Monster Hunter Generations (3DS) Review

The Hunt is On

The Monster Hunter series began on the PlayStation 2 and defined its own unique genre of giant creature battling action role-playing game. Its signature gameplay loop of hunting monsters, carving their bodies, and forging new armor has since been replicated in games such as God Eater and Final Fantasy Explorers. Nevertheless, Monster Hunter continues to build off of its own strengths and expand it with each game. After four mainline games and a number of expansions and spinoffs, Monster Hunter Generations for the Nintendo 3DS brings them all together. MHG collects fan-favorite monsters, village hubs, and characters in one adventure while introducing new hunting variations and special moves that completely alter a hunter’s playstyle. With hundreds of quests and a robust online multiplayer mode, MHG is a monstrous force to be reckoned.

Gameplay

If you liked any of the recent Monster Hunter offerings such as Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, you will enjoy this game. MHG features the same refined control styles and weapons from MH4U, and it’s easy to switch from one game to the other. The callbacks are welcome fanservice, and the additions allow you to experience MH in a new way. Although this is a novel adventure, a large chunk of the monsters and areas are recycled from previous games. Unless you are completely satisfied with MH4U tiding you over until a new mainline game, this game is highly recommended as a celebration of all things Monster Hunter.

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Use a variety of weapons to take down larger-than-life monsters.

Now, for everyone else who hasn’t experienced Monster Hunter, the core gameplay composes of your customizable hunter taking on quests to battle large creatures. The monsters provide widely different fights and have distinct appearances, such as dragons, wyverns, dinosaurs, snakes, and sea beasts. Upon beginning a quest, you are placed in one of several maps from wintry mountaintops to volcanic cliffs. Each map is partitioned into several sections (usually around 10), and you must search through each area to find the targeted monster. Once you find it, the monster lets out a mighty roar, showing you that it’s ready to fight back.

Battles are real-time action affairs where you must find opportunities to strike while dodging monster attacks. It’s not a strict back-and-forth, however. Your actions are limited by your speed and stamina. Unlike faster action RPGs, every move carries specific weight. Some may see this slower approach to gameplay as a setback, but the controls are deep and sophisticated. Each motion has value to it, and the flow of battle will vary between different weapons and monsters. If you are using a hard-hitting Hammer, you aren’t going to be able to swing it around easily. Each of your actions must be deliberate and strategic, while running on instinct. Lighter weapons like the Dual Blades allow you to attack more swiftly, but you sacrifice power and defense in the process. Since you are up-close to the monster, you need to dodge carefully, which brings stamina into play. Running, dodging, and some other actions use up stamina. If you run out, you slow down and start panting. You can consume items to keep your health and stamina in check, but even the consumption animation takes time.

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Survival requires strategic timing.

Conversely, there are times where the monster may get tired or even topple over. You can take advantage by wailing mercilessly on the monster or by powering up. Each monster has its own vulnerabilities, and targeting those weak spots can result in big gains. Monsters also have their own tells, or animation cues that tell you what they’re about to do. Just like reading an opponent in a fighting game or memorizing patterns in a boss battle, evaluating and reacting appropriately to monsters’ moves separates seasoned and rookie hunters.

The steep difficulty curve is the biggest turnoff from this otherwise exhilarating battle system. This isn’t a hack-and-slash game, and players who attempt to make it one may struggle. Learning the ropes has always been the biggest challenge in MH games. It’s never really explained how you should hunt. While this fosters independence, the lack of feedback can be frustrating. There are no monster health bars or indicators of an attack’s power. If you lose a fight, you may not know how well you were doing or what you’re doing wrong. MH fans have grown accustomed to this and even like it, but new players will likely have trouble. There are optional tutorial quests that teach you basics and weapons’ controls. However, truly learning how to succeed will take a lot of patience, effort, and possible external help from veterans and guides.

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The game is tough to learn, but fun to master.

Once you get past that hurdle, the rest of the game provides an addictive loop of fighting monsters and building stronger weapons and armor from their carcasses. The moment a titanic monster finally goes down after a lengthy battle is comparable to delivering the final blow on a difficult boss. Carving its skin for goodies is the cherry on top. In-between quests, you are free to prepare for your next mission by making and upgrading valuable equipment based on a set number of needed materials. Usually, you’ll need to aim at specific monster parts to gain materials you need. Since the drops are random, you may end up grinding to defeat a single monster several times. It does get exhausting sometimes, especially when playing alone, but it feels great once you finally forge your new creations. Your new equipment actually looks handcrafted from the monster’s remains. The sense of progression feels satisfying as you find yourself defeating more difficult monsters and taking their powerful materials.

