Save State: Tracking Monsters And Fighting Fire With Swords

Welcome to Save State, where we journey down memory lane, but the road is long, we’ve been lost for days, and now there is no hope unless one of us eats the other. So tasty! Speaking of awkward lines thrown in for seemingly no reason, this week’s Save State is going to go back in time to when Monster Hunter properly rewarded you with disembodied voices for cooking a perfect Well-Done Steak- that’s right, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is back on the menu, boys!

The Monster Hunter series is one of those games that’s hard to get enough of, as there’s always something to do. A challenging series known for weighty, action RPG gameplay, there are always people to meet, monsters to kill, and new pants to craft. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on 3DS and Wii U was the Ultimate edition of Monster Hunter Tri from the Wii. You see, Monster Hunter made the jump from the PS2 and PSP to the Wii with the implementation of brand-spankin’ new underwater combat and many new monsters to hunt, but the transition wasn’t without its shortcomings. Several beloved weapons of the series were left behind, such as the gunlance and bow, and thankfully when 3 Ultimate released the missing weapon classes returned (and medium bowguns left forever. To this day, they have not been seen since. I’m just so lost without my baby boy).

So 3 Ultimate had it all, by this point- underwater combat? Check. A horn that you can club monsters to death with, and also play relaxing tunes? Check. A tremendous load of end-game content that directly plants itself after the end of Monster Hunter Tri’s high rank missions? Also check. The Monster Hunter series should be well known at this point for having an incredibly rewarding cooperative experience with players, and being one of the deepest, most addictive gameplay loops around.

The general formula for Monster Hunter is that you select your weapon and gear, embark on a quest to slay some giant beast that’s going to raze a town unless you intervene, beat it by the skin of your teeth, and then use its hide to make new pants so you can more adequately murder the next unsuspecting carnivore that has the unfortunate circumstances of meeting you in a dark alley. Where this gameplay loop really shines is when you play with friends- there are entire (large) sections of the game dedicated to quests you can play with friends online, and the dynamic of everything changes. Laying traps to ensnare a monster and stop it from moving, using status attacks like sleep and paralysis, breaking parts to force a monster to flinch or trip- these mechanics are useful offline, but with 3 other players it can be the difference between a hunt being difficult and completely maintaining control of the flow of battle from the moment you’re spotted by your prey.

While the core experience of the game is incredibly deep, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate does start you off pretty smoothly by making you take on quests involving gathering items or killing small monsters to start. Sure, by the end of the game you’ll be slaughtering giant black dragons capable of razing entire countries with the erupting volcanoes on their backs- but for right now, you’re gathering mushrooms. Everyone has to start somewhere.

So, you may be wondering: Why go back to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate now, of all times? The game has been out since 2013, why seven years later? Well, it was largely because a friend of mine decided to go back to previous generations of Monster Hunter (he started with World 3 years prior) and managed to solo the entire game- up until the final boss of the online quests, a black dragon called Dire Miralis. This volcano-backed dragon was the bane of his existence and I jumped back into the game after six or seven years to help him slay the beast, as well as just pal around and enjoy the fact that I was able to find the charging cable for the Wii U gamepad.

The online hubs still had several people playing in them, and we were able to swim around and hunt even the monsters that show up after the final boss of the online quests, and new people showed up reasonably regularly. So while 3 Ultimate is old, its online component still has people running the end game content seven years later, which honestly is surprising as I expected the online to be completely dead. While there is generally little reason to return to previous Monster Hunter games due to the advancements that each iteration makes, the underwater combat of the third generation Monster Hunters has not been tried since- making it a unique experience to return to.

Later Monster Hunter games would try to incorporate vertical movement throughout the air, with new aerial elements introduced every game since. Even Monster Hunter Rise for the Switch, whose release trailer was unveiled the day of this writing, is incorporating even more fluid aerial movement options into the series! So while my revisit to Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was a short one, it was a very enjoyable experience. A great time was had, sinking back into my save file with a few hundred hours of play time on it.

And with that said, I also put on something else more comfortable these last two weeks: Fire Emblem: Three Houses was one of my favorite games of last year, but I hadn’t gone back to a core Fire Emblem experience in quite some time. I found my Gameboy Advance SP, discovered its battery compartment was bulging because the battery was nigh to bursting and the battery cover was ajar, and then shelved my GBA again and played 3 Ultimate with my friend while waiting for my replacement battery to arrive.

