Monster Hunter: it has sold millions of copies in Japan. I have personally seen it played in parks, on trains, and in countless fast food restaurants in the Tokyo area by everyone from kids to adults. Simply put, it is one of the most prevalent and popular gaming franchises in Japan. The same cannot be said for its popularity in the West, however.
Back when Monster Hunter was just hitting its stride, I picked up Monster Hunter Freedom 2 on the PlayStation Portable to see what all the fuss was about. To put it mildly, I was not impressed. And so, after about ten hours of play, I gave up on it (and the series as a whole), deciding it just wasn't for me.
Among the several issues I had with Freedom 2, the most egregious was the game's camera controls. Because the PSP has no second thumbstick for camera control, the camera is instead linked to the d-pad, with movement relegated to the thumbstick. This means that to both move and control your camera at the same time, you have to force your left hand into what I lovingly call, "an unnatural withered claw"—i.e., with your thumb in charge of movement, your index finger on the camera, and your middle finger on the left trigger. It is a control setup unlike any game I have played before or since. Worse yet, it is far from comfortable or easy to get used to. And with no auto-lock to help me out, I found myself more often fighting the game's controls than the monsters inside the game.
My second major issue with Freedom 2 was the lack of story. Obviously this is based upon personal preference, but good, interactive stories are the main reason I play games in the first place. The simple, open-ended plot of hunting-monsters-for-fun-and-profit was nowhere near what I require to become invested in a world and its characters. So without a story, Freedom 2 felt to me like a grind for the sake of grinding—something I have zero interest in.
In lieu of a story, however, Freedom 2 is built around making an immersive co-op experience. Now, don't get me wrong, I love co-op games. And sometimes, the co-op nature of a game can replace my need for a plot (though having both is ideal). But sadly, practical real-world limitations kept me from getting the most out of the co-op mode. I only had one other friend willing to buy the game and play with me. Unfortunately, two people just isn't enough—you really need four people playing together to best experience the game. And as this was nearly a year before the release of Ad-Hoc Party, we were SOL in the online co-op department.
Moreover, I found the game slow and boring when playing alone. He found it less so, and in between our first co-op session and second, his character entered a-whole-nother weight class full of monsters I couldn't even touch. And, try as I might to catch up, I was never able to.
So, after all that, what could make me give Monster Hunter a second chance? Nothing much. Just a new Monster Hunter game that looked to fix the vast majority of the problems I had with the game. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the Wii U reads like a checklist called: "How to Make a Monster Hunter Game for Richard Eisenbeis."
To start, camera control has been radically improved. Not only can you control it via the Wii U's second thumbstick—leaving the "claw" totally optional—but also there is a lock-on feature that allows you to re-center your camera on the boss monsters at any time. While not quite the permanent lock-on I had hoped for, it's undoubtedly a great start.
And although Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate still lacks anything but the most barebones excuse for a story, the co-op is so engrossing I hardly noticed. Almost immediately I was able to head online, find a group at my level, and get to boss hunting. There was no need to have three friends at my beck and call to get the best experience; I just logged on and played.
Rather than boring, as I found Freedom 2, 3 Ultimate was exciting and more than a little addictive. I spent hours doing boss fight after boss fight and never really grew tired of it. So if you were turned off to Monster Hunter for the same reasons I was, I encourage you to give it another shot with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the Wii U. It may well change your mind.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was released on December 10, 2012, in Japan for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS and is region locked. It will be released on both systems in the United States on March 19, 2013.