Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate - Staff Review  

The Ultimate Hunt
by Michael "Wheels" Apps

Monster Hunter 3
3DS/Wii U
20-40 Hours
+ Large number of improvements and new content
+ Single player no longer feels secondary
+ Brilliant multiplayer
- No online multiplayer on 3DS
- High learning curve to advanced play
- Grinding for materials can get repetitive
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the latest entry in Capcom's long running action RPG series. An updated version of Monster Hunter Tri, which originally appeared on the Wii, the game brings the series' unique brand of action to both the 3DS and Wii U.  More than a simple port, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate brings a hefty list of additions, including a swath of new monsters to fight, local multiplayer for both the 3DS and Wii U versions, and an additional rank of quests in multiplayer. Perhaps the biggest addition to the game comes in the form of an extra high-rank single player campaign after the initial one that finally brings the single player Monster Hunter Experience nearly on par with the brilliant multi-player. There are some quirks in the experience, but on the whole this is the finest entry in the series yet.

    The Monster Hunter series has never been known for story, but Monster Hunter Tri tried to change this a bit by adding more of it to the single player experience so it isn't just taking on increasingly difficult quests. This is kept intact in Ultimate, as the player's customized hunter is tasked with saving the remote Moga Village from a series of earthquakes that seem to be caused by a monster. There's some dialog, a lot of which is funny and well localized, but largely it stays out of the way. It does feel nice to have some motivation for progressing, even if it doesn't get more fleshed out until near the end of the game. The new high-rank single player doesn't expand this story, which is a shame, but given that the story is resolved well in the original campaign this never feels like an issue.

    Moving on to the realm of gameplay, the Monster Hunter series has a name that very accurately describes its primary focus. Players take on quests to hunt huge monsters, hunt large groups of smaller monsters, or sometimes to collect resources. There are also missions requiring the player to actually capture a monster that provide some added variety. There are eleven different hunting areas in the game, though the majority of the low-rank action takes place in only five. These areas aren't simple arenas; they feel alive with varieties of monsters roaming them and scores of resources that can be gathered. There are also some environmental hazards that can get in the way of hunting, such as extreme heat or cold. Learning the environments is an important part of successful hunts, as other monsters in the area can and will attack players while they're hunting something else.

Multiplayer provides some
                                        of the game's most exciting
                                        moments Multiplayer provides some of the game's most exciting moments

   It sounds like a simple setup, but the devil is in the details as they say. Players choose from twelve different weapon categories to take on a hunt. These choices aren't simply cosmetic; most of the weapons play drastically different from the others. For example, the lance allows for strong blocking with a shield and only has a backstep for dodging, while the longsword allows rolling for skilled dodging but cannot block. Being more on the action side of the action RPG spectrum, Monster Hunter requires the user to learn and become skilled in his/her weapon of choice. There is no character advancement in the series outside of making better equipment. Players have a set amount of health and stamina that don't ever permanently increase, though they can be augmented before quests by visiting the cook in town. Since making better equipment requires succeeding at taking down monsters and harvesting materials, there's no avoiding the requirement to become somewhat skillful at one of the game's weapons. The one bright side is that since there is no character advancement outside of equipment, players can easily switch weapon types at any point in the game by simply crafting a weapon of a different type with no need to start the game over from scratch.

    Despite the action skill required to take down Monster Hunter's various dragons and other beasts, there are plenty of customizable elements here. In addition to the defense and attack boosts from upgrading weapons and armor, equipment also contains various elemental affinities and skills. These can be further augmented by added decorations which enhance or in some cases unlock the skills in the equipment. Skills can range from basic attack and defense boosts to a high level ability that can unlock extra elemental damage in some weapons. In this way players can gain boosted attack and defense power to help make hunts easier, and even build multiple sets of gear specifically for dealing with different types of monsters. Though the shop in the town does sell some weapons and armor, these are only the very basic types and most players will need to make use of crafting of new equipment to progress through the game. The depth to the system is fantastic, but the game doesn't provide a great amount of info on the various skills, so learning the ins and outs of gear in Monster Hunter can be quite daunting. In addition, grinding for materials can, at times, make the game feel a bit repetitive as well.

    Though the series has always been known for quality multiplayer, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate's high-rank single player makes the offline experience nearly on par with the brilliant multiplayer. Players can fight monsters with two customizable helper creatures, up from only one in the original version of Monster Hunter Tri. The second companion doesn't arrive until very near the end of the low-rank campaign, so it mostly is an addition that helps balance the high-rank quests. Fighting giant monsters alone can often even be a more exciting experience with no one to help the player in a jam. The single player is worth it even for those more focused on multiplayer, as it provides a great way to learn the patterns of monsters and the layout of the game's hunting grounds without the pressure of others wanting to complete quests quickly. New to this version are even higher rank multiplayer quests which include monster variants not in the original version of Tri. All in all, both single player and multiplayer feel like complete, in-depth experiences, even if a player only sticks to one of them.

There's nothing quite like
                                        facing down the beasts of
                                        Monster Hunter. There's nothing quite like facing down the beasts of Monster Hunter.
    Controls are an area of some infamy with the series. The PSP Monster Hunter games had a bad reputation for difficult controls. Thankfully, things feel a bit better on the 3DS and Wii U, even without the Circle Pad Pro attachment. On the Wii U, all control methods have dual analog sticks so the camera is easy to control. On the 3DS, the D-pad placement feels more natural than it did on the PSP so quickly moving from the Circle Pad to the D-pad to adjust the camera isn't a nuisance. The only area of concern on the 3DS is the underwater areas that occasionally show up in the game. Because they require heavy adjusting of the camera, this is the one area where the Circle Pad Pro will be missed if it is not present.

   In the realm of audio and visuals, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate shines on both 3DS and Wii U. On the 3DS, the graphics don't seem to have lost any luster in the transition from the Wii. The 3D effect mostly works well, but didn't seem to add enough depth to the difficult underwater areas. On the Wii U side of things, the game looks great for the most part, but has a feeling similar to that of PS2 HD updates on PS3 where it feels like an upscaling of an older game. It's not a major issue, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a fantastic looking game, but players will be able to notice that it is not taking full advantage of the power of the Wii U. Monster Hunter's monsters and locations have a great style to them, which comes through clearly on both systems. On the audio front Monster Hunter produces a great selection of sounds from monster roars to weapons bouncing off the tough part of a monster's hide and more. Musically the game has a number of orchestral themes to match each situation. When exploring a hunting ground softer environmental music plays, quickly changing to exciting battle themes once a large monster is encountered. This is the kind of game players will not want to turn down the volume on.

   Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate feels like a complete and very compelling package on either platform even with the lack of online mutliplayer on the 3DS. The single player is the best the series has produced yet, and with a good group of friends or anonymous hunters online on the Wii U the multiplayer can provide hundreds of hours of entertainment. There is enough new content here to draw in even those that sunk many hours into the original version of the game, though they may be disappointed that there is no character import option. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, despite some control quirks and a high learning curve, is not just the best Monster Hunter game yet, but one of the best action RPGs on the market.

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