Everywhere we see games that are hyped to be the next big franchise. We see it from countless of new titles that gain universal acclaim from reviewers, like Guitar Hero and Halo, but every so often there is an anomaly that comes up, a game that is kind of hard to classify because it totally bends the genres in ways that are innovative and sometimes tedious.
The biggest thing right now is “Monster Hunter,” in Japan, at least. Since the titles debut by Capcom on the Playstation 2 back in 2004, the series has took Japan by storm, making it the biggest thing since Pokemon. The series is so popular, the most recent release, “Monster Hunter Tri” for the Nintendo Wii, is now the highest selling Non- Nintendo game on the system.
The key word though is it’s only in Japan. In the United States, “Monster Hunter” is more of a underrated niche title out in the land of the free, but is slowly gaining in popularity. The most recent release for the Wii is perhaps the best bet for the game to make a big splash outside of Japan, although it has one glaring weakness that may limit it’s true potential. You star as a self-created monster hunter, basically a working man who is hired to kill local wildlife for contracts. In a small fishing village you basically hunt monsters, forage for various items like berries, grass, meat, and other supplies to craft items for your hunter, and build up your reputation for your guild.
The game has pretty decent controls for a Wii title, with every button on the Wii remote and the nun chuck used for practically every action in the game. From this though lies a few problems, mainly that a lot of the controls take a long time to get used to. To access menus and your journal, you need to click down on the directional buttons on the Wii remote, and cycle through menus, while clicking the A button you can swing your weapons for an attack, and using the plus button makes you forage for items in the wild. The controls take some time to get used to. The option of using a classic controller is a great plus though.
And gameplay wise, that is it. You go into the field after doing WoW style quest lines and hunt Monster X to gather Mcguffin Y for Merchant Z. Standard stuff to be frank. What makes the game popular is the complexity in the adventure. To hunt certain monsters, you need certain equipment. Baits and traps can help you corner tougher, more elusive prey while using a specific weapon, like a blowgun, to take down flying monsters. We also have underwater battles, a first for the series, that add another degree of equipment that is necessary to combat the creatures of the wild. To get these items though, you need to spend a ton of time foraging.
How much time, you may ask? Well, it is somewhere on the side of the uncomfortable for most gamers. Early on in the game you will have to wade through the really annoying load times of “Monster Hunter Tri” to basically pilfer all the berries, mushrooms, stones, and meat you can find in the field. Building up a collection of items is honestly daunting at times, and an un-timed quest can take up to two or three hours to complete, especially in the later levels. There are timed quests that can give you up to an hour to complete, but for those it is vital to have the items and equipment you need before beginning such quests.
But the intricacy of the games item system and equipment customization is rather impressive. Most Role Playing games and MMO’s do this grind rather unimpressively, having you swap out equipment for a one time use because it is more powerful or protects you better than before against all enemies. In “Tri”, you will often switch through weapons and equipment when necessary, like a true professional in a way. Plus, it is refreshing to see a game with such complexity on the Wii, a system notorious for simple party game mixes.
But perhaps, in a more ironic way, “Tri” is more valuable as an online multi-player game. Capcom has included online player games with specific quest items to take down big beasts for a party of four hunters. These matches are just as long and even more fun than the offline story missions, and require a lot more preparation. The missions also offer rare and online only loots, giving players an incentive to jump on the friend-code less online lobbies. Sadly, I have yet to play a game with a full party of four, and it is hard to get a full quest going, despite the free online content available.
And this is perhaps “Monster Hunter Tri’s” Achilles heel. If the game was a downloadable on the Playstation Network, or a title for the 360, I guarantee “Tri” would be totally loved and break free from it’s somewhat cult status. Because it is a Wii exclusive, there is a real lack of a true online community for games like this.
The game is graphically and sound wise pretty good. The Wii pushes the limit sometimes and there is slowdown against big monsters, but overall the designs are rather good and the world is really detailed. Sound wise it is less impressive, with the lack of voices in the dialogue reminiscent of Zelda games, plus the games music is really tame and annoying, ranging from tropical island riffs to generic guitar licks.
There is a reason why “Monster Hunter Tri” is a powerhouse franchise in Japan, and it has the potential to become one in the United States. Control issues and daunting mechanics aside, “Tri” is a grinders dream, and anyone who does love MMO style RPG’s will likely sink their teeth into this game for breaks between raids. It is a shame, however, that it is a Wii exclusive. While it is good to see a great Wii game in the North American market, it is likely that “Tri” will still retain it’s niche audience. But hell, even cult games deserve praise every now and again, so definitely check the game out if you’re a fan of complex RPG’s.
Final Score- B+