Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Review
Never before has a video game series captured the act of hunting and all the steps that lead up to that hunt so perfectly and completely. I first played Monster Hunter on the PSP, which I remember having impressive graphics and an elegant yet elaborate system of hunting. I only sank about 30 hours into the game before I had to return it to a friend, but if you’ve ever played a game in the series, you would know 30 hours is but a sample of what the game can offer. So now we come to the game itself: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. I have heard that the game is just as full and complete as the Wii U version, which is an incredible feat. I personally cannot verify the differences in versions other than graphical differences based on screenshots, but I do know 3DS players can join a Wii U game in Co-op which must mean both versions are almost indistinguishable. I must make it clear this review is strictly for the 3DS version of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and it should be treated as such. So without further adieu, on to the review.
The very first action you take, besides booting the game up and hitting “new game”, will be creating your hunter, your persona, your character. Customization consists of the usual things like name and gender, but you also get to choose your clothing which is actually just underwear you will likely never see. I’m a numbers kind of person because I like to know exactly how many options I have so I will pass this information on to you and see what you think.
- Clothing (Four variants)
- Clothing Color (12 pre selected, but a whole spectrum of choice)
- Face (11 Variants)
- Features (One a beard, the other face paint)
- Hair (14 Variants per sex)
- Hair Color (A whole spectrum of choice)
- Voice (20 choices)
- Skin Color (A whole spectrum ranging from brown to white)
I must also note that the faces are unmoving textures like masks, so there is no blinking or mouth movement of any kind. The voices are also just a package of grunts you will use in battle. The customization is quite absurd, but not great enough to want to play around as Nicholas Cage or a green goblin. Whenever I am making my character in a video game, I consider the decision of the same caliber as what to name my first-born child. Too often have I spent 30 minutes creating my Commander Shepard, only to find that when he turns his head in cutscenes, I find his cheeks are completely concave.
I am not joking at all, and I have restarted entire games from the beginning just because I didn’t like the look of my character. So it pleased me to find that once you’ve settled in, you may change your hair and clothes at home. You may not change your face or skin but just being able to change the hair and color is really enough for me, despite my head being buried under a helmet and 10 inches of metal armor anyway.
Just like the last Monster Hunter game I played, the game began with a gorgeous and elongated crisp CG cutscene. Once I was back in the real less crisp world, I was privileged with reading several lines of text without audio. Now I cannot legally knock this game for not having voiced speech because I know from previous experience that this game’s heart lies in mechanics of combat and gathering of materials among other things. If every line of text were voiced, I can say I would enjoy the game a little more, but I will note that this is not a point against it. Once you read the dialogue (or just button mash until you can walk around), you will find yourself relatively free.
There is a storyline to follow, but I wanted to check out the quests at the guild, which I know will be where most of my time is spent. I found the guild and did a simple gathering quest, which basically opened the map for me to scavenge anything I wanted and to complete the quest I just had to return alive. I had a whole 50 minutes to gather herbs and hunt, but I needed to learn the controls.
The story is basically just all the events leading up to letting you take guild quests. The story gives you a faint motivation as typical as “save the village,” but my expectations were hit exactly on the mark because as I said, this isn’t about a story, it’s about the hunt. Once you are on your own doing quests, the story doesn’t abandon you, but in this game the story is more on the sidelines rather than the center of the stage.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a powerhouse of mechanics. The game features 12 different weapon types which have about the same complexity as different weapons in a game like Soul Calibur, but this is an open-map hunting game. Before playing the full game, I delved into the demo. I have heard that the demo does not cast MH3U in the absolute best light because there is no focus on preparation and gathering, they only give you the ability to choose a “class,” and go into the battle with preset gear and do your best with the hand you’re dealt. The greatest thing about Monster Hunter is that you have complete control over your hand in the game.
You can come and go freely, hunting meat and cooking, gathering herbs and making medicine, gathering materials and making weapons or armor. If you are new to the Monster Hunter series, your strength is not determined by a gradually increasing level, it is completely determined by your gear, but most importantly, your armor. As I was saying, the demo didn’t emulate the full experience because preparing for the next hunt builds up to the experience.
