Monster Hunter Freedom Unite
Review by Kwing
"A Great Game by Lazy Developers"
As one of the most popular games for the PSP today, it seems almost obligatory to purchase this game. Instantly you're connected with hundreds of hours of playtime in the palm of your hand, fused with excellent graphics and a great soundtrack, and a fairly good balance of skill and strategy. Certain flaws do pick this game apart, though, so let me go into it.
The gameplay of MHFU revolves around completing quests which yield rewards, using those rewards to create or improve weapons or armor, and then using your improved armor to complete harder quests. These quests can range from defeating a certain number of one monster, slaying one boss monster, or simply gathering a bunch of items.
To defend yourself or fell enemies, you have eleven different kinds of weapons (great swords, longswords, sword and shield, dual swords, hammer, hunting horn, lance, gunlance, light bowgun, heavy bowgun, and bow. All of these weapons operate differently, but the mechanics are pretty similar. Certain weapons, such as great swords, are heavy but have a great reach and deal devastating damage, while some weapons, such as dual swords, have short range and little damage but attack repeatedly and give the user plenty of time to dodge out of the way of incoming attacks.
Most weapons also have special abilities, such as a longsword having a spirit gauge that allows you to use especially strong attacks after slicing up enough enemies, or a hunting horn which can be played to apply buffs to yourself and fellow hunters. This gives each weapon a somewhat unique quality to make them stand out, and between eleven different kinds of weapons, you can easily cut the monotony of hunting by switching types, which is also a healthy thing to do in order to defeat certain bosses. Also note that bowgun and bow users must buy separate sets of armor than those using melee weapons. Gunner armor tends to offer less physical defense, but higher elemental resistances (which makes sense, since the long-ranged return fire from enemies is almost always elemental).
Equipment is created and upgraded using materials carved from dead monsters, stronger monsters yielding more valuable carves. Having one of these materials will allow you to see the different items that can be made with it in the shop, giving you something to work toward. In this way, motivation is split between trying to upgrade equipment and trying to complete sets of quests (which are arranged in starred categories, more stars indicating higher difficulty levels). This system is implemented really well and is simple enough to understand easily, yet complex enough to give players a wide variety of things to choose from, or a lot of different directions to go in.
Here's where things start to go downhill: Skills. In order to gain essential advantages in battle, it's important to activate skills, and this can be done by getting the amount of points assigned to a skill up to 10 (or 15, or 20 depending on the skill). You can automatically gain points toward this total from an armor, but you can also put decorations on your weapons and armor that will boost these points. Certain skills will allow you to have higher attack or defense, run faster, recover health faster, get up after being knocked down faster, resist cold or hot temperatures, charge strong attacks faster, etc.
The problem is that if you can't quite get your total points up to the amount needed to activate a skill, it's all for nothing. This is really aggravating, especially when your armor just doesn't do what you need it to. Granted, that is part of the strategy, but what I would have really liked was if you got some effects from having skill points that didn't quite add up to your total. For instance, if you had 5 points in the attack skill, you might deal an extra 5 points of damage in combat, but if you had 10 points in the attack skill, you could deal 10 extra points of damage PLUS a percentage attack boost. The reason this upsets me is that you really have to go all the way in order to activate a skill, which can either be a daunting task or just frustrating. It also means that if you rely on a piece of armor to activate a skill, then change that piece of armor, all of the decorations that also helped bring you up to the total skill points are worthless until such time comes when you can once again activate that skill with your armor. Even then, many of the abilities you have are highly situational, making the abilities you DO activate useless a lot of the time! The whole decorations thing gets on my nerves because of how high-maintenance it is, but it's not a deal breaker.
Before I go into mechanics of battle, I'd like to explain felynes and the farm. felynes are the only element in the game that gain experience just from being in battle. You, the player, can only become more powerful via equipment, but your felyne can learn abilities and gain stat points. They're comrades that fight alongside you in battle, either by throwing bombs or whacking the enemy. They can also lag behind you while you're running and gather materials before catching back up. They're pretty simple, yet useful at the same time, possessing only two stats (attack and defense). The abilities you give them can add an element or status effect to their attacks, improve their health, or give them the ability to heal you or boost your attack and defense temporarily, among other things.
There are also felynes that cook for you. This is useful for stamina-restoring steaks if you don't want to go to the trouble of cooking them yourself, as well as free items from them occasionally and being able to order food that boosts your stats. You can also switch felynes from combat partners to cooks and back again.
Finally, as you progress through your quests, you'll unlock upgrades for your farm. These upgrades allow you to do all of the gathering that you can in the wilderness, but without starting an entire quest over it. That includes mining for minerals, gathering mushrooms and plants, catching bugs, and fishing. Upgrades can allow you to gather more of these materials, or add a new way to do it, such as using bombs to mine or knocking bugs out of a tree with a hammer.
And now, battle. First I'll explain the controls, since they can be daunting. You move with the analog stick and control the camera with the directional buttons. People complain about the camera but honestly manually controlling it isn't a problem at all. If you have a grain of dexterity in you, you can simply use your index finger to control the camera while your thumb rests on the analog stick, especially since you rarely use the [L] button. Speaking of which, the [L] button will automatically center the camera on you, and holding it allows you to cycle through all of the usable items you have (with [_] and O), such as potions, steaks, traps, bombs, paintballs, and antidotes. You can also cycle through ammo types with /\ and X if you're using a ranged weapon.
While not holding down the L button, you use O to look at elements such as chests or characters on the field, or to gather nearby plants, rocks, etc, and (while your weapon is sheathed) the [_] button to use whatever item you have selected. X will allow you to crouch while standing still, or to do a dive roll while moving. The [R] button can be held down to run at the cost of stamina. Pressing /\ unsheaths your weapon.
