As the soundtrack to a hack and slash action title, Monster Hunter 3 Tri Original Soundtrack at first bears resemblance to Soul Calibur and other series, but a few important qualities distinguish it from the rest. Most immediately obvious is the extremely robust sound of the score's many live orchestral pieces, which are at once deep but detailed, spacious yet focused. (Credit not only the Filmharmonic Orchestra Prague for their performance but also Final Fantasy orchestral mastermind Shiro Hamaguchi for his orchestrations.) Equally prominent is a Suikoden-like ensemble of world music instrumentation that ranges from acoustic guitar to pan pipes to ethnic percussion.
The great strength of the soundtrack is the smoothness with which these orchestral and ethnic pieces flow within the context of the album. It falls somewhere between action and RPG - reaching far wider in intent than the former but with greater focus than the latter. Certainly that includes no small amount of booming action pieces, like when orchestral and ethnic instrumentation combine in full force in "Sand and Hot Wind / Barboros". But you also experience the moments for lounging around town before venturing out on your adventure, and for resting at the campfire after. Atmospheric pieces like "Lullaby of the Waves" and "The Time Has Come" paint vivid natural landscapes without resorting to delving into battle mode. The resulting overarching theme is aptly that of the hunt, being not just about killing beasts but also about nature and exploration.
The catch is that the core compositions themselves aren't always as striking as their arrangements and presentation. Some of the base action themes quite frankly sound like generic action fare, and in other albums might be skippable, but because of the strong performances and arrangements deserve attention here. The quieter compositions at times have an unassuming gaming quality to them, but thanks to the numerous ethnic touches and again the detailed arrangements, they don't sound as simplistic or as juvenile as might be the case in other soundtracks.
At the end of the first disc is a five-track sequence of variations on a theme that demonstrates just how far the arrangements carry the score. The somber theme, briefly introduced in "Conversation", gets a richly atmospheric arrangement of hypnotic strings with desperately quiet interludes in "Lunar Abyss", before powerful vocals and percussion bring the sequence - and the score itself - to a climax in "Moonquake / Nabardeus". The remainder of the score is defined by two main themes that surface repeatedly throughout - a peaceful rest theme beautifully established in "Seaside Village, Moga", and an optimistic expedition theme that dominates the second disc from its opening track, "Location at the Great Desert, Rockrack". You could spend several listens through the album just picking out the references to each.
More than most soundtracks, Monster Hunter 3 Tri Original Soundtrack benefits from a patient listen or two through its entirety, to let the overall flow of the score and its focused expedition theme make their mark. The soundtrack wavers a bit in its second disc, as generally neither the numerous world music reprises nor the full orchestral pieces make quite the impact of the impressive renditions on disc one. I consider the second disc a sort of bonus - decent and with several noteworthy tracks but not exceptional - whereas disc one is the real Monster Hunter 3, and could easily constitute a complete soundtrack on its own.