The reason the battles are so epic is because you plan them, you prepare, you spend almost 45 minutes killing this beast, and if you succeed, it makes you want to put it on your resume and show the world. The more time you commit into an event, the better you feel about succeeding in it. If I could redesign the demo, I would just have the player start with the game default character and armor, place a chest with all 12 types of weapon, and give them 50 minutes to explore the map which may include a potentially deadly boss monster. Gathering materials can be frustrating but very rewarding, much like the battles. Knowing exactly where a certain object is or can be spawned is the key to your success. Many times did I fall victim to looking up where to find an item on a guide, but I didn’t consider it cheating because it was just impractical to discover the entire game myself, it’s like a single player MMO, there is just so much information to not ask around.
As I stated before, each and every weapon has different capabilities, and some even have custom cursors or aiming crosshairs. The bow’s aiming system is extremely different from the aiming of a light bowgun, which coincidentally was my first weapon choice. Every weapon has a weakness, and with both bowguns the weakness was reloading and only ranged combat. The bow is both ranged and has a melee attack, but the shots can not be fired as rapidly as a bowgun. The sword and shield are short-range, but the attacks are quick and you have the option to defend, which other weapons simply lack. Lances include shields and a decent first attack, but if you miss, it takes a long time to recover as the lance is clumsy. Once you have a weapon picked, you also have options to upgrade and/or attach add-on features like a silencer or scope. I wanted to just stick with one specialty and play through like that, and I am sure that is possible, but I had to choose at least one alternative option based on my hunt.
Strategy doesn’t even begin to approach the thinking it takes to successfully engage the perfect battle. To have a perfect battle, I either died many times before, or I got lucky and picked up on the various tells the monsters gave me. Most monsters have hard points and soft points. The weaker monsters can be attacked from any direction and receive damage, but the bigger and stronger monsters have weak points which may only present themselves at appropriate times of the battle. The game may spoon-feed the player at first, but once you’re on your own, you will literally have to rely on your instincts to survive.
Almost every mechanic that has been in a previous Monster Hunter game returns in Ultimate, and is very likely expanded further than before. You can still tend to your purrrsonal farm (cat joke) to create a unique plethora of resources in exchange for other items and services. The health and stamina bars are still in full swing without any hitches. Cooking meat is still easy to master, but hard to achieve if you’re not paying attention. Ranged weapons must be accompanied with ammunition, and special ammunition is limited, so your shots must count. Melee weapons have to be sharpened with a whetstone if they become dull in the heat of battle, which is represented on the screen.
If you use a ranged weapon, you carry a different bag type than a melee weapons, and you have to transfer over your items when switching weapon types. These may sound tedious, but they are completely justified because they follow a simulation style of gameplay. I can not speak of co-op or multiplayer because I have no friends. But really, at no point did this game feel like I needed three other people helping me. This game is challenging, this game is way better when playing with your friends, but this game is completely possible to beat without any backup.
Having played the previous Monster Hunter game on the PSP, my expectations for graphics were pretty much identical with the PSP version I played before. The only difference I noticed, and I have to bring this up as a negative point, is the text that fills the screen. I’m not sure if the text is the problem, or if it’s just the special Monster Hunter font, but while I was reading, I had a hard time distinguishing letters apart. The font appeared to be cropped down from a higher resolution, and suffered from blurring and slight pixelation. I don’t recall having the same problem on the PSP version, so it really surprised me to find that this newer version had something so inferior. Just like the PSP version, I saw that many textures were washed out or overstretched.
I was happy to see that while the shadows were very basic and a little blocky, this game did indeed have dynamic shadows that changed shape depending on what pose I was performing and what armor I was wearing. I did not expect a handheld to have dynamic shadows, and I appreciate little details like this. I also noticed that when myself or monsters tread through water, there is a visual split where the water meets friction. The visual is not always accurate, especially when there is an animal corpse in the water, but I still appreciate such detail. I noticed the game had a very colorful range as it was, but still had a bloom effect in place. Depending on the game, I turn bloom off if I can because it tends to make some visuals appear blurry and smeared, and this is sometimes apparent on the screen.