While your weapon is unsheathed, you use /\, O, R, and /\+O for the combat mechanics, though each weapon is different. For instance, /\+O makes you charge with a lance, while it will make you do a sweeping slash and backstep with a longsword. Even X can have different functions; with some weapons it's a dive roll, while with others it's a backstep. Some mechanics are shared, though; [_] sheathes your weapon, and the movement is still the same.
Admittedly, the controls take a lot of getting used to, and the most infuriating thing is that you will inevitably use items on accident if you press [_] one too many times. Eventually you will subconsciously remember whether or not your weapon is sheathed, and once that happens you'll be fine. The problem with the controls has nothing to do with the buttons, but the fact that half the weapons you use are incredibly heavy and unwieldy. While adding an element of depth to the gameplay, having a two second delay after every swipe of the hunting horn can be extremely discouraging for a new player... And as such, you'll find a disgustingly high majority of people favor longswords simply because of how easy it use to learn how to use them.
Battle with normal enemies is fairly standard in the mechanics, being a lot like any other action game you may have played. Boss fights are a different matter altogether... Bosses you fight will rarely flinch or fall over, making it much more important to avoid or block the attacks shot at you. Many will be able to kill you in two hits, though as a general rule the strong an enemy is, the slower they are as well. Most enemies have an assortment of both melee and ranged attacks, pressuring you constantly.
But by far the most deadly thing about boss battles is that every time you take a restorative item, you pause after taking the potion for about a full second... Coupled with the second it takes for you to take the potion, you're immobilized for a fairly long time in combative terms. Oftentimes when you heal yourself, whatever health you recover is nullified as you're hit straight on with another attack. Even when you take a restorative item just as you dodge an attack from a boss, that delay can sometimes be great enough that they can start a whole new attack and hit you before you can move again. This is somewhat of a strategic move on the developer's part, but the pause is so unnecessarily long... At least making a slower animation for taking a restorative item would make the gameplay feel more fair.
If you have lots of trouble with a boss, you can fight it at the training school, one-on-one. You can choose one of five predetermined equipment sets to fight it, each with different strategies. Your defense will be extremely low, so it's a good chance to practice dodging and blocking attacks, and you'll get great rewards, too.
Fun as boss battles are, even if they can be ridiculously hard, the worst part of it comes from the fact that when you have no margin for error, not only do you lose, but you are prevented from playing the game. When the difficulty becomes too high, you're unable to progress, simple as that. You could say this about all games, but this game in particular makes you so perfectionist it seems like a cheap way to make the game harder. Yes, it's hard... But for the wrong reasons. On top of that, it seems as if almost every enemy you fight is just an endless rehash of wyverns. The melee attacks are almost all the same, and the projectiles by and large are different only in looks. There are some minor differences, but the worst part is that there are three monsters to every defining attribute between wyverns. For instance, the Diablos, Cephadrome, and Monoblos all burrow underground, then pop up to attack you. If you have several quests left before you can take on a new set of them and they're all similar, it can really do a number on your motivation to keep playing.
One last thing I'll mention is that the camera in this game can be aggravating. You'll find your entire battle strategies change because of this, fighting toward the center of maps so you don't get stuck with your camera up against the wall. It seems the developers of this game didn't want you to see 3D objects from the inside out, so they prevent the camera from colliding with objects. I would have preferred if they had just allowed you to see small graphical errors, as it would allow you to see when an enemy is charging you when you're standing in a corner. It's a ridiculous problem not just because it's bad, but because it should have been an easy fix.
Not much of a story... You play the role of a hunter who ended up in Pokke village after being attacked by a Tigrex in the snowy mountains. As much as this game lacks a story, the dialogue from the characters is written well, and the briefings for each quest can be really funny, especially when you look at the names given to the people hiring you, like"Clueless Pedestrian". While minimalistic, I have to admit that you get enough reading material to make the game feel progressive, if nothing else.
This game has absolutely gorgeous graphics. The landscapes make you feel like you're in nature, whether you're looking at forests, hills, a desert, mountains, the inside of a volcano, a swamp, or ancient ruins. Everything is very atmospheric and does a great job of drawing you in. The monsters look good as well, though somewhat lower quality, since they do have to move a lot. Still, everything about the game looks really pretty, and the animation is good as well.
The soundtrack for this game sounds a lot like a movie's. Only a few tracks are really memorable, but as a whole the sound really does a great job of drawing you in. The sound effects are also spot-on, giving you a great feeling of immersion.
This game has over 400 quests, and it would take well over that many hours to complete them all... Even then, you could retry missions with friends, which is easily the best part of Monster Hunter. Even after you conquer the game, you'll get a unique experience fighting alongside your friends and coming up with different strategies for taking down a monster. I have to say that it does get really repetitive, especially when you're stuck at a particular part in the game, but if you don't overdose then it's really fun.
I have mixed feelings about this game. The gameplay is deep, but almost too deep; you have to pay attention to your ammo and the sharpness of your weapon very closely, and redoing just any quest is a waste of resources, since equipment is the only way to accrue more power. In this way, this game is very high-maintenance. This isn't a casual game that you can get lost in. By the same token, it's also loads of fun and surprisingly progressive given the amount of repetition you're faced with. Quests are divided just the right way so you feel like you're really getting somewhere. It's also a very pretty looking and sounding game.
So, should you get this game? Definitely, it is a must-have, between the gameplay and how long you'll be able to play it. But be warned that it is by no means perfect. Much of the difficulty comes from problems on the side of the game developers rather than it being your own inadequacy as a player. Even so, you really ought to get yourself a copy.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/01/12
Game Release: Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (US, 06/22/09)
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