Hands-on Preview: Monster Hunter Tri

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We were fortunate enough to have been invited alongside both Press and Community Members to an exclusive preview event at The Science Museum in London this week, hosted by both Nintendo and Capcom. It was here that we were able to get chance to both see and play Monster Hunter Tri, due to release on Nintendo Wii in April 2010.

Having arrived at the venue, we were left briefly waiting in a lobby area where only the roars of monsters from behind closed doors, and a huge cardboard diorama for the title provided us with our first impressions as to what we could expect from the day ahead. However, things really started to pick up when two knights dressed in full suits of armour lumbered their way in between us all to open the doors to the adjoining room.

It was in here that both Ryozo Tsujomoto and Kaname Fujioka, who are respectively the Producer and Director of the now infamous Monster Hunter series, led us through the Monster Hunter Tri School in which they took us on a humorous exploration through all the new features of the upcoming European release of the title.

Its needless to say that the Monster Hunter franchise has become a huge success – especially in Japan, where it has inspired a whole sub-culture. Having previously seen titles release on the PlayStation 2, PSP and PC, Monster Hunter Tri marks the debut of the series on the Wii, and such an occasion is something that Capcom have seemingly taken plenty of time to ensure is just right for the console.

The Tri School, as it will now be affectionately known, begun with the audience being treated to a trailer for the game, shown to us exclusively for the first time. It was evident even from such an early stage in the day of how much care and attention the team at Capcom have taken in bringing the series to the Wii. This new trailer focussed on the multiplayer element of the title, which will be discussed later, as well as the incredibly detailed monsters within the game and the breathtaking environments that they inhabit.

After, Kaname sought out a pointer to use – which ended up being an arm from a hunter that “wasn’t quite so good at fighting monsters” much to our amusement – Ryozu got the presentation off to a start, explaining that Capcom had sought to pursue the highest possible graphics on the Wii console for Monster Hunter Tri, which was something that they felt they achieved. From what I have seen, it is certainly one of the best looking titles to grace the Wii console.
For the uninitiated, as its title suggests, the game places the player within the role of a hunter that actively wanders a fantasy environment in which you are tasked with completing a bountiful quantity of quests. The premise of the game is that you are a resident of Moga Village, that forms the hub area for your adventure, which is currently suffering from frequent earthquakes that are becoming increasingly worrying to the townspeople. It is believed that a large monster known as the Lagiacrus is causing such tremors, and so as one of the Village’s hunters you are tasked with bringing an end to such issue. On the way, you’ll of course be given a variety of smaller quests by the villagers that will involve either gathering materials or hunting various species of monster – with the rewards for completion providing you with the necessary items to continually strengthen your weapons and armour.

Prior to your hunting venture, you are able to fully customise your character – across the usual face, hair, voice and clothing options seen within previous titles in the series – and such a broad selection easily allows you to create a unique and personal hunter for your adventure.

Such diversity can also be seen within the weapons that are available within the game. Players will be able to continually choose from the following old favourites; Sword & Shield, Bowgun, Lance, Greatsword, Hammer, and Longsword, as well as being able to explore Monster Hunter Tri’s new addition, the Switchaxe. This weapon has two forms, as its name implies, and the player is able to alternate between both a sword and an axe depending on which they’d prefer to use in any given combat situation.
Ryozo also detailed a selection of uniquely skinned weapons included within the game – some having been designed as a result of a Capcom Unity Community Competition. One such weapon was the Sinister Saints, designed by forum member shawnzy, which consists of a Switchaxe that takes the form of a Goddess whilst used as a sword, but then changes appearance to a Grim Reaper when used as an axe. Such Community inspired inclusions must be commended – both for the hardcore fans that make the effort to create them, and also to Capcom who reward such work through transferring such designs into the game. These are also a new addition to the European version of the game, and weren’t previously included in the Japanese release.

Capcom have ensured that those new to the series will also be able to get to grips with it just as easily as those that have played previous titles, through the implementation of natural tutorials. These will provide information regarding all aspects of the Monster Hunter world and its gameplay mechanics.

