So on Monday I talked a bit about the overall premise of the Monster Hunter series, and today I want to go a little bit more in-depth into the real meat of the game: hunting monsters (durr).
As the guide tells us, it's important to be prepared for the task ahead of you at any given time. You start off in your village (or a city, if you're playing co-op online) and this is your hub. This is where you pick up quests (either from the villagers or from the Hunter's guild), where you store/bank your items, where you craft new weapons and armor, and where you farm (more on that later).
When you choose a quest, it will tell you what you're hunting (or gathering), a few of the creatures you may encounter, what area you'll be in and whether it will night or day. All of these things factor into what sort of challenges you may face. If you're going to be hunting in the desert during the day, you'll want to bring cold drinks to fight off the hot sun. If you're in the snowy mountains, you want hot drinks so you don't freeze and lose stamina. In the swamp at night? Bring poison antidotes. Fighting a monster that runs when its wounded (most of them do)? Bring paintballs so you can easily track them on your map when they run.
When you start a quest, you begin in a camp area, with an item box that gives you some basic supplies. If you're in the desert, the box will have a couple cold drinks you can take. However, the supply box usually isn't going to give you enough of what you need, it just provides a little help. Also, once you're on a quest, you can't access your in-town item box, or swap out weapons and armor, so it's important to plan ahead.
So, you've packed some gear and you're off on your quest. This is where the franchise either clicks with people or it doesn't, and I'm going to go over what to expect. I've seen people pick up a Monster Hunter game, go at it like a western action title/God of War video game, and get frustrated and quit when they have their ass handed to them.
Monster Hunter can be a tough game (though I've read that Monster Hunter Tri has made the early experience a little more new-user friendly), and that's probably one of the biggest appeals for me. It's a challenge, and when you defeat a monster six times your size, you really get a rush of accomplishment.
First things first, there is no target-lock feature in Monster Hunter. I'm laying this right out on the table, because MH is a third person action game, and many people feel like you HAVE to have a target-lock feature in third person action games. I disagree. In some games it's certainly beneficial, but its absence in Monster Hunter is a large part of the challenge, and it forces you to play your attacks, as opposed to simply button mashing.
Fortunately, Monster Hunter Tri is on the Wii, and debuting with the Classic Controller Pro. This is a huge benefit to the camera system. It's also one of the parts I'm most excited about. As someone who got into Monster Hunter on the PSP, all I've known for the last few years was the "finger hook". For those who have never played a MH game on the PSP, the camera controls are on the same side of the handheld as the movement controls. So in order to rotate the camera while running, you have to curl your left index finger down into a hook shape so you could hit left/right on the d+pad while still running around with the analog nub. After some practice it becomes second nature and you don't really notice you're doing it, but it certainly isn't the most comfortable way to play and I'm really looking forward to using a dual analog controller.
The other thing to remember while hunting is that you can't run while your weapon is drawn. You also can't use items while your weapon is drawn (unless you're using the sword and shield, I believe... not sure if that's changed for MH3). So while you're fighting a monster, the entire thing becomes a balancing act between attacking and dodging, blocking and running, and determining when it's safe to use items.
Every monster is different. Every monster has different attacks, different patterns, and you have to learn the monster's movements. A good hunter knows when it's time to dodge and when it's time to press the attack. Rarely will you ever get a chance to just stand in one spot and beat on a monster (shock traps, etc. aside). It's all about being more agile and more intelligent than your prey. It's also about knowing where to focus your attacks first. For instance, when facing the Barioth, if you focus attacks on his claws, once you break them off he'll have a harder time gaining traction on the ice and snow, which will give you more opportunities to go in for the kill.
For an added challenge, you'll rarely be fighting these boss monsters alone. Either you'll be in an area with other monsters, or the monster you're fighting will try to call in help.
For each quest, there is a contract fee and a cash reward. The contract fee you pay out of pocket to say "yes, I will complete this quest" (you get it back if you do). The cash reward is what you're paid if you complete the quest. If you're knocked unconscious during the quest (your health reaches zero), you're dumped back at the beginning and you lose a chunk of the potential reward. Once there's no more reward left, there are no more continues left. You're sent back to town.
Once you finally get a monster down, it doesn't just drop loot. Instead, you carve pieces of the monster which you'll use to forge new weapons and armor. Some monster pieces are rarer than others, and you may need to defeat a monster several times in order to get all the pieces you need for a new weapon, or to craft a full set of armor.
Monster Hunter is really a game for people who like a good challenge. People who enjoy the idea of investing their time into a huge game with a big learning curve, and big rewards.
Monster Hunter Tri has the added bonus of the free online co-op hosted by Capcom (no friend codes needed). While you could team up in the PSP games, it required having a buddy nearby with his own PSP and game. The Wii will simplify this a great deal with plug and play online co-op. You can have up to four people in a hunt online, which means three other people for the monster to attack besides you. And if you kill the monster, everyone gets to carve it. With a huge amount of content and quests focused at the co-op hunting experience, I expect there will be a great community of hunters to quest with.