I bought Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for the Wii U when it was released back in March 2013, and a year and a half later I’m still playing it. In fact, I even bought the 3DS version as well, so I could play it on the move. And even after all this time, it’s still providing new surprises.
The reason I bought the game in the first place was because my sister had been raving about Monster Hunter for years, so I thought it was about time I gave it a go myself. On loading it up, the appeal of the game was immediately obvious – the graphical style is excellent, and the monsters themselves are superbly designed. Apparently the designers spent many hours studying the movements and behaviour of wild animals and then translated this to their fictional beasts. This level of attention really shows – the monsters feel like living, breathing creatures with individual personalities, and what’s more, they’ll get tired, enraged or scared, just like a real animal being hunted.
The battles themselves can be epic. If you’re facing a beast for the first time, your equipment and weapon might not be quite up to the task, so you’ll find yourself fleeing in panic and frantically attempting to avoid the creature’s attacks. You might eventually manage to slay or capture the monster, but it will take a long time. Yet one of the game’s greatest allures is the way that you can constantly learn and improve, and that’s not just down to gaining better weapons – improvement means learning each creature’s attacks, working out where it’s weakest and experimenting with different configurations of armor. There’s so much to learn and so much depth – if you want to know how much depth, just absorb the fact that the official strategy guide is over 500 pages long.
But all this depth can be a little daunting, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is ludicrously unhelpful to newcomers. There’s barely any tutorial, and the paltry in-game help on offer is buried deep within the pause menu – I only found it by accident when I was about 20 hours in. Even then, it doesn’t really tell you what you need to know. For example, a large part of the game involves hunting monsters and then crafting armour from their body parts, but knowing what this armour actually does is another thing entirely. You’re presented with a screen of baffling numbers for each armour set, with no real idea of what it all means. I just about managed to work out ‘Fire Res’, but ‘Hunger’ and ‘Potential’ left me scratching my head. Only after some exhaustive internet research have I managed to piece together what it all means. Or at least some of it.
After about 60 hours, I still hadn’t even ventured online, as the game demands that you reach a surprisingly high level before you can go and play with the ‘big boys’. In fact, after 60 hours I’d only completed half of the quests available in Moga Village (the solo campaign area) – there is a LOT of game on offer here. And a lot of things to learn too – in fact, I played multiplayer Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate with my sister for the first time last week, and I couldn’t believe the amount of things I learned from her, even after having played the game for over a year. Things like the starting areas have secret shortcuts that take you to different areas of the map, that carving is quicker when you’re crouching and that throwing sonic bombs can cause some monsters like Diablos to pop out of the ground – things that I would never have found out by playing on my own.
And that’s one of the game’s central appeals – the community is extremely helpful, and playing in a group adds another dimension to the gameplay. Plus, because the game is so obtuse about how it works, there’s a real sense of achievement when you learn its systems and how to beat it. And at its core, the mechanic of hunting and trapping ever bigger and scarier monsters is compelling. Every now and then you’ll hit a wall, where you’ll encounter a monster that’s so tough you’ll need to spend time forging more-specialised and more-powerful equipment to fight it. After spending possibly hours patiently collecting the various parts you need for your next bit of kit, there’s huge satisfaction to be had when you go back and finally beat the beast that stopped you. And that satisfaction never gets old.