Your hunter doesn’t level up, so your equipment defines your stats. They also affect your skills, in another vaguely explained game mechanic. Unlike what you might expect, the skill-up bonuses from equipment only matter if you’ve gained enough to reach a certain threshold (usually +10). Upon gaining 10 points, you gain the new skill. They include stat bonuses, elemental resistances, weapon perks, dodge abilities, and more. Unfortunately, you often need to wear a complete 5-piece set of armor to gain certain skills. If you’re crafty, you can combine certain sets and forge special decorations to optimize your desired skills.

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The armor and weapons formed from monster materials look great up-close.

Materials can also be used to make powerful weapons. The large variety of weapons is one of the best aspects of this game, giving the game customizability and replayability. With 14 weapons types, you can find at least one that suits your playing style. A standard Sword & Shield allows you to balance attack and defense, the Lance tests your patience as you wait for opportunities to strike, the blunt Hammer charges up for heavy stunning moves, and Bowguns allow you to fire at monsters from afar. There are even status-changing weapons like the insect-powered Insect Glaive and the music-based Hunting Horn. There is a weapon for everybody, and mastering one is inherently satiating, especially in such a heavily skill-based game. Wielding another weapon completely changes how you play, so trying out new weapons can freshen up your hunting experience. The controls are all different but feel great. As a note, the game works best with the New 3DS or Circle Pad Pro. The extra nub/circle pad for camera control helps during hunts and is almost necessary for some weapons like the Bowguns.

MHG also has a brand new 15th weapon, or rather playable character, in Prowler Mode. You can now hunt as a Felyne, a cat that usually assists your character during single-player hunts. Felynes fight similarly to hunters, though are limited to blades, blunt weapons, and boomerangs. Besides being adorable, these cats run without losing stamina. They can also gather materials easily, catching bugs and fish with their own unbreakable nets and rods. You can activate special abilities, like healing or throwing bombs, by filling a meter. Felynes actually level up, offering a more standard progression that players may be more used to. Prowler Mode improves the less-entertaining gathering missions thanks to a Felyne’s abilities, but don’t underestimate leveled up Felynes when taking on monsters.

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The Meownster Hunters

The biggest additions to MHG are the new Hunter Styles and Hunter Arts. Styles represent different schemes to use a weapon. Fans who want to stick with neutral, familiar territory can use the Guild Style, which is essentially the MH4U control scheme. The three new ways to play are the Aerial Style, allowing you to better jump and mount a monster’s back to topple it; Adept Style, rewarding you with power-ups for successfully dodging a monster’s attack; and Striker Style, focusing on activating the new Hunter Arts.

Arts are special moves that come in the form of powerful attacks, effective dodges, and weapon-specific bonuses. For instance, a Great Sword can unleash a ground-splitting slash, a Light Bowgun can reload all ammo at once, and a Hunting Horn can activate all power-up songs at the same time. Each weapon has three exclusive Arts, and there are another half-dozen Arts that any weapon can utilize. Between the four Hunting Styles and multitude of Hunting Arts, the amount of playstyles essentially multiplies tenfold. For seasoned hunters, these are the most enticing incentives to pick this game up.

Apart from these additions and some quality of life improvements, MHG doesn’t add much more new content. There is one new village and one new hunting area. At least the few novel monsters are all high-quality, including a sleep-inducing owl and a new group of monsters dubbed “The Fated Four.” Regardless, anyone new to the franchise can witness all of the best MH monsters in one game.

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One of the new monsters, the owl-like Malfestio

MH titles have never been too dependent on story, and MHG is no different. Instead, you progress on quests with a loose narrative tying them together. Quests range from large monster fights to item gathering. Although the game is mostly about the former, the latter is crucial in building up a stock of items (which can be combined to form better items). They can get boring, but they provide nice breaks in-between heated monster hunts. Likewise, capture quests – in which you must weaken and trap a monster – and one-on-one arena showdowns keep the grind from getting stale. In both offline and online play, there are ranked tiers of quests. Finishing certain quests unlocks an Urgent Quest, which upon completion grants access to the next tier up. However, there is no way to tell which of the dozen quests within in a rank are important aside from checking a guide or simply playing them all. Regardless, the higher-ranked quests produce some of the most exhilarating battles with multiple monster “hunt-a-thons” and epic arena fights with dragons. Returning fans may be disappointed to learn that there is no insane G-Rank difficulty, but jacked-up Deviant Monsters provide a worthy replacement challenge.

