'Monster Hunter Tri' (Wii)

What's Hot: Good graphics, new monsters, decent multiplayer, and manly armor designs.

What's Not: No lock-on in combat, too much grinding, no Wiimote functionality, and assless chaps.

Buy It, Try It or Fry It: Try It

"Monster Hunter Tri" is a heavily Japanese-culture infused game. By that I mean it was not designed for Western audiences. The "Monster Hunter" series is pretty popular back in Japan, but it's never really caught on over here in the states, and with the release of "Monster Hunter Tri," it isn't likely to any time soon. Good or bad, "Monster Hunter Tri' is basically the same game as its predecessors.

So, what else do I mean by "a very Japanese game"? Many Japanese games often have some element of grinding that's core to the gameplay. In "Final Fantasy 7," if you wanted the best material, you had to obsessively grind exp from battles to level them up until you got to unlock the master material. In "Earthbound," to get the best weapons for each character you had to fight a nasty respawning boss and there was a 1 in 128 of it dropping the best weapon in the game. And in "Harvest Moon," you just farm. Not a bad list but, I think it gets the point across. You do get grinding in western games, but there's been a big push away from it because most gamers over here think it's a mind numbingly stupid tool used to milk extra playtime out of users. Sadly, rather then abandon mindless grinding, "Monster Hunter Tri: embraces it.

"Monster Hunter Tri" feels like an odd mix of familiar themes; one part "Harvest Moon,' one part "Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" and one part "Jurassic Park." The world of the "Monster Hunter" games is a strange and savage land where people live alongside alien and imaginary looking dinosaurs. There are a whole lot of ways I could try to describe this world but let me simplify by saying that it's basically your generic "Final Fantasy" barbarian setting. Villages are protected by hunters who randomly kill anything that moves and then drag the remains back to the village where it becomes the foundation of the economy. And that is the entirety of the gameplay in "Monster Hunter Tri." You live in a village and you have two options.

1. Go to the deserted island and kill monsters and harvest their remains, or wander around and harvest herbs, mushrooms, ore, bugs, etc... Then bring them back to the village and sell them or use them to either improve the village or craft better equipment.

2. Take a quest from the Hunter's Guild. These quests vary from fetch/kill 10 whatever to boss fights, and are a great way to earn $$ and harvest rare items.

By repeating quests or just grinding the hell out of the desert island you collect the materials required to craft better weapons, armor, potions, ammo, traps, and other assorted power-ups. Your character doesn't level up as you fight and defeat monsters. Rather it's through equipping more and more powerful items that your character will grow in strength. While this means that your character's advancement is entirely in your control, it also means that in order to make your character strong enough to take on the big sea dragon boss, you'll need to replay the same damned quest 20 times in order to get enough material to craft a good enough sword. So grinding is not just an option, it's the only option, and that sort of mindlessness is the kind of thing that will probably turn away western audiences.

That's pretty much it for the single player game. The multiplayer side of the game has you importing your single player character over from the village to a city where you basically have three options; do either of the two from the single player game except as part of a group, or fight big monsters in an arena. And I must admit, the multiplayer game is pretty fun. Your character can go back and forth between single and multiplayer at will, so both game styles blend together really well. Where the multiplayer fails though is in it's organization. You pick which of the four server types you want, then you pick a "city gate" from a long list, and then you pick a city, which holds 4 players max. While I'm not a big multiplayer fan, I do have some experience with it and this system felt a bit overly complex and clunky. In an attempt to appeal to western gamers, this is the first Monster Hunter game to include voice chat. While voice chat makes communication easier, it's not as much a selling point as it is a necessity in any damned multiplayer game. There's also a split-screen mode so you can play at home with a friend, but I live alone with a cat and her lack of thumbs makes using the Wii impossible, so I don't know if it's any good.

I got into the "Monster Hunter" games after picking up a copy of "Monster Hunter Freedom Unite" for the PSP. So when I bought my copy of "Monster Hunter Tri," I expected better gameplay, better graphics, and some Wii functionality since it is a Wii game. The game met my expectations in some ways, and greatly disappointed in others.

Let's start with the good parts of the game.

This is the prettiest game to come out for the Wii so far -- and includes a new underwater mode where you get to dive into the water and hunt giant sharks, fish, and Nessie-looking things.

If you're a fan of the "Monster Hunter" series, "Tri" adds some new beasties to the roster while ditching some of the old ones. A few new bosses make a comeback, but mostly it's a lot of new scaly faces. If you've never played a "Monster Hunter" game before, none of that means a damn thing to you. Just be excited about a wide selection of things to murder, skin and gut.

"Monster Hunter Tri" also has some of the butchest character design I've seen in a Japanese game in a long time. Hell, even Mario has a bit of a "Fire Island" vibe going down these days (Does he ever get the damned princess? At this point it should be Crown Prince Mario of the Mushroom Kingdom). Character creation starts your character off in some of the gayest underwear in a video game so far, but you soon get to start equipping armor so rugged that only the craziest of leathermen would be turned on by it. Your armor tends to be big, bulky, spiky and to be honest, the kind of thing you'd expect to see on evil barbarians warlords in a Final Fantasy game. This is the kind of thing I like to see in the games I play. Maybe it's me, but I like it when the male protagonist in a game can't be mistaken for Meg Ryan.

Now for the bad aspects of the game.

When hitting the damn target is so difficult that you have a better chance of hit the ground right next to them, then something has gone terribly wrong.

It's also not really a Wii game. The only time you ever get to use the Wiimote to move a curser around the screen is when you initially research a monster.

"Monster Hunter Tri" is a game that tells the player very little. There is a rather simplistic tutorial system that consists of little more then a few lines of dialogue added here and there, but it doesn't really tell you anything.

I know it's a piddly little complaint, but the unskippable cutscenes started to bug the hell out of me. When you first encounter any of the boss monsters, a little cutscene starts playing. While these can be a bit long, they're also pretty cool so it's ok at first. But then if you die and have to come back, the cutscene plays again, and again, and again and there's no skipping it.

"Monster Hunter Tri" is a good game and a fine addition to the series. If, like me, you're a fan of the previous games then you're going to enjoy this one. The multiplayer is fun and the single player game is just more of what you love. On the other hand, if you've never played a "Monster Hunter" game before you probably won't like this one and you'll wonder how the hell this became popular over in Japan.

I'd recommend "Minecraft."

This review was based on a retail copy purchased by the reviewer.

Available at Amazon.com:

The Saboteur

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Video Games: 'Monster Hunter Tri' (Wii)

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