In his weekly column, writer Bob Mackey will alternate between two of his passions: the Japanese RPG genre and classic games. This week, Bob returns to the world of Monster Hunter.
Chalk it up to fate if you want, but Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate found me in the familiar condition of "nothing better to do," and for the past six weeks, Capcom's hardcore action-RPG has given me a whole new set of complex mechanics and arcana to obsess over with thousands of my fellow monster-hunting fans. Now that I've reached that monumental 100-hour mark, it's time to ask myself one question: Did I invest my time wisely?
Short answer: no, but I'll save regrets over playing too many video games for my death bed. The longer, more complicated answer to my question is, yes I've absolutely spent my time wisely. There are a few caveats; in Monster Hunter, progression happens at a trickle, and you'll often find yourself investing 20 to 30 minutes for a single drop, just to slap together a piece of equipment you might not end up using all that much. If you're willing to invest the time needed to learn the ropes – along with their many arbitrary restrictions – MH3U could very well be the most enjoyable black hole you'll ever fall into. But know that this will come at the cost of ignoring every other game in your path; once it has its hooks in you, time spent on anything else can only be seen as "time better spent on Monster Hunter."
I've spent the better part of this millenium turned off by MMOs due to their predatory nature – and from seeing a close family member play nothing but EverQuest since 1999 – so I'm well-aware of my hypocrisy when praising a series like Monster Hunter. To be fair, though, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate doesn't ask me for a monthly fee (not yet, anyway), and the game seems to have some sort of an end (at least, I think it does). Like any MMO worth its salt, the developers at Capcom emphasize loot and drops in Monster Hunter with a system that demands careful planning at every step. For some, all of this work for a few virtual items can be seen as time wasted, but you MMO addicts out there can confirm the embarrassing appeal of playing fantasy land dress-up with an RPG avatar – it's actually been tough going back to RPGs where changes in equipment aren't reflected on the character model.
Even in the absence of character levels or any permanent stat growth, Monster Hunter gives a surprising sense of progression by leveling up everything but you; as you meet the demands of villagers, your tiny hamlet slowly transforms its economy to focus solely on your monster-killing exploits.
So where does 100 hours get you in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate? Considering I've been playing it pretty meticulously, it seems that I still have quite a ways to go. But that's not entirely my fault; for as much as I love how Monster Hunter takes its time, the way the game repeats its content through both multi- and single-player portions can be irritating, especially when you're ready to move on and see the next strange-and-gigantic target. The single-player portion exists independently from, but still alongside, the multiplayer content; so, as you work your way through star-ranked quests by yourself, you'll also be taking on hunter-rank quests with friends – or on your own, if you're so inclined. Since you have to travel to a completely different location to play with other people (even offline), MH3U often feels like a very fragmented experience that could have been consolidated without much effort. I appreciate that the single-player quests offer the challenge of having to take on giant beasts by yourself, but if I bag some terrible monster in game mode A, I don't see why this same act should be mandatory in game mode B.
I've been easing up a bit on Monster Hunter lately, if only for the sake of the many games I've neglected over the past few months, but I doubt that disc will leave my Wii U until something more pressing comes to replace it, such as the long-awaited Pikmin 3. Until I reach what resembles an end state (or until Capcom takes down their servers), I can see MH3U becoming my MMO: something I'll gradually plug away at while ingesting smaller, tidier games.
If, at the 200-hour mark, I'm still neglecting the rest of the world for the sake of putting the finishing touches on yet another ridiculous-looking set of armor, then we can start talking about interventions. But only then.
Bob Mackey is a freelance writer based out of Berkeley, California. Since 2006, he's written a semimonthly column for the comedy website Something Awful, and his work has been featured on outlets such as 1UP, Gamasutra, Electronic Gaming Monthly, and Cracked. You can follow him on Twitter at @bobservo.