I'll admit this up front. This is my very first Monster Hunter game, and well, they have a... reputation. We always hear about how each new series release fires up the Japanese hype machine in ways that only Dragon Quest can match, and how it nearly single-handedly kept the PSP platform alive overseas. Each time Capcom brings the games stateside, a vocal minority sings their praises, but the series hasn't caught on in the mainstream yet. I don't think Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is going to change that, but it provides a pretty good place to jump in.
...that is, if you're willing to put the time to learn the many, many nuances of the series. Once you've got a good grasp of things, you'll forget you ever had trouble, but my first few hours were spent constantly consulting guides. You'll have your hand held through the first few tasks, but once you unlock the Hunter's Guild, the gloves are off.
In a nutshell, the cycle of a Monster Hunter game works in phases. First, you'll build up your stock of consumables/ensure your gear is in order. You can do this by purchasing consumables, or using the Farm in your town to grow items to combine into potions, etc. You might dip into one of the zones to gather ores and other materials as well.
Next, you hit up the local Hunter's Guild to pick up a quest - quests ask you to do many things, like harvesting local plant life, to killing a number of low-grade monsters. Once you've done enough of the lower-tier quests, you'll receive an “urgent” request to take out a more difficult monster. Completing the urgent quests will raise your Hunter Rank, allowing access to new areas, quests and more difficult monsters to slay.
Slaying the large monsters is the series' bread and butter, and is by far the most exciting part of the game. The large monsters will often flee to other areas of the zone, and if you're not quick in tracking them down (tagging one with a paintball helps enormously), they can recover hit points. Often, they'll be lying in ambush when you zone into the new areas, so be quick on your feet. Certain monsters will also call for backup, so be careful if, say, you see a Great Jaggi near its smaller variants.
Killing monsters allows you to skin them, and in turn, the materials you receive from skinning allow you to craft stronger or more specialized gear. Crafting is at least as big a part of the game as the actual monster hunting, so you'll want to collect as many materials as possible. Once you've upgraded your stuff? It's time to stock back up and hit the Guild for another quest.
As a solo game, MH3U can feel exceptionally grindy. The need to farm up resources both through killing/fishing/mining and literally farming eats up a bit more time than I'd like to spend. Combat is very deliberate, regardless of what weapon you're carrying, and you're unable to cancel/dodge out of a move until its animation completes, which makes missed swings an enormous liability. If you're a newbie like me, stick to faster weapons like the sword & shield of the dual blades.
One gripe I actually had was that the UI text is way too small for readability - I can't imagine anyone still rocking an SDTV being able to make out any of the text, and I actually had to scoot my couch closer to the TV to make out some of the text. If you've got a giant TV or sit close, this might not be an issue for you.
Once you feel like you've got a handle on your character and are well-stocked up, you really should try the co-op, because it's not only fantastic, I'd say it's the only true way to play a Monster Hunter game.
If you're ready to play with friends, head on over to Tanzia port (make sure to select the Multplayer version if you want to do local co-op or select Online to, well, play online), and prepare yourself for some fun. It's important to note that if you want to play local co-op, you can only play with friends using the 3DS version of the game. Bummer.
When playing online, you can create a room and select your hunting target/style, max player count, and whether to keep the game public or private. If you're feeling randy, you can just hop into a random room and hope for the best. Either way, up to four players can work together. Taking on quests from the Hunter's Guild in this area places them on a Quest Board in the area, allowing other players to grab the same one. Once everyone's ready to leave, you'll be transported to the proper zone and be ready for some jolly co-operation.
Almost all of the gripes I have about the combat and grind melt away when playing in co-op. Since monsters will shift focus to your teammates from time to time, you have larger windows to do things like chug a potion or use a whetstone to keep your weapon sharp, things that would be very dangerous to do mid-fight while playing solo. Quests scale up slightly in difficulty based on the number of players, and the thrill of taking down one of the badass monsters is just great.
You can use the WiiU GamePad to set beacons on the map, use text macros to communicate, type out messages using the touchscreen keyboard, or simply activate the microphone and voice chat to your heart's content. Most people I played with were content to use the chat macros, since they're easily accessible.
If you can get over the initial learning curve (or are a series veteran), Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate contains absolutely fantastic co-op. Playing the game solo is a bit of a chore, but if you're buying this sucker to play alone you're doing yourself a disservice. With the addition of online co-op, cross-platform play and the ability to copy your WiiU save to a 3DS to keep your hunts going on the go, this is a seriously compelling experience.Differences in the 3DS Version
The 3DS version of MH3U is exactly the same as the WiiU version, content-wise. Even the DLC is cross-platform. However, there are a few notable differences that exist. First, online co-op is not available without the use of a separate helper application and a WiiU that is connected to the internet via a wired connection (which requires an adapter, sold separately).
Second, the readability of text on the 3DS is also problematic. Where on the WiiU it’s too small, here it’s blurry. If you don’t want to play the game in 3D, disabling it outright in the options will sharpen things up nicely. These things aside, if you’re a gamer on the go and you have friends with the 3DS version nearby you’ll be slaying monsters in no time.Utilizing Cross-Platform Saves
One of the best features of the game is the ability to send your WiiU data to the 3DS and vice versa, allowing you to take your hunts along for your daily commute or flight to the latest and greatest PAX. To do this, you'll need several things:A 3DS with a copy of MH3U A WiiU with a copy of MH3U On the 3DS, the MH3U Data Transfer Program (available in the eShop)
It’s important to note that if you intend to transfer data, you can only keep one set of data and it must MATCH the characters on the receiving system. Since I had to test the cross-platform play as well, I ended up needing to delete one of my characters in order to test the transfer functionality. In any case, once you’ve got the Data Transfer Program running, simply turn the WiiU on and select “Data Transfer” from the main menu, then follow the prompts on your 3DS. The transfer is a one-way trip, so you will lose ALL of your save data on one system by transferring it to the other.