Like John Muir with a hand-grenade
Once upon a time, being a “conservationist” meant preserving large expanses of wilderness so that you could kill the critters that lived there, stuff them, and put them in your living room. For example, President Teddy Roosevelt, the man most responsible for establishing the United States’ national park system, was an avid sport hunter. Who’s to say that even today’s most fervent environmentalists don’t have a secret island somewhere where they all go hunting for bald eagles and snow leopards?
[image1]Monster Hunter Tri follows the venerable naturalist tradition of categorizing, collecting, and killing the flora and fauna of the world’s vast wilderness areas. Imagine that when Charles Darwin arrived at the Galapagos Islands he came instead with a full arsenal of swords, guns, and armor. And rather than conducting research for the sake of something altruistic like science, imagine he was instead a heartless bastard who was just as likely to take meticulous notes on the sleeping habits of an animal, as he was to kill it so he could sell its innards to a willing buyer. This is the world of Monster Hunter.
The Monster Hunter series breaks down RPG play mechanics to their raw core. In Monster Hunter Tri, it’s all loot all the time. There are three primary quest types—collecting, killing, and trapping—and each one provides you with a wide array of resources and materials for building and improving your equipment so that you can go back out into the wild and collect more and better resources. You can also trade equipment and make deals with local farmers and fishers to get in on some of their discoveries. It’s like being a Colonial-era fur trapper, but with giant dinosaurs instead of beavers.
One of the big limitations for me in prior Monster Hunter games was the feeling that I had just been dumped in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a sword and a five-foot-high stack of equipment screens with no instruction or guidance whatsoever. Monster Hunter Tri finally takes the time to ease newcomers into the grind and shows them the ins and outs of each of the title’s deep systems. The combine item mechanic is super easy and no longer feels like you’re just shooting in the dark. Trading is also surprisingly simple to get a handle on.
[image2]Combat works smoothly and intuitively. Depending on your weapon preference and target animal, combat strategy varies widely. There’s no auto-lock, but the game would be far too easy if there were one since much of the strategy in Monster Hunter Tri lies in figuring out the proper angles and areas to attack. The world’s harsh environments also play a role in how you fight. For example, a fight under water plays out very differently from a fight on land, and a fight in the intense heat works differently from one in a temperate climate.
But it’s the introduction of a robust online game that ultimately sets Monster Hunter Tri apart not only from earlier iterations in the series, but from every other game on the Wii. Finding three other players doesn’t require the use of nefarious friend codes. If you want to find someone in particular, it does take a little bit more work, but it still avoids the use of Nintendo’s harebrained codes. And joy of all joys, I rarely experienced lag or dropped connections in all of my time online.
While the singleplayer mode will last you anywhere from 20-30 hours, the multiplayer game introduces a whole new set of quests that easily doubles the total content—even more if you’re someone driven by the insatiable need to hoard loot. Most of these quests just repeat the same ones found in the singleplayer, but because the strategies change so greatly with other players, they feel completely new. Besides, this game focuses so much on grinding and collecting that you’ll want to (and probably need to) repeat the same quests multiple times over anyway.
There are, however, some remaining issues with online play. Most notably are the endless series of selections you have to make just to find a group of people. The online game is arranged by server, gate, and city, forcing you to make a selection for each of those areas every time you go online. The effort is to make the game seem like an MMO, when in fact it’s simply a large collection of four-person lobbies. Rather than all of these selections, most of these decisions should have been handled by a quick match option with a set of hoppers for choosing the appropriate skill level and play style.
[image3]This same bizarrely baroque menu system applies to the singleplayer mode, as well. When you boot up the game, you’ll have to perform three separate file loads and multiple menu selections. You can slightly streamline the process by selecting the option to quick load, but that only takes away one or two of the nearly ten separate menu screens you have to go through each time you begin.
The control layout also has some awkward button mappings. The Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo is as inaccurate as you might expect by now, so using the Classic Controller is definitely the way to go. But even with the non-waggle controller, the button mappings are unusual. It took me a good dozen hours or so just to rewire my brain and fingers to hit the right buttons at the right time, and even then I still made mistakes from time to time. Many years of building up reflexes makes it hard to mix things up just for the sake of one game.
But irrespective of these minor interface wobbles, Monster Hunter Tri is undeniably addictive. It has arguably the most up-to-date online mode on the console. And it’s the friendliest to newcomers that the series has ever been. The conservationist-hunter may be an outdated figure in the real world, but in Monster Hunter Tri he’s at the forefront of what could be a major turnaround in the console’s hardcore lineup.