With all this said, the most enjoyable part about the MH series is its multiplayer mode. Up to four people, either local or online, can cooperate on a hunt. A group of hunters, all trained in different weapons, taking down a large beast, is where the true MH experience shines. Your group can participate in a large set of quests geared for multiplayer. One person picks the quest, and the group can decide if they want to go on it. For the most part, any cleared quest will count as completed for each player. The exceptions are the Urgent and Deviant Quests, whose completion only counts for the person who picked it. This unfortunately means that you’ll have to grind these quests multiple times for each player.

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Multiplayer hunting is one of the game’s biggest highlights.

Online play works great, and connection hiccups are rare. Joining or hosting a room for randoms is fast. A lack of voice chat hurts communication, and players are limited to keyboard chat and preset greetings. Voice chat would have been welcome since this game is so dependent on working together and communicating which quests you need completed. Although you can use outside chat proxies, there is little excuse to exclude voice chat, at least with friends.

Playtime/Replayability

With dozens of monsters and hundreds of quests, each taking an average of 20-30 minutes, there is a lot to do in MHG. Finishing the main storyline can take anywhere between 50-100 hours, depending on how many quests you do. Finishing all the quests, earning every achievement, and grinding to forge equipment easily adds several hundred hours to that count. Finally, playing with friends adds replay value on top of that.

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The action looks and sounds exciting!

Graphics and Sound

The graphics look as sophisticated as they’ve ever been, with gorgeously detailed monsters and scenic areas. The animations are spot-on and help you easily notice monster tells. Your customizable hunter fluidly attacks with little to no problem in framerate. There aren’t many cutscenes, but they all look stunning. You will quickly notice the music starts out eerily quiet when you begin a mission. This is purposefully done to offset the moment that the monster notices you, in which an alert jingle plays, leading to orchestral-quality battle music. Some of the new tunes, including “The Fated Four” battle songs, energetic arena music, and the calm Bherna Village theme, are beautiful pieces that are worth listening to on loop. The victorious jingle that plays when you finish off a monster is sure to fill you with a triumphant feeling. Characters only grunt, but you’d be convinced the creatures were real after hearing their roars and battlecries.

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Gotta Hunt ‘Em All!

Conclusion

Monster Hunter Generations is an engaging foray into a world filled with menacing monsters and spirited hunters. Although it’s not a new full-fledged entry in the series, there are enough exciting features and monsters to make this a worthwhile purchase. The Hunter Styles, Hunter Arts, and Prowler Mode, combined with the already impressive 14 weapons, add to the diverse playstyles. A solid multiplayer mode, albeit lacking voice chat, keeps the game a highly entertaining social experience. Even single-player’s addictive gameplay loop of epic monster battles and beefed up equipment is enough to keep any hunter engaged for hundreds of hours. It may have a steep difficulty curve, but mastering its deep strategic gameplay to take down huge monsters is a thrill worth the investment.

Score: 9/10

What are your thoughts on Monster Hunter Generations? Are you a veteran hunter or looking into the series? Do you have any favorite games, weapons, or monsters from the series? What do you think of this game or any other game in the “monster hunting” genre? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments below!

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice (3DS) Review

All Rise!

The original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney began life on the Game Boy Advance in 2001 as a Japan-only release. The courtroom-themed point-and-click visual novel had a tightly-knit narrative featuring hotheaded lawyers, finger-pointing antics, contradictory witness testimonies, murder mysteries, and a wacky supporting cast. Capcom eventually made two more games, completing the original trilogy. Thanks to the Nintendo DS’ touchscreen, point-and-click adventures became more popular leading to more western releases, including the Zero Escape, Professor Layton, and Ace Attorney series. Luckily, the courtroom dramedy found a following, leading to the releases of a new set of titles, Apollo Justice and Dual Destinies. The sixth game of the mainline series, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, completes a new trilogy, tying up some loose ends and character arcs, while providing the same excellent “turnabout” mystery plots that the series is known for.

