The change of scenery is not the biggest change that Monster Hunter 3 is making to established series convention. Monster behaviour is considerably different; where previously they only had eyes for the hunter, the feral inhabitants of MH3's island world pay attention to each other as well. Animals will interact with each other, flee from predators, and even get into minor tussles. "It's more like a savannah," explains Tsujimoto. "We've been able to do a lot of things that we haven't been able to do up to this point, with regards to how the monsters interact with each other. When you attack one, what might the other do? They don't just come after the hunter any more... Before, it was really digital - go there, do this, kill that monster - but now you have to really think about how you want to proceed and adapt to different situations. It's now more of a thinking man's game."
Monster Hunter 3 also features underwater hunting - many of the Tri's iconic, massive monsters are amphibious, forcing you to adapt to their environment. A generous oxygen meter ensures that fighting underwater isn't too frustrating, although each weapon's controls change significantly whilst your hunter is submerged. Players will almost always have the option to lure a monster onto dry land, but having options like this will undoubtedly make Monster Hunter a more varied game to play. There will no longer be just one successful strategy against any given leviathan.
Tsujimoto couldn't tell us anything about which new weapon sets will feature in Tri, but the demo missions offered us a choice between the staple greatsword, shortsword, hammer and crossbow (although our beloved gunlance was, lamentably, nowhere to be seen at this stage). The Wii controls, encouragingly, worked perfectly - swinging the greatsword felt satisfyingly natural, and the timing is generous enough to ensure that you can't accidentally mess up a combo attack with an unintentional movement.
The A button serves the same function as swinging the remote for the exercise-phobic, and the game will support the Classic Controller as well. There is no arbitrary waggling shoehorned into Monster Hunter 3 - casual gamers may well love Monster Hunter in Japan, but Capcom clearly isn't about to infuriate the series' hardcore players by forcing them to use motion controls.
Multiplayer, Monster Hunter Tri works both in two-player split-screen and online, and although we don't yet know the specifics of how this will work with the Friend Code system, we do know that it will be possible to play with strangers as well as people on your list. Hopefully this will help Monster Hunter to find what it needs to succeed in the West - a sense of community, and a sizeable player population helping beginners along through the rough times.
Even with broken PSP controls, Monster Hunter 2 is one of the most rewarding games in the world once you've cracked it. Monster Hunter 3 doesn't have that handicap, it's on the Wii, it looks beautiful, and it'll have online play that actually works. Hopefully all of that will make Western players more inclined to give it the time it needs to get under their skin. In the meantime, be sure to email Ryozo Tsujimoto at Capcom and tell him that we want this game in Europe. He really is listening.
Monster Hunter Tri is out in early-to-mid 2009 in Japan, with no American or European date yet announced. In the meantime, we can always play Monster Hunter 2 and wait for Monster Hunter Unite on the PSP, which is being released here early next year.