On being sent Monster Hunter Tri, I was slightly chagrined to discover just how little I knew about the franchise – it is, after all, nothing short of a national sensation in Japan, where Tri has already been declared the country’s highest-selling third-party Wii game to date. Given the title (and the enormous aquatic dragon on the cover), it seemed a fairly safe assumption that I’d be hunting monsters at some point, but the specifics eluded me. Once I’d actually immersed myself in Tri, however, I soon discovered just how much I’d been missing.
The game begins in Moga, a sunny little fishing village whose tranquility is shattered by sudden earthquakes and coastal storms. The culprit is Lagiacrus, the aforementioned aquatic dragon; he seems to have found a new home in the region, terrorising local waters and roiling up the sea. To whom do good dragon-fearing folk turn in such a crisis? Why, you of course, a freelance hunter who (despite being an apparently reputable slayer of beasties) arrives in only his underwear, carrying a cheap sword and very little else. You’ll need legendary arms and armour to defeat your foe – to forge these, you’ll need the necessary parts, and to obtain the necessary parts, you’ll have to hack them off the necessary monsters.
My initial assumption was correct – in Monster Hunter Tri, you hunt monsters. You hunt an awful lot of them, in fact, from the humblest insectoids to the mightiest stone-plated, razor-taloned, fire-breathing behemoths. It’s a simple premise that’s remarkably addictive; kill monsters, strip their carcasses for parts, bring the parts to a Smithy, forge them into stronger weapons and armor, kill stronger monsters, get stronger parts, and so on. While this might seem like just another form of grinding, it never feels laborious, due in no small part to the enormous array of armaments that can be crafted. Whether you prefer your quarry slashed, cleaved, bludgeoned, skewered or shot from afar, there’s a suitable weapon for you to brandish and an armour set to make you look hardcore while brandishing it.
You’re also saved from aimlessness by a basic quest system, which is included essentially to provide context and give a sense of purpose to each of your wilderness excursions. You’ll be contracted by “The Guild” on behalf of various townspeople to complete increasingly difficult tasks – these involve anything from fishing and gathering to killing a particular monster, or even capturing it alive. They all invariably fall into the same basic categories, but each offers a bag of goodies for your trouble while moving the narrative forward.
In spite of all these features, the offline single-player is a somewhat limited affair; once you’ve completed all the quests, there’s very little else you can do on your lonesome. Tri is, however, a game clearly designed with multiplayer in mind, as it features one of the most robust and carefully considered online components I’ve ever encountered in a Wii title. Once you select a server, you’re dropped straight into Loc Lac City, a bustling trade hub where you can meet other hunters and embark on various quests for up to four players. In lieu of narrative, there are numerous new quests on offer, new locations to explore and new epic monster encounters, all geared towards teamwork. These will provide you with rare, otherwise unobtainable components from which to forge some of the sexiest gear in the game. Don’t worry if you’ve spent a lot of time learning the ropes offline – you’re able to use the same character for both offline and online play, so your efforts aren’t wasted.
Communication with other players is understandably vital, and Capcom has gone the extra mile to include support for Wii Speak. Unfortunately, my bundle of the game did not include Wii Speak (though some apparently do); instead, I was forced to write out messages letter by letter with the D-pad, a truly barbaric act that no civilised person should ever be forced to perform. There are a series of “gestures” available to your character, but these aren’t especially helpful, and I certainly wouldn’t advise you to attempt them while you’re in any sort of real danger. You can, at the very least, ‘ping’ your location on the map if you need assistance.
In terms of presentation, the game maintains a colourful, reasonably detailed aesthetic reminiscent of Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. NPC models are kept relatively simple, while greater attention is given to your character, whose appearance you can customise upon creation. It’s nothing spectacular; you’re given a level of control comparable to World of Warcraft, selecting from preset faces, clothes, hairstyles and colours to create someone reasonably unique. Weapons and armour are again more detailed – it’s these that you’ll be showing off to other players, after all.
The environments are deceptively beautiful. As you explore them, you’re really only moving through a series of small ‘enclosures’ – you’re kept from wandering by conveniently placed boulders, inclines or ravines. Beyond these, however, you’re offered a spectacular view of the horizon, as the landmass stretches towards a vast sea and skyline. A slightly contrived illusion perhaps, but it works; the levels appear genuinely expansive, and you don’t feel nearly so confined. The lighting and environment effects are much the same, economical but pretty, and you’ll see them in play across all manner of settings: volcanoes, icy tundra, desert plains, marshland and forest. The monsters themselves are similarly diverse, although earlier creatures such as the Aptonoth and Jaggi bear a striking resemblance to dinosaurs (on my first hunting trip, I felt as if I’d been let loose on an indiscriminate killing spree through Jurassic Park).
There are, in spite of its merits, a couple of annoying faults in the game. The first is the lack of a lock-on system – regardless of the reason, it’s an appalling oversight. I very quickly lost count of the times I lashed out at a monster only to go hurtling past its shoulder, slashing stupidly at thin air as if I were concussed. Such clumsy combat is rendered all the worse by the game’s camera system, which seems determined to face away from your enemy at all times. You’ll spend most of your time manoeuvring it manually while fighting, or hammering the C button to keep it locked behind your back. The camera is also solely responsible for directing your character underwater, which makes marine combat an absolute nightmare. It’s a real shame that these issues weren’t addressed; they’re a blemish on an otherwise enjoyable experience.
There are two fundamental demands we make of a Role-Playing Game – epic boss battles and epic loot. Monster Hunter Tri doesn’t disappoint in either regard, and yet it never gets mired in the tedious number crunching that so often afflicts the genre. It’s not a perfect game by any means; there are only so many monsters to kill and items to craft, particularly if you only play offline. The game’s online replay value ultimately depends on Capcom, who have already started posting temporary “Event Quests” with the promise of further downloadable content in the future. In any case, it’s an extremely solid title that you can and will get lost in for some time to come. If, like me, you’re new to the franchise, don’t overlook this one.
Final Score: 8.6