Story

Spirit of Justice allows you to play as several different lawyers, most notably, the original protagonist Phoenix Wright and his protégé Apollo Justice. During a visit to the Himalayan-inspired country of Khura’in, Phoenix Wright gets caught up in a case and quickly learns that defense attorneys are frowned upon, with no active lawyers in sight. Stepping up to take the case, Phoenix realizes that there is more at stake in Khura’in, and a courtroom revolution is in order. Meanwhile, Apollo defends clients on the home front at Wright’s law offices while his boss is away.

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Time for some hotblooded lawyer action!

Since this is a visual novel, the story is just as important as the gameplay. The mysteries contained within represent some of the freshest, most innovative cases that the franchise has had in a while. The whodunits here are less convoluted and very clever. Mystery fanatics may solve some plot twists before the characters, but that doesn’t take away from the overall improved writing. The localization team did a great job making the story enjoyable for western audiences, producing some of the most ridiculous puns in series’ history. For example, one of the first characters you meet is a tour guide named Ahlbi Ur’gaid. Go ahead, say it out loud.

As in its predecessors, the individual cases form the building blocks of an overarching story. The theme of courtroom revolution in a foreign country provides some of the highest stakes in series history. The game still remembers its roots and provides plenty of funny dialogue, tongue-in-cheek references, and silly characters. Overall, the pacing and storytelling is improved over recent entries. However, one case in particular throws off the pacing with its unrelated plot and comparatively dull and somewhat confusing mystery. Also, there are a few stretches that go on for too long or require suspension of disbelief. Otherwise, SoJ tells a compelling tale from beginning to end.

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Princess of Khura’in, Rayfa, not to be confused with Fire Emblem‘s Azura.

SoJ has a large cast of characters, both new and returning. The new characters are likable in doses, such as the stuck-up Khura’inese princess Rayfa and the new no-nonsense Khura’inese prosecutor Nahyuta. Although there are small character arcs scattered throughout the game, they mostly feel like afterthoughts, with the exception of one character who receives a lot of development. Fans of the original trilogy will be especially pleased by the return of a certain beloved character, who brings the mystic art of spirit channeling back into the series. Those who have played Apollo Justice and Dual Destinies will likely find the most satisfaction with this story since SoJ functions as a trilogy-closer, tying up some loose ends.

Gameplay

SoJ shares the same gameplay as its predecessors. As a defense attorney, your goal is to prove that your client is not guilty of a crime, namely murder in the world of Ace Attorney. During the trial’s cross-examinations, you listen to witness testimonies and uncover their contradictions or lies. You do this by presenting appropriate evidence that proves one of their statements wrong. As a hypothetical example, a witness may say that he has never played the Ace Attorney series. Thumbing through your evidence, you may discover a receipt that shows the person has bought an Ace Attorney game, which you then present while pointing your finger and yelling “OBJECTION!” As a bonus feature, the game actually lets you yell “Objection!” into the microphone to present evidence. As you poke holes in their testimony, the lies are exposed and the truth comes out. You can also press statements, which sometimes lead to pertinent information or at least a humorous exchange. All the while, the opposing prosecutor acts as your devil’s advocate, constantly countering your arguments and demanding further evidence. As in previous games, these engaging logic puzzles are its defining factors and set it apart from regular visual novels.

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Hope you like the word, “putrid.” Oh, you don’t?

The mysteries aren’t too difficult to solve, and you may even be several steps ahead of the protagonists. But if you need help, the game provides support to struggling players with a “Consult” option after you incorrectly present evidence a couple of times. Consulting clues you in to which statement contains a contradiction, ensuring that you never get too stuck. You can turn them off or ignore them if you prefer. SoJ returns to the “five strikes and you’re out” rule from the original game. Even if you mess up five times in court and lose, the game graciously respawns you right before you made your last error so you don’t have to start anything over. One may ask why even bother having a five penalty rule, but at least the game respects your time.

The country of Khura’in introduces a new mechanic to keep trials fresh: Divination Séances. The Khura’inese princess, Rayfa, performs a ceremonial dance during the trial to show the victim’s final memories. Their memories are presented as a video with words popping up to reveal the victim’s sensations. The words vary in size depending on vicinity or intensity of sensation. For instance, the word “incense” may appear, indicating what the victim smelled. Likewise, other descriptors appear for sound, touch, and taste. Princess Rayfa gives her insights on what the victim’s memories mean, but it’s your job to decide whether her interpretations are correct. This unique take on ghost whispering is fun and well-executed.

