Over the years online multiplayer has gradually evolved from value-enhancing feature to quintessential necessity for many of today’s high-profile games, and nowhere has this expansion been more pronounced than with role-playing adventures. This truth has birthed many examples, and Capcom has found overwhelming acclaim with their unique hunter/gatherer action RPG, although the franchise’s success has thus far been mostly limited to Japan, with western excitement lukewarm at best. This concept of cultural appeal isn’t surprising but this effectively makes Monster Hunter 3 Tri the triumphant underdog of the console world’s MMO genre, a moniker held since the series debut in 2004 and a trait synonymous with the little white Wii console it’s on.
For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Monster Hunter 3 Tri takes elements from MMO (massively-multiplayer online) role-playing games and melds them with a more traditional console experience; the result is an experience that favors level increases and player scaling over epic storylines and true character development. Originally planned to unleash its monster hunting ways on the PlayStation 3, Capcom quickly switched platforms and now Wii users can now experience something their console seldom has – competent online multiplayer adventuring.
What you can’t characterize Tri as being though is easygoing, because that simply isn’t true. To even consider surviving in this world you’ll need a lot of patience and a fair amount of tolerance in order to get through the initial tedious practices of foraging, crafting armory, and take part in hunting the endless stream of monsters that have recently awoke from a ravaging earthquake.
Whether you prefer the standard Wii remote + Nunchuk or Classic Controller option (preferred), it’s a hard road ahead if you simply plan on charging your unnamed protagonist into battle with reckless abandon as repeated failure is practically a way of life in this digital world of monstrous oddities. The smart hunter will take all factors into consideration before heading out into unfamiliar environments and territories, and choosing just the right weapon and knowing how to read a particular monster’s behavior could be the difference between major success or dropping like a stone – repeatively.
To attempt the same expedition after two, three, four, or how many countless times it takes can be frustrating, but your dedication will determine how appealing this game will be to you. It works primarily on the basis of trial and error with a feeling that is genuinely rewarding when everything goes right and the massive beast goes down for the finishing blow. The gratification can be thrilling when many of the creatures are boss-like in their own right and can take several grueling attempts to finally overcome. From having the right equipment and deeper knowledge before the battle, the combat tactics you’ll need to succeed are what really sets this game apart from others like it.
As ‘wonderful’ as going solo can be there’s little reason to after you learn the ropes because the true Monster Hunter experience is one meant to be shared with others. There’s power in numbers, and things quickly get really interesting once you’ve partnered up with fellow hunters in the game’s online lobby system. Matching with fellow hunters (near-anonymous ones, anyway) is relatively painless and setting up a party of four players was probably the simplest matchmaking system I’ve ever seen employed in a Wii game. If there was ever a game that needed streamlined interactions on the console, this was it, and despite a cumbersome method for ‘friendly’ groups (more on that below), jumping online and into battle was tremendously easy.
But online play isn’t just a collection of hunters; it dramatically changes the way the game plays and feels, as whatever task you face feels more manageable and provides seemingly infinite approaches to discover with each quest. There’s an immense sense of involvement when you and a group of people combine forces and see what they can take down as team. Needless to say playing online yields better rewards as well, everything from monster breeds to spoils is more varied and bountiful, and there’s no denying the sheer thrill of a four-player takedown of some of the game’s biggest beasties.
As much fun as multiplayer monster hunting can be with anonymous users, it’s getting online and finding a decent grouping of personal friends and contacts that can put a damper on the party. Even with voice-chat and the removal of the despised Friend Codes, the option to search for other players can feel like a chore that requires you hop a server, enter their screen name and/or ‘Hunter code’, send them a message (if they’re online), group up in the same server area and all this is only to join up with one person. A marginal improvement at best, at least I’ll give Capcom credit for thinking past Nintendo’s own community-strangling system.
Seemingly abandoned by developers and Nintendo themselves, the WiiSpeak peripheral is employed here, but during my sessions most conversations were generally muffled and unclear to the point of being useless. Apparently, I wasn’t alone, as most people I hunted with online opted to type their messages with USB keyboards. I strongly recommend hooking one up if you plan to spend any serious amount of time with the game, and found good results with my Logitech 2.4Ghz wireless model.
The game easily joins the best representations of what’s possible on the Wii, as solid art design and smart implementation help alleviate whatever technical shortcomings the hardware may have. The monsters themselves are animated beautifully, and watching them go through their monster motions is especially realistic and handled extremely well. From underwater lairs to expansive landscapes, there’s a surprisingly large amount of environments to explore and hunt throughout your many adventures. Without question, MH3T is one of the most visually impressive games ever seen on the console, and one that even the most callous HD snobs wouldn’t mind looking at.
While the graphic system that powers the game is a beast, strange online glitches/bugs can make for an even stranger experience, such as your online buddies battling what appear to be invisible monsters (they game doesn’t synch smaller monster battles very well). None of these affect actual gameplay, although it can be hilarious to see your fellow hunters hacking and slashing at the air.
Monster Hunter 3 Tri delivers on its promise to fill two large gaps in most of the Wii’s library by offering a truly robust online experience, as well as some of the best visuals ever seen on the console. With considerable replay value, it offers a fantastic romp for those who adore complexity and long-lasting value with their hardcore game, or just a never-ending series of battles and relatively anonymous adventures for others. The game doesn’t try to win over the unconverted, making it difficult to recommend to anyone who’s unwilling to spend time to become accustomed to its unique style. Regardless, if you’ve been a fan since its charming beginnings on the PlayStation 2, then you probably need to buy this one.