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EGM Review:
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

Posted on March 18, 2013 AT 08:00am

Hunter seeks monster for long-term questing

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s name says it all. Well, perhaps the Ultimate part is a bit vague, but beyond that, it’s a title that unapologetically announces its primary conceit: the hunting of monsters. And hunt monsters you will. As a name, Monster Hunter is about as succinct and accurate a description of what this game entails as they get. This action-RPG franchise is rhythmically predictable in its pacing. Hunt monsters, manage resources, hunt more monsters, help around town (by managing resources), hunt some more monsters. Do this till the day you die, hero.

But Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s simplicity is rather elegant—and largely deceptive—because under the hood is a veritable cornucopia of complexity.

Capcom’s long-running celebration of monster-slaying is driven primarily by quests handed out by the local Hunter’s Guild representative. Almost all of these tasks—and there are hundreds—are practice runs for Moga Village’s bane, Lagiacrus, a sea-stalking leviathan whose underwater activities cause no shortage of muss and fuss for the villagers. And you, as the young, upstart hunter, have been tasked to take down the beast.

But you don’t just plunge into the water and go toe-to-toe with something as big and nasty as Lagiacrus without building up your experience first. And that’s where all the quests come into play. By completing the 200 some-odd monster-hunting missions doled out by the Guild, players can beef up their characters so that the not-so-gentle giant of the deep doesn’t simply wipe the ocean floor with them.

Honestly, the single-minded pursuit of Lagiacrus is a welcome break from the needless convolution that plagues most Japanese RPG plots these days. There’s never any worry that the story will zag when it ought to zig, or that eye-rolling will ensue through some unwanted origin story complete with long-winded exposition dump. The protagonist is you—a character you create, customize, and play as you see fit.  The rest of the cast, while well written in a charming, often humorous way so that their company is enjoyable, are mostly just there to move the proceedings forward; they’re points of contact you interact with to gain quests, manage the aforementioned resources, or purchase/upgrade your gear.

On paper, this might sound boring, but in practice, the stripped-down premise never manages to become a hindrance. Either you accept Monster Hunter for what it is from the get-go, or you realize almost immediately that it doesn’t suit your tastes. And that’s fine, because Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate doesn’t seek your approval. It’s not trying to cater to the casual, new-to-the-franchise fan. It’s simply trying to deliver a more robust Monster Hunter experience by way of a few added features and local, wireless connectivity between 3DS players—or, if you know someone who owns one, Wii U. And, in this regard, the new-and-improved Monster Hunter 3 succeeds.

Really, the most challenging adversary in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is its controls. They are, in a word, busy. Every button serves at least two functions, and the touchscreen is jam-packed with menu panels. The 3DS version does offer two control styles—Standard (in which the usual accouterment of user-interface information is on the top screen) and Dynamic (which relegates the UI to the bottom screen)—not to mention an admirable level of customization courtesy of the touchscreen’s panel sets. However, upon booting up Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, you’ll almost immediately be asked if you want to use the Circle Pad Pro—which feels like Capcom admitting that they packed in more controls than the 3DS can realistically accommodate.

After the first few hunts, I’d acclimated to the controls. But too often, the heat of battle against some drooling, snarling big bad felt like an experience made unnecessarily hectic by input panic. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate tries so very hard to remedy this with the new lock-on targeting feature, but its execution is less than graceful. Combine this with how rigid and unresponsive your character feels when attacking—at least by way of melee—and you’re left with tense situations of the most frustrating variety.

Some of this frustration, however, may have more to do with my playstyle than anything else, and that’s something about Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate I find endearing. As a gamer, I’m a blunt instrument. Bestow me with magic powers and a gun, and I’ll run in guns blazing every time. Beat me over the head with the option to be more strategic, and I’ll still kick in the door. It’s simply my nature, and it’s not something I fault Monster Hunter for, because it does offer alternatives. It allows gamers the option to play as they like to play. Buy the bow gun or another long-range weapon if keeping afar is more to your liking. Unleash precision strikes with a ludicrously long nodachi. Lay traps. Lure monsters with bait. Be smart. Be dumb. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is as easy or as hard as you make it.

That, ultimately, is this latest Monster Hunter’s charm. There’s so much breadth and depth just beyond the surface detail—which, at first glance, seems simple and straightforward but quickly proves to possess much more. And that’s exactly what Monster Hunter fans want. That, and to hunt monsters, I suppose. If you’re new to the experience, well, nothing about the title is so alien or unforgiving that it makes the game off-putting. Anyone casually familiar with JRPG tropes will learn the ropes fast enough, and even if you don’t—even if you completely disregard every piece of advice, every hint, every tip the NPCs offer—the game never feels overwhelming, only inviting.

Developer: Capcom • Publisher: Capcom • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.19.2013
7.5 Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is a tough sell for newcomers, but if you’re patient, it’ll make a believer out of you with lots of freedom afforded to your playstyle, even if the controls sometimes make the experience more cumbersome than needed. Hardcore series fans, of course, will need no convincing here.
The Good Lots of variety, lots of options, lots of appeal all packed into a fun, focused, console-style experience for the 3DS.
The Bad Complicated controls that are typically manageable but aren’t conducive to a crisis situation.
The Ugly Services a niche crowd—anyone not into a seemingly endless stream of quests sans strong story presence will easily find the game repetitive.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is available for the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. Primary version reviewed was for the 3DS.
Chris Holzworth, News Editor
Chris Holzworth has wanted to write about games all his life. He first cut his teeth writing for enthusiast sites such as RPGFan, and after writing for just about every other enthusiast website he could came across, wound up as EGM's east coast news correspondent (read: editorial intern, a fancy phrase for "slave") before relocating to LA to serve as news editor. [Meet the rest of the crew]

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