Though the PS Vita has been ubiquitously considered a flop—let’s call it an underdog, since it has some solid titles—, it is the only other handheld in competition with the 3DS, and, because of this, its library is constantly being compared to the 3DS’ stockpile.
Recently, I watched a video on Nnamz’ YouTube channel, “Soul Sacrifice vs Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.” Excellent video. Some well-thought-out opinion there. He was right to compare the two; they do belong in the same discussion. However, I had some beef with some of what he said. Nnamz posits that the aesthetic of Soul Sacrifice is far superior to that of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Within the first fifteen minutes of Soul Sacrifice, you understand what world you’re in. You’re unsettled, undoubtedly, but not surprised. It’s an atypical art aesthetic that is not popular for a reason, except if you already know you enjoy the dark/punk gorefest coming your way. All this to say Soul Sacrifice is campy, alienating.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is campy also, insomuch that it is the kind of videogame that displays Japanese developers struggling to wrap their minds around what a fantasy medieval Europe looked like. No, there were no cats serving up soufflé or dolled-up piggies in European medieval myths, Capcom. Monster Hunter has an aesthetic incongruous with its allusions, but at least it’s in on the joke. Soul Sacrifice is guilty of taking itself a little too seriously.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate stands head and shoulders above Soul Sacrifice in the graphics/aesthetic department when it comes to what I’ll call “environment as character.” The confluence of monster/environment is where this game shines. Even though there are only a handful of maps, every hunt feels unique. This is largely due to the organic way in which the monsters and environments interact. You could be wailing on a wyvern, comfortable you’ll be able to take it down in the tight gully you both occupy, and it decides I’m out! fleeing from that area into an open vista where it can move freely.
While the aesthetic experience may be a bit off, the game’s landscapes are brilliant. Capcom has the right eye for detail. Waterfalls and caves, volcano tops and marshes—all the places you want to lay waste to big ass dragons.
Memorable. The Deviljo theme is—hands down—the best new addition, post-Tri. It’s playful, ominous, and—the most crucial mark of a Monster Hunter song—adventurous. The Monster Hunter theme song captures so well the trials fans of the series have experienced, so that every time it plays, the player is assaulted with nostalgia. At crucial moments—normally when fighting elder dragons—Capcom begins to play the theme, and the player recalls every trying moment, every thousand failures, every well-earned success.
Something does need to be discussed, however. Tri was, in my mind, a step backwards, sonically and mechanically. The themes in Tri tended to exoticize the seaside village’s people. Whereas themes from the first and second games elicited adventure, themes in Tri sounded a bit too aboriginal. Three Ultimate keeps the themes from Tri, but adds several new themes which are decidedly less exotic. Not a total rehaul, but an apology nonetheless.
The Monster Hunter franchise does away with the level/boss formula, tossing you directly into the boss fight without prepping you for the challenge. And this is the case boss after boss after boss. It’s unforgiving, and the learning curve is steep. I spoke previously about games designed by Japanese developers with medieval aesthetics. It’s hard to ignore the Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls series fits well into this discussion. Both are games that pride themselves on their fist-shaking difficulty. They’re retro in that they recall a time in which games were more challenging.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is no different from the other games in the series. There are a thousand things you need to learn which are not explained. Sure, you can open up the Hunter’s Notes, but who wants to do that? Even then, you may learn one weapon’s control scheme, but the game is much simpler when a player has mastery over several weapon types. Also, every new monster you fight requires you to adopt a new battle style. Armor, weaponry, inventory items and how you combine them, abilities, charms—all require extensive knowledge to operate. Every step the player takes is marked by heavy resistance.
The control scheme should be discussed in more detail. It is more than challenging; it is borderline broken. Water battles—added in Tri—make the already difficult controls wonkier. In order to feel like I didn’t have to rely on the auto-lock feature, I purchased the Circle Pad Pro, which makes managing the camera much easier.
So why would anyone want to play Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate? Picture this: you’ve spent the past few hours, maybe days, studying a monster, learning its weaknesses, watching tutorial videos, reading walkthroughs, preparing traps. You enter into battle confident. Maybe the battle starts a bit rocky. Maybe you die once. But then you settle into a rhythm. You cut the dragon’s tail off. You break its head crest. And finally, after twenty brutal minutes, you kill it. For me, these battles, these victories, have given me some of the best moments I’ve ever had in a video game.
Players generally believe that a good game acclimates you to its challenges as the game progresses. Though Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is very hard at first, no game I’ve ever played makes me feel as in charge of my destiny. To this day, I can still die to an easier wyvern, because I play poorly.
Gab (Discussion/Final Thoughts):
This game is not for everyone. If you’re looking for a casual gaming experience, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a challenge that starts off with you already in the red and keeps you constantly on your toes, then Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is for you.
But why a review months after the game was released? Who am I trying to target by writing this? Well, one of the reasons I want new people to play this game is selfish. In order to bring Monster Hunter 4 to the West, fans need to raise enough support for Capcom to consider the overseas sail. The other reason is decidedly more philanthropic. I want new hunters, because I want a new type of video game player. Many of our Triple A video game titles in America create whiny, hyper-competitive, foul-mouthed twats that no one aspires to be, or be in the company of. I’m guilty of having been that person. I’ve thrown my controller and cussed a storm playing CoD before. I tend to believe that video games can inspire us to be better people, though the stereotypes which have continued to be portrayed say, loudly, otherwise. Games which encourage teamwork and using your brain for something other than splattering your opponents gore on the wall can and do generate real creativity in players. Play this game because it’s going to foster in you a desire to become better at it, without the nasty aftertaste of twatishness. Play it because you’ll use all of your mental resources to face its challenges. I think you’ll find, when you put it down, that you can see the world around you in a more creative, problem-solving way.
I wrote this article last week, finished it yesterday, and today (26 January 2014) Capcom announced that they’ll be bringing Monster Hunter 4 to the West, in the form of another Ultimate game—yes, this time next year players will be able to purchase Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate in the US. I need to keep writing these reviews. All my nerdiest dreams will come true!