Once I ranked up high enough, I saw some really brilliant designs and textures on the various armors and weapons. I’m a big believer in “try before you buy” and the ability to see the weapon or see what the armor piece looks like on your character was probably one of my most powerful discoveries. Never before had I seen helmets that looked like a caveman-steampunk hybrid, and not only that, it actually looked good. I saw caps that included goggles that looked almost futuristic if it weren’t for the bones sticking out. I saw what appeared to be a gas mask made from an animals antlers or tusks. Some of the weapon and armor designs were a little out there, but I knew that most of the stronger armors looked like Power Rangers on steroids, so I was expecting abstract designs.
The great thing about the armor and weapons is that customization doesn’t stop at character creation, and you may add various ornaments to personalize your character. I must, of course, address the 3D effect in this game and my conclusion is that it looks pretty nice, but it didn’t really enhance the experience for me. Because the battles are so intense, I need every edge I can get, and having to keep my face at a perfect distance and angle from the screen could cause me to miss the enemy charging right at me. This is merely my experience, but the 3D effect is lovely, and the text doesn’t give me a seizure.
The 3DS is hard to utilize appropriate controls, especially on a game that is so vast with options. I believe the task of assigning controls to the 3DS alone is a hard task, but I believe MH3U did everything in their power to let the player find their own comfort zone. The controls will start out a little awkward, but you have as much time as is needed to get the hang of it. Once you’ve figured out the controls for one weapon, the fun is not over because selecting a new weapon type basically starts you blind and confused all over again. To start, I was impressed with the ability to customize your bottom screen. If you wanted easy access to the map, you may add a map panel.
If you have enough space, you may add an emoticons/poses panel or an item bag panel for even easier access to these options. I found the button options for using items to be confusing and nonfunctional. I remember my items working alright in the demo, but during my playthrough of the full game, I used the item bag panel on the second screen to access my cooking spit or various healing items. The button management with the D-pad works fine when switching to custom ammo, but it’s a bit more difficult selecting other items to use. I began playing with the ranged weapons first, and I was a little disappointed with the sensitivity.
I understand a handheld was not made for accurate sniping, but I do have a cross-hair, and I could hit the target from this far, but my sensitivity is way too high with the directional buttons, and the joystick is completely useless in this mode. I would have assumed the joystick would be for general movement of the cross-hair, and the directional buttons are for more accurate and precise, lower sensitivity aiming, but I found that the D-Pad is just emulating the joystick and there is no difference.
Like just about every 3DS game, I strongly recommend wearing a nice set of headphones while playing this game. At first I was just playing, only really hearing my footsteps, and the fan I have on in the background, but there is so much more I wasn’t hearing. If you sneak up on a monster without them noticing you, you will hear acknowledging moans and if you attack, you can hear a yelp when the monster is wounded. To play without headphones is to play while being deaf, and you will need all your senses if you want to survive. Some sounds are just in the background like wind blowing or water crashing onto land which may not be dynamic but it certainly paints the scene when layered over the other sounds. Every boss battle is epic, and the musical score knows exactly how you should feel when in the heat of battle. The music is appropriate for the situation, and sometimes you might not even notice it because you are focused on other things. At no point did I wonder why this music was playing, because it was always seamlessly slipping in my ear at the right time.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is exactly what it sounds like. This is the ultimate experience in the Monster Hunter series, and if you haven’t played before, you will miss out on nothing, because all the fun monsters and weapons have been ported over. Every hunter is different, and the game can offer so much if you just explore. I enjoyed gathering my meats and materials before the battle even more than the battle itself. I like the calm and open feeling I get from the game, as it doesn’t rush me or tell me if I don’t complete this quest today, everyone will die. The game’s story has a built-in tutorial, but I found the best way to learn was experimenting for myself, and the game allowed me to do that. I love when a game has realism mechanics locked in to place, and I love a game that has simulator qualities without being droning and clumsy. Monster Hunter’s quirky humor and dialogue takes me out of the game for a moment because I wasn’t expecting this game to have such a heart. If you want to charge in to battle right away, go ahead. If you want to prepare and hoard items for literally one month, you are completely free to do so. This game tells me “do whatever makes you happy” and I couldn’t be happier with my options.