In Japan, Capcom’s Monster Hunter series is unfathomably popular. It’s a colossal beast that stalks the gaming landscape in much the same way that a Tyrannosaurus Rex did the plains of the Cretaceous period. Western audiences haven’t taken to the series in quite the same way, however, frightened off by the brute’s steep learning curve and awkward online infrastructure. With Monster Hunter Tri – the first ‘proper’ title to appear on a non-Sony console – Capcom has tweaked the formula to accommodate for a much wider audience, resulting in the most accessible title in the series to date.
For those new to the hunt, Monster Hunter is an action-RPG where dinosaur-like creatures are slain for fame, glory, and more importantly, resources. In many aspects of its design, Monster Hunter is comparable to the MMORPG, which isn’t surprising given the online functionality at the core of the experience (more on this later). Unlike most role-playing games, however, your titular monster hunter won’t earn experience or level up; his development is governed almost entirely by weapons and armour. As well as this, the game forsakes narrative and character development, with nothing but the loosest of plots to give all the animal cruelty some context.
In the quaint fishing village of Moga, a series of monster attacks have left the place in a somewhat sorry state of affairs. As a new hunter, it’s your job to kill monsters, support the development of the village, and eventually defeat the legendary sea-dragon Lagiacrus that has been at the root of all the problems. It’s under these circumstances that your life as a hunter begins, although don’t expect to be defeating box-art-badboy Lagiacrus any time soon.
Unlike its PSP cousins, Tri eases players into the intricacies of the hunt at a nice and leisurely pace. It’s a good few hours before everything the game has to offer is open to the player, which can only be considered a good thing given how much there is to learn. It’s incredibly cyclic in nature, and before long slips into a comfortable grind of killing monsters, using the resources they drop to make better equipment and then taking on stronger opponents. A tiered quest system gives this process some structure, but Tri feels more relaxed in its progression than other games in the series.
Whilst newcomers might expect the game to be fairly combat-centric, they’ll quickly discover that Monster Hunter is just as much about resource management and equipment modification as it is about taking down beasts the size of buildings. Moga Village is your base of operations for such activities, acting as the hub which connects each of the game's environments. The denizens of Moga offer shops, services and information in exchange for money and resource points. Through interactions with the village chief’s son, Junior, hunters can convert kills and items gained in Moga Woods into resource points, which can be spent in a number of interesting ways.
First and foremost is the farm, an area which fans of the series will be more than familiar with already. Here, in exchange for a few resource points, specific items can be harvested without the need to go off on arduous fetch quests. Say, for example, that you need some Blue Mushrooms in order to create a stock of Antidotes – you can simply grow the required amount of items on the farm, saving a trip out into the wilderness to gather them yourself. Secondly, and complimenting Tri’s affinity for water, there is the option to plot fishing trips. By allocating resource points, you can send boats off on fishing trips of varying lengths and locations. On their return, they’ll hand over any materials they found along the way, many of which can only be obtained through this means.
Resources are primarily used to create more powerful equipment, but existing weapons and armour can of course be upgraded too. The selection of weaponry remains largely the same as in previous outings, with swords, great swords, hammers, bowguns, and lances all attempting to add some diversity to the game’s combat system. New and exclusive to Tri is the Switch Axe, a weapon with the properties of both a Great Sword and an Axe. By pressing the R trigger (The Classic Controller offers the most intuitive control scheme), players are able to change the properties of their blade, offering on-the-fly changes to battle, based on the situation.