The Monster Hunter franchise is popular. This Capcom franchise is one of the top selling titles in Japan, outselling even the likes of Mario and Dragon Quest. While this series has yet to gain the same traction in the United States (or Europe, for that matter), it's clear that Monster Hunter has its legions of fans. I found this out the hard way, when I got on the bad side of dozens of Monster Hunter fans who took offense at my largely negative preview. Now I have the finished game in my hands and I have vowed to give this game a fair shake.
Contrary to what some might think, I don't have it out for the Monster Hunter franchise. While I have never been especially impressed by the PSP and PlayStation 2 titles, I could certainly see their appeal. I'm a huge fan of this style of open-world fantasy adventure game. I was deeply addicted to Phantasy Star, still play Sacred 2 and would likely get hooked on World of Warcraft if I accidentally installed it on my computer. I feel like I'm predisposed to liking this style of game. But there's something about Monster Hunter that just doesn't connect with me. I was hoping that Monster Hunter Tri would change my mind once and for all.
Much like the previous games, Monster Hunter Tri does not feature a long-winded, incoherent story. The game introduces you to a crazy sea monster who has been wreaking havoc on the local coastal communities. You play a customizable character (either male or female) who goes off on many unconnected missions, earning items, money and special memories. It's a set up that works perfectly for multiplayer co-operative questing. And guess what? That's exactly where the game excels.
The game's structure is specifically set-up for multiple people to team up and complete quests together. While I had some success running into early battles with reckless abandon, it became obvious that eventually I was going to hit a wall and need to team up with another monster hunter. If you're the type of gamer who is buying Tri specifically for the robust online mode, then just ignore my single-player woes. I found playing the game solo to be a very frustrating and annoying experience, one where I died repeatedly because I didn't have enough warning.
Thankfully the online mode is a more inviting place. As soon as I logged online I realized what the big deal is. The game is so big and deep that in order to make any kind of dent in this quest log you'll need at least a second person helping you out. The good news is that the game allows you to meet up with a bunch of friends and go questing together. You can even use the Wii Speak control, a speaker phone-style Nintendo product that allows for voice communication. Even with the ability to speak, most gamers I bumped into were taking advantage of the Wii's USB keyboard support. Either way, the game kept all of us in constant communication, which really made me feel like part of a team.
I even managed to appreciate things online I otherwise loathed when I was playing solo. I used to hate the time limits when I was playing by myself, but all that started to make sense online. There's a bigger sense of urgency when it's you and a group of real people taking down one of the game's massive dinosaurs. When it was just me these things felt impossible. With a group the game felt like a larger, more fleshed out version of Phantasy Star Online (only without the fast gameplay or science fiction setting). Logging online makes all the difference when playing Monster Hunter Tri.
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