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The dead shall speak.

The other big trial diversion, Mood Matrix, returns from Dual Destinies. With the help of psychology expert and lawyer, Athena Cykes, you must figure out whether witness’ emotions match up with their testimony. These segments are not as entertaining or intuitive as the séances, but they provide an alternative way of solving a murder.

Investigations occur outside of trial segments and employ a more standard point and-click adventure style. Here, you must gather evidence, interrogate people, and investigate crime scenes. You are free to examine any scene, which was a feature missing from Dual Destinies, and sleuths can enjoy fun easter eggs and references by searching anything and everything. Investigations provide a break from the intense courtroom action but are not as engaging as trial segments. A helpful Notes function provides a handy checklist of what you need to do next to keep the investigation moving.

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Gather information from everywhere and everyone.

Luckily, Phoenix and Apollo have special abilities that spice up investigations. Phoenix can see people’s Psyche-Locks, which indicate that they’re hiding something important. By using evidence similarly to court proceedings, Phoenix can break their locks and unveil the truth. Likewise, Apollo’s mystical bracelet allows you to spot people’s tics to uncover their secrets. Finally, forensic minigames return, which include dusting for fingerprints and spraying luminol to detect blood.

While all of these diversions are good, these abilities are only performed a few times each. It feels like SoJ tries too hard to incorporate everyone. The game casts a wide net in trying to give each character screentime, resulting in undersaturation of most characters and cameos that feel forced.

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Ready or not, here comes Justice!

There is one noteworthy mechanic that caps off most cases: Revisualization. This is the climactic, turnabout moment of the trial where you piece together the evidence to reveal the vital clue that pins the crime on the true killer. The logical deductions race across the screen to a heart-pounding beat. This leads up to the final juicy revelation that flashes in giant red letters, designed to give you chills. The Ace Attorney series has always been about last minute plot twists that turn the case around, and the flashy Revisualization segments illustrate this in the best way possible.

Playtime/Replayability

There are five episodes of varying lengths. Playing through the story takes about 30-40 hours, which is on the long end of Ace Attorney games. Of course, this number depends on how long it takes you to find contradictions and how much you explore during investigations. Already knowing the case resolutions and plot twists ruin the mystery portion and will give most players low replay value. Some fans may still enjoy replaying the game like rereading a good book, especially if they try to see any dialogue they may have missed.

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Khura’in looks and sounds exotic.

Graphics and Sound

The art is breathtaking, with detailed shots of Khura’in’s exotic locations. The characters’ full 3D models all move beautifully while still giving nods to the original games’ 2D style. There are many elaborate character animations, and even in-game engine cutscenes look wonderful. There are some anime cutscenes as well that put the actual Ace Attorney TV show to shame.

The music is a highlight in Ace Attorney games and SoJ delivers on all levels. The exotic Khura’inese Himalayan-inspired trial music, victorious “Objection!” themes, inquisitive cross-examination tunes, and suspenseful pursuit music give life and energy to courtroom proceedings. Catchy music and fun character themes round out the rest of the excellent soundtrack. The voice acting is good, though there is a miniscule amount.

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OBJECTION!

Conclusion

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice is a worthy installment in the courtroom mystery franchise. It provides a good conclusion to the trilogy that Apollo Justice began. The revolution-themed story remains coherent and deep, while presenting some of the best mysteries since the original trilogy. The old and new characters have excellent chemistry. However, SoJ spreads itself too thin by trying to incorporate too many characters and abilities. Despite this, the courtroom cross-examinations are as fun as ever with Divination Séances providing a fresh take on these logic puzzles. If you are a fan of murder mysteries, courtroom dramas, or visual novels, then this series is well worth your time. If you’ve only played the original trilogy, be sure to play Apollo Justice and Dual Destinies to fully appreciate this game’s references. Otherwise, Ace Attorney fans who have played all games until now should have no OBJECTIONS!

Score: 8.5/10

What are your thoughts on Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice? What are your favorite games or cases from the Ace Attorney series? Have you played any of the Ace Attorney spin-offs or other similar visual novels? Share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!