Review: Monster Hunter Tri

Let’s start this story at the beginning. I’ve never played a Monster Hunter game before, so if you loved previous iterations, this review is not for you. You will love this game, I imagine. This review is for those of you like me: people who loved, *loved* Demon’s Souls, thought it was far and away the best game released last year (not far and away, actually: Devil Survivor for the DS was close, but that’s another show), and heard, Monster Hunter Tri is kind of like Demon’s Souls in that it’s a Japanese third person action game with a fair bit of difficulty and big boss monsters. You’ll love it!

Yeah, those people are full of shit. Saying Monster Hunter Tri and Demon’s Souls are alike is like saying Halo and Gears of War are the same game. Sure, they’re both shooters, and aliens are involved, but that’s as far as it goes. Monster Hunter Tri is more like World of Warcraft, and even then the addictive parts of Warcraft are conspicuously absent here.

Now the point of full disclosure: I played Monster Hunter Tri for about four hours. Someone is going to say, Well, you have to play the whole game for the full experience!, but these people are almost exclusively fanboys. Movies are expected to deliver their hook after 22 minutes. Novels have been rejected on the basis of first lines before. To expect someone to put up with four hours of bullshit before the game actually starts (four hours being as long as some games, and enough time to play Super Metroid twice) is ludicrous. Games should be expected to deliver their hook in about four hours, and then we go from there.

And if it hasn’t, there’s a huge problem. After four hours of Monster Hunter Tri, I was still neck deep in tutorials, wandering around and finding mushroom patches and pressing A until the mushroom patch disappeared, then going to find another one. You might think this sounds like a MMORPG, and you’re absolutely right. It’s an MMORPG but without any of the positive elements. There’s grinding, but there’s no obvious reward for the grinding. In most massively multiplayer games, you grind in the early game because you get cool new powers, and then the fact opens up that the late game is really fun if you can get to max level. Here, there’s the promise of late game content, but that early hook of level grinding is absent. I mean, you fight monsters, but you’re doing it to collect resources, which may or may not correlate to the things you want to get.

And it’s not like the fighting’s fun or anything. Combat does, in fact, bear a lot of resemblance to Demon’s Souls, but without the visceral thrill. The fun in Demon’s Souls came from the fact that everything could, and would, kill you. Battle was intense because if you made a mistake the enemies, even the weakest of them, would rip your face off. The mechanics were slow, but it felt absolutely right. If you missed, you missed because you made a mistake. They were precise.

None of these things are true about Monster Hunter Tri. Combat cannot be described as anything but precise, but it’s not super, hyper precise, like Demon’s Souls was. It’s a little more skittish, and that makes all the difference. The controls being less precise is made up for by the fact that things hit less hard. Sure, they can try to hurt you, but it’s not very effective.

Usually I’m opposed to reviewing games as specifically games, but I’m making an exception for Monster Hunter Tri, because it’s a game. There’s no message here, there’s nothing beneath the surface. You grind for a while, you fight and capture a huge monster, and then you repeat. Why are you doing this? Because they’re there, and that’s what you do. It is, in fact, the very sort of game No More Heroes was trying to make light of, in that you’re doing things because they’re there and you can. Who are you? The game makes no effort to tell you. You’re not even playing a role. You’re grinding for the sake of grinding, because grinding is what you have to do to get to the cool looking big monster at the end of the level.

And you know what? That game would have worked a decade ago. A decade ago, we were all kind of stupid, and there weren’t that many video games to play. We could afford to give a title like Monster Hunter days of our lives, because there was nothing better to play. Nowadays, though, any gamer you talk to will say they have a backlog of at least a couple games (if they play games on PC, they will definitely). Games are plentiful, and we shouldn’t have the time to sink hundreds of hours into a game designed around working really hard to see some brief cool things, especially when other games have shown that it’s possible to make games without this intro.

What’s worse is that modern introductions in Japanese games are getting longer, in spite of the fact that gamers are beginning to possess more focused attention spans. I remember it being 2005 and playing Valkyrie Profile; people around me bemoaned the fact that it took 3 hours to start up. I played and love Persona 3, and people bemoan that that takes 6 hours to get going. And yet games like Monster Hunter Tri and Final Fantasy XIII come along and take a dozen hours to get anywhere remotely interesting nowadays, and people act like it’s an entry barrier to be conquered, like a way to prove you belong in a hardcore gamer club. And it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t make the game more accessible, and accessibility isn’t a crime. Super Mario Brothers was an imminently accessible game, and it’s fairly difficult. Demon’s Souls starts up almost immediately, and the controls are easy to grasp, but it’s at the top of the hardcore pyramid. We don’t need hours of tutorial to figure out how things work. What we need is an impetus, some sort of goal that we can approach, to tell us, This grinding? It’s all worth it.

One more (almost non sequitur) point before the flaming begins. The graphics. People always lambaste me (and others, of course) for bemoaning the Wii’s production values. They cite games such as Monster Hunter Tri as an example of how the Wii can produce work on par with the big boys. Well, these people are wrong. Monster Hunter Tri is ugly. There’s one reason for this. The vistas are cool, the monster design is nice, the people look kind of bad but I’ll take it. But what I can’t accept is the blood. The blood effect is the absolute lamest, most disruptive thing I’ve ever seen, visually, in a video game. It is absolutely awful, and if you say otherwise I question whether or not your eyes work. I mean, the rest of the graphics are okay, but…there’s a reason that Monster Hunter Tri is on the Wii.

