I fully intended to write this post yesterday, but I've been too busy playing Monster Hunter Tri to worry about trivial matters like writing, eating, and sleeping. Why engage in such worldly affairs when so many other-worldly monsters are out there waiting to be slain?
What's more, the stakes have lately risen dramatically. It's not just virtual villagers relying on me to bring down these dastardly beasts. Now it's friends and new acquaintances who need me to help them raise their Hunter Ranks, collect sunken treasure, or locate that last item needed to complete a full armor set. As I've been telling my wife for days now, I know the grass is high in the yard, but I'm busy doing important stuff here, and dammit, these people need me! This crick in my neck from sleeping on the sofa is starting to hurt a little, though.
Amidst all this monster hunting I've been paying close attention to my play habits, and I've noticed a curious phenomenon. Approximately 65% of my time (yeah, I've measured it) playing this game is devoted not to hunting, but preparing to hunt. Capcom calls this game Monster Hunter. I say a more apt title would be Preparation (H)unt. Play smartly, with the proper amount of preparation applied, and you will avoid the embarrassment and burning discomfort of persistently painful monster hunts.
Slaying monsters in MH3 (one might say slaying them well), either solo or with others, requires careful planning. Like its predecessors in the series, this game places more emphasis on skillful, deliberative activities like targeted gathering, clever combining, and wise upgrading. It rewards carefully allocating resources and choosing the right equipment. What works well on one creature may not work so well on another. Plus, some of these critters are smart. Use the same trap more than a few times, and they'll learn to avoid it. When you're packing for a hunt in MH3, it isn't just a question of whether to grab an explosive, but which one and for what purpose?
Consequently, grinding in MH3 feels more like a deliberative pursuit than a mindless act. Most of the time, you're building up your inventory to prepare for a specific hunt, not just stocking up on generic health potions. And you always have the option of doing it locally by yourself or online with others. Or, in another instance of the game cleverly rewarding preparation, you can let the local villagers, farmers, and sailors gather and grow materials for you if you're willing to invest the time to get them started and periodically check in with them.
MH3 raises the stakes on preparation by asking you to stop and consider exactly how you plan to accomplish your mission before you embark. Choose the wrong weapon, the wrong armor, the wrong supplies in your pouch, and you may well return home empty-handed, mission failed. Once you exit the safety of town or village, you can't come home until you've won, been defeated, or abandoned your quest. There's nothing quite like the sinking realization, 20 minutes into your quest, that you forgot to pack a few extra tranquilizers.
Of course, you're free to go about things willy-nilly, haphazardly equipping whatever you find and paying no attention to skills, weapon attributes and the like. But if you do, you'll be playing the game poorly, and the cost of such ineptitude is time. In other words, you'll die a lot and proceed very slowly.
Monster Hunter's design ethos encourages and rewards optimal play. Yes, you get to chase, kill, or capture all sorts of crazy, monstrous beasts, and that's loads of fun. But the joy of the hunt correlates directly to the joy of preparation for me. A successful hunt affirms the tactical and organizational work I did ahead of time. If you invest yourself in MH3's systems; if you take the time to pay attention, strategize, and choose your path wisely, your efforts are rewarded in kind. You will progress faster and with far less frustration. And, trust me, the monsters and locales you'll encounter later in the game will make you very happy you adopted such an approach.
Still, I suspect the hunt is the thing for most players, and MH3 tests even the most prepared players to deploy action tactics to get the job done. I'll discuss how the game manages that in my next post.
Apologies to those of you uninterested in this game. I promise to move onto other stuff soon. I hear a famous mustachioed plumber is headed to another galaxy in a few days. No way will I miss that.