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Monster Hunter Tri

Monster Hunter is huge in Japan. The series’ popularity overseas started primarily with Monster Hunter 2 for the PS2 and continued gaining steam through each subsequent PSP iteration, culminating in Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G – a certifiable blockbuster that has reached the hands of over four million Japanese gamers, or about one-third of the country’s PSP user base. Despite all this success, the franchise has never managed to take off outside of Japan. Sure, a small contingent of devout gamers swear by the greatness of Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (the western version of Japan’s 2nd G), but when it comes to commercial success and mainstream recognition, the series has failed to make any kind of lasting impression in western markets.

With Monster Hunter Tri, Capcom is hoping to change all that. The first entry in the series to appear on non-Sony developed hardware, Tri is riding into western territories atop a tidal wave of marketing money and a significant advertising campaign which has penetrated most major social networking websites and even prime time television spots. This begs the question: is Capcom just trying to establish the IP outside of Japan, or is this new Monster Hunter title actually worthy of all the advertising hype? The answer? Both. Tri is not only the best entry in the series to date, but is also a brilliant game overall, with an inspired mixture of stunning visuals, deliciously old-school gameplay, epic boss encounters and online functionality that puts to shame everything else on the Wii platform.

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When summed up in a few simple sentences, Monster Hunter Tri‘s gameplay doesn’t sound very impressive. Your main goal is to kill large monsters. You then take pieces of those slain monsters and craft weapons and armor. After donning this new gear, you head out to kill slightly tougher monsters. Repeat this cycle for about 200 plus hours and that’s the game. There are no large open worlds to explore like in Oblivion, nor are there numerous towns with unique shops and residents. There isn’t even a way to level up your character. Sounds dismal, right? Trust me – it’s not.

The reason it’s not is because Capcom has managed to find the perfect balance between immersion and gameplay. The environments in the game are varied, beautiful, and the best you’ll find on the Wii. Roaming within these areas is a diverse array of imaginatively designed creatures – some docile, most dangerous, and all animated with such realism that you occasionally feel like you’re watching some kind of fantastical wildlife documentary instead of playing a videogame. On top of all this is a simple yet challenging combat system that brutally punishes mistakes, yet lavishly rewards skill, patience, timing, and proper knowledge of the monsters’ movements within the various environments. This combination of jaw-dropping scenery and epic monster encounters feels very much in the same vein as Shadow of the Colossus, only with a more rewarding combat system and addictive loot-based character progression.

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“The environments in the game are varied, beautiful, and the best you’ll find on the Wii.”But how could Tri‘s immersion be so impressive if it doesn’t even offer the same type of large-scale exploration we’ve come to love from Bethesda titles? Simple – the game gives the illusion of massive environments, and yet keeps the locales small enough to eliminate the unwanted monotony of slogging long distances from point A to point B. Level 5’s White Knight Chronicles had impressive, large-scale environments, but this often made online questing much more tedious than necessary, with escort and fetch quests taking two to three times longer than they probably should have. As with all Monster Hunter games, Tri‘s environments are broken up into zones, but instead of just creating a bunch of generic arenas connected with loading screens, Capcom has built a cohesive network of locations, all blended together flawlessly to give the illusion of one giant ecosystem. This aspect of the level design is perfectly illustrated in the Volcano meta-environment, where you start out in the ash-covered fridges of a forest, only to traverse cooled lava flows, sweltering caverns and broken pathways all the way up to a craggy outcropping that juts out over the mountain’s roiling, crimson caldera.