And that’s the problem. When you look at the metacritic score for this game (which stands at 85, which is higher than a lot of my favorite games), the first review’s excerpt blurb really strikes you with what is wrong with game criticism on the Wii: Tri is one of those paradoxical titles that is by no means perfect, but doesn’t deserve anything less than a ten out of ten rating when compared to everything else on the system. You see that a lot in the reviews of the game: it’s really good, and it’s on the Wii. Usually, these two go together. And here’s the problem with this sentiment: as a gamer, I have multiple consoles. Most gamers have multiple consoles. I don’t want to play a good game for the Wii, I want to play a good game. And I feel that, when looking through the voluminous scores the game has received, that it’s gotten at least a five point bump because it’s on the Wii, and review sites don’t want to seem like they hate the thing. This has contributed to what I see as a policy of inflation: sites give Wii games (like Monster Hunter 3 and Madworld) great reviews because they don’t want to be seen as biased. The game doesn’t sell, which isn’t a problem for Tri but is for all other titles. Companies look at this, and say, We made a brilliant game for the Wii, and no one bought it. We should stop trying.
This is ridiculous. Good games can exist on the Wii. Mario Galaxy is one of my favorite games. Fragile Dreams is a fantastic experience that would have been incredible if the developers had had a couple more dollars. Twilight Princess was a good game, but that’s another show, too. The problem is that a lot of the experiences are truly regressive, designed to appeal to the Virtual Console crowd, instead of to people who want exciting, well-executed modern games. Monster Hunter Tri fails, in my opinion, not because it’s on the Wii but it’s designed like a game from 2003, to hit the nostalgia buttons instead of the good game buttons.

Words cannot express how much I did not enjoy this game. Numbers can’t, either (not that we use numbers here or nothing). It’s not the worst game I’ve ever played—it’s not quite as condescending as Banjo Tooie was—but it’s definitely up there. This game combined all the elements of game design that I loathe: long, pretentious tutorials, grinding for the sake of grinding, and retro choices like weapon durability that only serve to make the game less playable. Monster Hunter Tri feels like work, and while there may be a light at the end of the rainbow I see no reason why the rainbow couldn’t have been miles shorter to begin with.

In conclusion, Monster Hunter Tri is a poor, at best, game that is representative of everything wrong with modern Japanese game design.


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  2. Wayne

    Thank you very much for the insightful review and comparison, Tom. As a gamer who has sunk well over 200 hours into Demon’s Souls, I almost fell victim to the hype of it being similar. You just saved me monies.

  3. steven

    he’s just mad cuz its not on ps3 or 360, not to mention it was long cuz you suck at the game!

    • Tom

      I’ve had a Wii for longer than the other two consoles, and hate new PS3/360 games on principle because I don’t have an HDTV.

      And sucking at the game wasn’t a problem because in four hours nothing happened that I could suck at. It’s impossible to suck at fighting defenseless animals and grinding flowers unless you are an 80 year old woman. As a member of a different demographic, that’s not the case.

  4. Vised

    cursory comments:
    not only are the gratitious blood reactions supposed be there in the first place to indicate how much damage you manage to do to something (essential for the large actual monsters that have individualized body part resistances), but it can easily be turned down if you don’t care for it in the first place.
    if you are so infuriated by the possibly slow paced beginning offline mode, why not just start online, where the first four three or so tiers of offline quests are abbreviated into a single quest tier and you can fight the giant velocoraptor or actual, you know monsters, as your very first quest?
    it also makes most of the gathering quests bearable due to proportionally involving less for each player.
    not only that, but the gathering and small monster aspects are nothing near the main game. nobody shows off the killing of small velocoraptors, they show long and serious fights against dragons.
    you haven’t given a real review of the game.

    • Tom

      Here’s the thing: when I play games, I want to know as little about them as possible. I don’t want to be explained to why the game is fun. I want to turn it on, and be able to figure out how to have fun. And if I can play the game single player, then the game needs to be fun single player.

      Basically, if you are designing a game, why would you do this? Why would you make the beginning either be “Go online and do one quest and kill an awesome, badass thing with strangers” or “Do hours of boring shit, fighting nothing, and collecting plants”? If one is so terrible, why is it an option? Because I’d imagine over half the people playing the game go to what you call “nothing near the main game” first, because it is what is put first.

      It’s like making you get 10,000 points in the original Mario Brothers before allowing you to play Super Mario Brothers, unless you pick hard difficulty, whereupon you get dropped into SMB right from the start. It’s ludicrous.

      And what is a real review? Is it one where the publisher gives you the game for free, then you write about on a scale from 6.0 (it tried!) to 10 (it’s the best game ever!) without comparing it to anything in any way that isn’t positive. Because if so, then no, I guess this isn’t a real review. It’s more like an opinion of a game that everyone already loves anyway.

      • Vised

        …fair and fine: people’s patiences are different.
        it’d be absolutely inane to mark the exact amounts of time anything like what the offline mode takes to get to the great jaggi (or whatever further monsters really start the game): you got caught on it, anyway. one could argue that the early quests are slow precisely to indicate either respect of player-character in-universe or highlight the “unstable environment” mechanic of the more difficult monsters, but you want first star quests to be titular monster hunting.
        what about arena mode?
        the real review part was simply noting the majority of the game past the glacial start is mostly “go kill an awesome, badass thing” that made the series so infamous: the game arguably does take too long to establish the simple mechanics speeding up the boring gathering parts of the game, and it is still mmorpg-esque when it comes to that.
        no comment on mainstream reviews.
        considering you keep action button on the blog roll, i wonder what you have to say about their review of the series.