days straight isn’t satisfying enough for you, you get to turn the sad corpse into a sword or a hat and parade around in the glory of its death for as long as you please!
On top of that, all of the loot in this game has a purpose and is rewarding in its own right, as there is no true leveling system. Character progress is tied to your gear through your defense stats, weapon damage, and armor skills. Additionally, weapons can have one of nine elements or status ailments alignments, all of which are of varying use depending on the monster you will be facing. While most of this is pretty straightforward, armor skills are initially confusing so I will provide a short description for those unfamiliar with Monster Hunter. Each piece of armor comes with several attributes, which include physical defense, elemental resistances, and armor skill points which may be anything from “+2 gathering” to “+3 hearing.” Now, these points do nothing on their own! Yes, these points literally add nothing to your character by themselves. Instead, each skill category (such as “gathering”) will have a tab noted on the screen that some overall skill (essentially a perk/armor ability) will become activated at a specific number of points, usually in intervals of 10. For instance, +10 gathering will activate the confusingly named skill “gathering +1” under this tab, which increases the number of harvests you can make at gathering nodes on the map. In short, the skill numbers on an armor piece alone are useless, but if the total number of skill points across your armor set add up to enough in one particular category, you will gain a benefit to that skill (be it evasion, hearing, gathering, etc.). Therefore, it is almost always better to wear a matching armor set until you get extremely comfortable with the game, as the different pieces of gear from the same set tend to add points to the same skills.
MH3U also incorporates a number of rewarding, arcade-like aspects thanks to its mission infrastructure. Almost every monster in the game has a number of breakable body parts, be it its face, its horns, or its tail. Some body parts can only be broken with certain types of weapons (such as tails and cutting weapons) and must be harvested on the spot, while others (such as talons) can be smashed into bits by any weapon and will yield extra loot at the mission results screen. Some materials can only be gathered in these ways, so this adds a great deal of enjoyment when farming a particular monster for gear. On top of that, each “break” will reward you with the sadistic pleasure of hearing your foe’s body crunch under your strength as it screeches in suffering and reels back in pain. These are honestly some of the most enjoyable moments I have had while gaming! Moreover, although you will fight the same monsters from low rank to G-rank (with some new additions), each new difficulty tier challenges you with different attacks, higher damage, and less downtime. Higher difficulty tiers also introduce subspecies of old monsters, such as an ice version of a previously fire themed creature, which will keep you on your toes. Thought you memorized that Rathian’s 360-degree tail whip before? Wait till you get thrashed by the Pink Rathian’s spinning tail attack, which is just ever so slightly different, yet will place you in your grave for assuming you knew what was coming!
Needless to say, combat practically never gets old. The monsters are always interesting to battle due to their own natures, and the game offers twelve different weapon types to choose from, each with their own fighting style. Now, I will say that combat in MH3U is much slower and strategic than most mainstream games, and therefore the initial learning curve is rather steep. Most people (including myself) may initially find combat controls to be rather clunky, but the more you play, the more you will realize that they were kept the way they are as a design choice. My advice to you is to attempt all the weapons and pick the one you find most comfortable to start out with – you can always make other weapon types later. Besides, fighting an old monster with a different weapon can be a whole new experience. If you still find yourself at a loss, all I can really say is practice, practice, and practice! This is one of the few games where the only advice that can be given is “get hit less, attack it more,” because failure is almost always due to the player’s own errors. This may sound time consuming, but before long, you will be handling all creatures like a pro!
As you can tell, I have much, much praise to say about Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, and I do feel that everyone should give this game a chance. After all, these games do sell so incredibly well in Japan for a reason, and they could do better here if they were given better marketing. I myself have placed over 250 hours into this game by the time of this review, and I am far from finished. That being said, MH3U is no perfect game. For one thing, the graphics (while rendered in HD on the Wii U) do show their age – after all, 3U is a much-expanded upon version of Tri from the Wii originally made for the 3DS,which was now ported to the Wii U. Graphics do not matter to me all that much in a title so based around gameplay, but this is a legitimate shortcoming of the game that you should be aware of. On top of that, a number of weapon upgrades do not alter their appearance, and others are simple pallet swaps. However, more important to me were the shortcomings of online play (only available on the Wii U version). MH3U uses a lobby system with very limited search functions, so it often can be difficult to find a room without being disconnected along the way. Moreover, as only four people can enter a room/mission together, and one player must be a host, if the host leaves or disconnects, the entire group is kicked out of online mode entirely. These are faults on Capcom’s end rather than Nintendo’s, but the archaic online design can get extremely frustrating. That being said, online mode works 90-95% of the time and is extremely enjoyable, especially since voice chat is directly built into the gamepad’s microphone. Players shouldn’t be too difficult to find either, as the game has incorporated integrated servers with the US and Europe, although language barriers can pose a challenge. However, I am confident that the cult fan-base of Monster Hunter in the west will keep these servers active until the eventually (hopeful) release of Monster Hunter 4 outside of Japan.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the best title in the series yet. There is an enormous amount of content that will keep you entertained for hours on end, and combat never gets old. I urge everyone to go give this game a try, even if you tried a previous game in the series and were not won over. You may very well find yourself coming back to this title now and again just to kill one more Rathalos, one more Ludroth, one more Duramboros… just to find that another five hours has gone by.