Two days later, my battery arrived and I was off to the races with Fire Emblem for the Gameboy Advance. While the title may indicate that it’s the first game in the series, Fire Emblem was the first English localized game in the series but the seventh entry in the series, overall. This particular game is the first one I ever played in the series as well- a strategy RPG with a strong level of challenge thanks to the inclusion of perma-death. If one of your beloved units hits 0 HP, that’s it- they’re dead and are no longer playable– unless it’s a story important character in which case they are merely severely injured and have to sit out the remaining battles of the story. It’s a game that embodies the phrase, “Always forward, never backward” because you can’t go back to previous maps and level grind to make the game easier, you have to meet the challenges you come up against with what you have.

Fire Emblem plays how you would expect a strategy RPG to play- you place the units you wish to use at the start of the chapter, and then on your phase take turns moving your characters across the map to complete the objective. Once you’ve moved all your units, the enemy gets their own phase where they attack or otherwise impede your progress toward the castle you need to capture, unit you need to rout, whatever the objective may be.

>When units attack one another, a quick and flashy combat encounter will play out- with the attacking unit striking first and the one being attacked retaliating if they’re able. Some units have specific effectiveness ranges- such as how bows can only attack 2 or further spaces away; this makes them very challenging to use during enemy phase as units can attack while directly next to them and your archer will be unable to defend themselves at all, for example.

There are also further intricacies like the weapon triangle, where using a sword against an axe grants bonus evasion and chance to hit for the sword user, as well as the magic trinity where light magic beats dark, dark beats anima (elemental), and anima beats light. Using these intricacies to your advantage as you cut swaths through enemy forces in every map will make your job substantially easier- it’s no fun to watch your axe-wielding Berserker miss a sword-wielder six times in a row, right? I’m not just bringing that up because I’m salty that Dart in my ironman run couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn if he were an actual farmer swinging a tractor in the dark.

The mechanics that introduce challenge makes the players have to be creative with their team compositions, which yields creativity. You can recruit a certain number of characters while progressing through the game, and if too many of them die or have enough bad level ups, you may need to bench your favorites and try using another character to shore up gaps in your formation. Typically losing a character results in a soft reset, but soft resetting to prevent a favored unit from dying is for people who eat pizza with a knife and fork.

Just to let people know- an ironman run of a Fire Emblem game is playing it through with no resets- very similar to a Nuzlocke in Pokemon. If a unit dies, they’re gone for good, no resetting. It’s all fun and games until your archer gets annihilated by a 5% hit chance crit by a random pirate in the later half of the adventure (which means the RNG rolled the 5% chance to hit, then also rolled a subsequent 5% critical hit chance)- it turns out that a landmine could handle pressure better than Rebecca, the poor archer. All in all, Fire Emblem for the GBA has varied objectives and playing with the knowledge that, if you lose a unit, they’re gone for good, really puts the pressure on in some of the more strenuous maps. Of course, this added challenge is likely only for those who have substantial experience with the game- because I had played this particular title numerous times in the past I had solid knowledge of the maps, what locations from which reinforcements would arrive, and where to find powerful weapons throughout the campaign.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses introduced weapon durability again after Fates had removed it, but it was less of something you worked around and more of a minor annoyance. You really feel the durability system in these older Fire Emblem games. In Three Houses you had rechargeable weapons called Heroes Relics that could refill uses by resting or in major story events, but on the GBA Fire Emblem even your main protagonist’s starting weapon is gone if it’s used up. Similarly, gold is not exactly easily farmed, nor are powerful Brave weapons available for you to place on every unit as you could in later Fire Emblems that allow more grinding (which, Brave weapons are extremely powerful and allow a unit to attack up to four times in a single combat encounter).

I legitimately had a blast returning to Fire Emblem on the GBA after all these years. I did a more challenging ironman run simply due to my familiarity with the game, but even a regular run of the game should be just the right amount of challenge for someone who played hard mode in Fire Emblem: Three Houses and felt the game was a little bit too easy. The growths and bases for a lot of units are a lot less generous, gold and EXP are harder to adequately spread out (unless you abuse the arena in a couple of specific chapters), and equipment has a much higher value to it because you don’t quite know when or if you may find another of that special, powerful axe. This particular Fire Emblem still stands as one of the finest experiences of the franchise as a whole (with Genealogy of the Holy War and Three Houses being my personal top 3 of the series), and anyone who enjoys Fire Emblem but has only played the later titles would be doing themselves a disservice in ignoring this entry.

With that, this week’s Save State comes to a close. Join us next time for more games I played because I noticed a bulging battery door on one of my old game systems. Until next time~

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