Monster Hunter titles have always been about exploring different environments as you hunt out the variety of monster species, and whilst previously fans were limited in navigating their way across land, this time around the developers have introduced new underwater sections that will allow you to take the whole experience to a new level. Whilst we had caught early glimpses of this during the trailer, it was when we moved into the other room to play the title that I saw just how much a difference these sea environments made – the fans themselves rushed to try them out straight away!

The species of monster, ranging from small herbivores to large underwater carnivores, is also worth due credit – although obviously a vital aspect of any Monster Hunter title. Each have been given their own ecology and behavioural characteristics, based upon the study and research of real-life animals. We were shown, as an example, a group of Jaggy’s – small raptor-like creatures that are incredibly territorial and only attack in packs – and as the player moved in to attack them they broke off from one another in an attempt to flank you. However, they’ll always target what they deem to be the biggest threat and when a large Rathian creature appears, they break off from trying to claw our throats off to deal with the hulking beast instead.

A further example was the Qurupeco, a creature that is able to ‘mimicry’ – replicating the calling signs of other species to draw them to fight alongside it. This posed the problem of dealing with the summoned creatures, whilst keeping an eye on the Qurupeco so that it doesn’t call for more support. It is this sense of tactical gameplay that really lends itself well to the co-operative nature of the title.

The game is set to support four-player online play, and will not require the use of Friend Codes to allow you to connect with other users. Ryozo did state however that they may be used to add friends to a Roster, from which if they accept your friend invite you will be able to see when each other are online/ available to join etc. Players will be required to travel to the Network Hub/ City known as ‘Lac Lac,’ and here they will be able to meet friends in the Gathering Hall before heading out on quests together, or even socialising over an online meal!

Ryozu also revealed that they have integrated the use of Wii Speak into the European version of Monster Hunter Tri, something that was surprisingly absent from its Japanese counterpart. This will be a clear benefit for those that seek to take their hunting experience online, and provides another Wii title that is able to make use of the accessory.

However, they were still unable to confirm as to whether the online portion of the title will be subscription based at launch which is something that I feel will either make or break it. Nintendo haven’t outwardly been pushing online multiplayer on the Wii Console, and Monster Hunter Tri is a game that will continue to help establish it. Whether Wii owners are ready to part with monthly subscription costs is debatable, yet such a solid online title is seemingly a rare occurrence for them.

Alongside this, the game also supports local offline multiplayer. Here, players will be able to team up to tackle either Arena or Time Attack modes in split-screen. Arena pits you against some of the larger and more dangerous monsters within the game, whereas Time Attack tasks you within defeating monsters or completing an objective within the specified time limit. Due to nature of split-screen, the graphics were of a lesser quality than that seen when there is just one player on the screen, but the sheer ability to fight side-by-side with a friend is certainly something that Monster Hunter fans will relish.

It remains to be seen as to whether Monster Hunter Tri will be as popular in the West as it was upon its release in Japan last year. Yet Nintendo Wii owners have been crying out for more hardcore titles, and Capcom have risen to the challenge in providing them with a game that is set to provide an entirely new experience – although it may be one that won’t become an immediate hit with the casual market.

Despite suffering from issues continually prevalent throughout the series – such as a lack of being able to lock-on to enemies, or there still being no clear indication of how much health an enemy has left – Monster Hunter Tri is easily leading the way as becoming one of the Wii’s most exciting titles of 2010. For existing fans it’s easily set to be one of the best titles in the series with a variety of new elements and well-integrated online play, as well as being perfect for its Wii debut.

Monster Hunter Tri is due to release exclusively on Nintendo Wii across Europe in April 2010, and will be available in three bundle deals – a copy of Monster Hunter Tri; a copy of Monster Hunter Tri bundled with a Classic Controller Pro; and a copy of Monster Hunter Tri bundled with a Classic Controller Pro & Wii Speak.

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