In the summer of 2010, I reviewed Monster Hunter Tri for Wii, which was, at the time, the latest installment in the cult favorite franchise. I had no prior exposure to the series and my first impressions were tepid, but upon further gameplay I was totally sucked in, to the point where I put in nearly 150 hours and had a hero ranking just north of 40.
And then I quit. It wasn’t because the game wasn’t good enough. It’s because the game was too good, in a malignant, soul-destroying way. The combination of addictive just-one-more-hunt gameplay and cooperative online play was sucking my life in a way normally associated with MMOs. Not long after I gave it up, I chronicled the experience on Nintendojo, including my own post-mortem about what made the game so great as well as what ultimately convinced me to move on.
I never looked back. Subsequent Monster Hunters have come and gone, including iterations of the game for 3DS, Wii U, 3DS again, and a new 3DS version headed for shelves this summer. The world of Monster Hunter gradually receded from my memory, drifting into posterity as one of those gaming adventures of times gone by.
Over the last several months, however, I’ve been revisiting a few oldies. I replayed the Baten Kaitos duology last fall, and this spring I played through the two installments of Star Wars’ Knights of the Old Republic. At some point, finally, I wondered if it was worth peeking back into the world of Monster Hunter. Not the subsequent versions … but the same game that drew me in six years ago, Monster Hunter Tri for Wii.
In this there were two logistical hurdles. One, I no longer possessed a copy of the game. Two, Capcom shut down the online servers in mid-2013, shortly after the series hit Wii U and 3DS. This second point was particularly problematic, as a good portion of the game’s content— including virtually all of the upper-level quests– is simply inaccessible offline.
Fortunately, there were ready solutions for both problems. To the first: finding digital copies of the game online was pretty easy. I’m no supporter of downloading games without paying for them… but in this case we’re talking about a game that is out of print and has been abandoned by its publisher to the point where half the game is unplayable.
The second problem was solved, at least to a degree, by an intrepid soul who, in 2013, created a mod that allowed access to many of the online quests via the offline village. (The mod’s developer even did a little gameplay balancing on the online content, as it was originally designed for four players.) Granted, playing the higher level quests offline is not the same as the online experience, but it was still something.
No, it was more than something… it was the ideal condition under which I felt I could return to Monster Hunter without risking being dragged back into the shark-infested waters of six years past.
Stepping back into Monster Hunter Tri in a purely offline capacity was a bit like returning to a childhood home now abandoned. There was a familiarity combined with a sense that something was no longer the same. For some reason I’d never deleted the game save from all those years ago; my HR 41 hammer-wielding hunter was just as I left him. The town– the game’s online portal– was inaccessible, but the village was there, and through the mod the village’s quest list now included much of what was once available through the town.
My first realization upon entering the game was just how much I’d forgotten: how to control my character, how to fight, and just what all of that junk (hundreds of unique items!) in my item box was for. My first hour was an exercise in trial and error, as I figured out the controls, reacquainted myself with the village, and pored over my item box. It took several more hours on top of that to rediscover the myriad of little things necessary to succeeding at the game: optimal equipment configurations, monster battle tactics, and the nuances of controlling my long-dormant weapon. It took me three hours before I remembered that could do a spin attack with my hammer without being left exposed at the end.
So how was the experience overall? It’s been… really enjoyable, and not at all in the same way it was back in 2010. Offline, the core gameplay is just as rewarding as ever; watching a Diablos reel from a hammer blow to the head will never get old, and hearing that victory music as the monster crumples to the ground is always sublime. The Monster Hunter series may not have the plotlines of an RPG, but when it comes to gameplay depth, it’s all there.
What about the absence of the online element? Does losing it take some of the luster out of the game? For me, honestly, it hasn’t. This isn’t meant as an objective statement so much as a reflection of how I’ve personally evolved as a gamer. I’ve dabbled in online play in years past, but for a variety of reasons, I’ve come to prefer the offline experience, even as games are moving in the opposite direction.
Playing Monster Hunter Tri’s “online” content offline definitely makes for a different flavor. Six years ago I tackled these hunts with three other human players. This time I was solo… well, almost solo, as Cha-Cha was there as a companion, which provided, if nothing else, a target for monsters to chase after. (This little point, as any Monster Hunter veteran will tell you, is not unimportant.) And playing Tri alone does have its perks. Tactically, for example, I don’t have to worry about other players: certain knockback hammer attacks, which were previously off limits because of area effect on teammates, are now fair game. I also don’t have to waste time languishing in lounges trying to scrape up teams or figuring out how to deal with outmatched companions.
But the biggest perk? Less temptation to put in a marathon session simply because I stumbled on a good online hunting party. It’s easier to put down the controller and go do other things, knowing that Cha-Cha isn’t going anywhere.