Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Import Review: Monster Hunter Portable 3rd HD (PS3)

Like many who live outside of Japan, my first experience with Capcom’s Monster Hunter series was with Monster Hunter Tri on the Nintendo Wii. The remastering of Monster Hunter Portable 3rd on the PlayStation 3 appealed to me - as I have only played one game in the series before - even though the game is entirely in Japanese.

You play as a monster hunter and through your experiences you find a local village which serves as your hub. From here, you can embark on various quests. Additionally, the locals will sell you items, and forge weapons and armour, from the carves of the monsters you hunt.

Early quests establish the basics, mainly killing small monsters and collecting various items from your environment. The game offers a tutorial for swordplay, but if you want to fully understand how to effectively use a weapon, I would suggest looking towards the Internet.

Some people may not understand why these games are so popular. My excitement that comes from this series is the deep combat system. When you encounter a monster for the first time, you will spend a few minutes observing their movements. Once you understand their basics, you start to fight. Normally, you can rarely get more than a few hits at a time, but the use of bombs and traps extend the amount of time you can attack. This understanding is great, and as you grow as a hunter, your knowledge and ability to read monsters will aid you in your quests.

A word of warning to inexperienced players, there is a large difficulty spike here, and unless you’re prepared it will hit you like running into a brick wall. Later monsters are brutal with their attacks, with some capable of knocking you out in one hit if you fail to wear sufficient armour. In every quest you get three lives within a fifty minute period. If you get knocked out three times, or fail to complete your objective when time is up, you fail your mission.

Alongside yourself, you can have up to two companions that can help you on your quest. Known as Felynes, these cats can equip weapons and support you in your endeavors to slay the monster(s) you’re fighting. Along with the fighting, they can be used as support, to give you buffs and heal you, as well as debuffing your target.

Once the monster is slain, you acquire your carves, and use these carves to upgrade or craft new weapons and armour. Usually, you’ll have to fight the same monster a number of times, but the satisfaction of forging your first armour set is well worth it. This creates a cycle that is hard to fall out of. The desire to constantly upgrade or get new gear encourages both hunting, but also encourages you to move out of your comfort zone.

There are no ‘classes’ in Monster Hunter, as the game doesn’t hold you down with your first weapon choice. You’re able to at any time change to a Bow or a Hunting Horn. Your character doesn’t level up, but you level up your weapons and armour. As you become a more experienced player, your skills will grow as well.

All of the games locations that were present in the popular Wii game, Monster Hunter Tri are found in Portable 3rd, with the addition of the new Mountain Stream. What I found to be a great edition in Tri, was the underwater combat. Portable 3rd lacks any underwater combat, leaving the watered areas now flattened. It’s understandable though, as this was originally a PSP game, which only used the D-pad to control the camera. But with the right stick used for controlling the camera, it would have been great to see underwater sections found in the Wii game present. The game fails to add upon the existing framework of the PSP release, aside from the updated graphics. And although the graphics are updated, the menus are not. This results in some very ugly looking menus on the big screen, and it looks out of place when compared against the updated in-game graphics.

For those who don’t understand Japanese, you’re going to want to look at a wiki for this one, or at least for your first few hours. I would go one step further and print out the important information, mainly item and combination lists. The game associates every item with a coloured icon, which may seem to be confusing to many at first. Monsters have a colour that is only associated with them, therefore making it easier to distinguish, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve collected a green bug, only to realize I was meant to be collecting the other green bug.

The online infrastructure for Monster Hunter is centered around AdHoc. The same system is in place here, quite poorly too. After setting up a room in the Monster Hunter lobbies, players can join with others to fight against monsters together. Once you join a room however, you are unable to leave, unless you quit the game. This is the same if you disconnect from your group. You don’t disconnect from the game, but rather you continue playing by yourself, forcing to quit if you wish to re-join your previous group. It’s not as bad if you’re with a group of friends, as you can decide together to hold on before leaving on a quest, but the fact that it’s there is just problematic.

The monsters online are designed with four hunters in mind, so an inexperienced party of two will have some trouble taking down a mighty foe. To accommodate this, you can bring along a Felyne to help out. If you’re taking on an online quest solo, you can bring two, and when taking it on as a duo, you both get one Felyne

The cute version of the Monster Hunter cats. Airou
The language barrier between English and Japanese isn’t that much of an issue. Most of the time, the communication will simply consist of “nice job”, “good work” etc. as fighting will require more attention. There are some dedicated English lobbies (S2 is quite popular among those who speak English) and there is also voice chat available. If you’re an experienced hunter, and you respect your fellow hunters, there shouldn’t be a problem. But a lack of sword etiquette can annoy other members of your team, and may jeopardise your quest.

Playing online isn’t a requirement to complete the game, as you are able to complete the online quests with your two Felyne companions (though you’d have to have a death wish on some of the latter quests.)

Honestly though, I really enjoyed this game, and I still do. It’s worth mentioning that I’m about 150 hours into my file, and although I’m quite deep into both online and offline quests, I still feel like I have a lot to do. Though, at the same time, with only updated graphics, the real reason to purchase this over the PSP version in my eyes is if you want the game to look prettier. Yet, I can’t fault the gameplay. What it does, it does well. I wish that there was a stronger following outside of Japan, because the Monster Hunter series is just a blast of fun every time I pick it up, but, at the same time, the lack of innovation and a lackluster graphic update lowers the final score for me.

- Sam M

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