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And the game’s titular monsters don’t just mill around lifelessly in these gorgeous environments – they react intelligently to what’s going on around them. Docile herbivores will stampede out of an area when a particularly dangerous monster zones in, and enormous wyverns like the rathian will hunt down and feast on these plant-eaters in an attempt to regain strength. One particular beastie even constantly retreats back to a mud pit and wallows around so that it can later shake itself like an oversized terrier, potentially splattering anyone nearby with movement-encumbering muck. All of this wonderfully organic monster AI and environmental interaction is made even more believable by extremely fluid and realistic animations. When lagiacrus – the 30-ton sea leviathan of the game’s cover – lunges forward, it must slide several meters before it can turn around and prepare for another attack. Monsters even become noticeably worn out over prolonged battles, occasionally even stumbling after whiffing on an overzealous charge. Seeing a creature trying to hobble away from the fray like a maimed dog is almost enough to make one feel remorseful about slaying the poor beasties – at least until it whips around and tries to flay the flesh from your on-screen avatar’s bones.

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“Like Demon’s Souls, Tri has no qualms about punching you in the kidney, splashing hot sauce in your eyes, and then pushing you face-first into a huge pile of steaming monster dung – just because it can.”The real beauty of Monster Hunter Tri, though, is how expertly Capcom has melded old school gameplay with these stunning environments and realistic monster animations. First off, the game’s combat is not easy. This is no God of War III, where you can mash a few buttons and come out looking like a pro. Tri has no lock-on targeting, nor does it have any whack-a-mole quick time events. All you are allowed to take into battle is a weapon, some armor, a few health potions and other minor traps and elixirs, and your wits – and many times, quite honestly, that’s not going to be enough. Like Demon’s Souls, Tri has no qualms about punching you in the kidney, splashing hot sauce in your eyes, and then pushing you face-first into a huge pile of steaming monster dung – just because it can. Even after spending significant time with the game and forging some of the most powerful weapons, you still have to pay attention each and every time you step onto the battlefield, as skill remains your most important ally through the entirety of the game experience.

The good news is you don’t have to go at it alone. If your Wii is connected to the Internet, Monster Hunter Tri can be played online, free of charge, and without the requirement of cumbersome friend codes. Online, up to four hunters can set out together on quests, chat via Nintendo’s Wii Speak peripheral (or USB keyboard), or just hang out in the lobby – or ‘city’ as the game calls it – and arm wrestle. The Wii has always been several steps behind the PS3 and Xbox 360 when it comes to the online experience, but with Tri, Capcom finally proves that Nintendo’s console can compete with the big boys. The best part about the online experience is that it extends the life of the game significantly. Not only does it offer an entirely new hub for questing (the Mos Eisley-like city, as opposed to the little fishing village in single-player), but it straight up offers more content, with high rank guild quests and Capcom-sponsored ‘Event Quests’ – special challenges that offer up unique rewards and gear.

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And, boy, are the rewards worth getting in Tri. Capcom has created some of the most inspired-looking armor designs in recent memory, with most gear directly influenced by the game’s numerous monsters (which makes sense, as you forge a majority of the weapons and armor from monster parts). If that monster had colorful feathers and a unique frill – that’ll be incorporated into its armor set. If it had long whiskers and a barbed tail – those unique attributes will show up on the gear. It certainly wouldn’t be a stretch to call the gear aesthetic in Tri head and shoulders above any of the recent design offerings from Blizzard in their mega-popular MMO, World of Warcraft (although, some might argue that’s not saying much). And the forging and collecting of the game’s various armor sets isn’t just a good idea because they look so amazing – each gear set has its own unique array of strengths and weaknesses that must be weighed before most big monster fights. In other words, taking that -14 fire resistance lagiacrus armor into a fight with the fire-breathing rathian might not be the best idea in the world.

Really, there are so many more praiseworthy aspects of Capcom’s latest monster hunting title – features like witty dialogue, a hassle-free inventory system, stellar underwater combat, and a memorable soundtrack that expertly weaves Caribbean steel drum melodies into a rousing, Braveheart-style Celtic orchestral score – but to keep on listing them here would be excessive and tedious. What this entire review boils down to is this: you need Monster Hunter Tri. If you don’t have a Wii, go buy one so you can experience this game. Tri is one of those paradoxical titles that is by no means perfect, but doesn’t deserve anything less than a ten out of ten rating when compared to everything else on the system.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @Joshua_Luke.

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