Well, I’ll be damned, the format works! The reception was pretty warm when Capcom released Monster Hunter Freedom, but who could have guessed that the sequel would be such a smash hit? Monster Hunter Freedom 2 (and the recent Japanese update/counterpart MH Portable 2G), for the first time in what is likely forever, propelled the PSP to the top of the Japanese sales charts week after week after godforsaken week. And it’s all thanks to Capcom’s spin on Pokemon, except with no pokeballs, and giant stone weapons, and dragons, and okay it’s nothing like pokemon. Still, they took the best road a sequel for a game like this can take – fixing what’s broke, then delivering new goods. Well, most of it, anyways.
For reference, if you want the background on how Monster Hunter works, the review for the first game is here for you. This review will cover the changes to the formula and whether they work or not.
Monster Hunter Freedom’s primary appeal was the collecting and customizing. Kill large dragon, strip large dragon of questionable parts, fashion new weapons and armor from said parts, kill another large dragon, wash, rinse, repeat. And it’s still as fun as ever. For those of you who played the first game, fear not: You DON’T have to start from scratch. If you have an MHF save file, you can port over your old character. You need to keep the name, but you can change your appearance and voice. Also, you keep all items at a Rare-3 ranking and below, and all other items and weapons are converted to zenny, the in-game currency. So you will have to rebuild your weapons and armor, but you get a head start, since you can make advanced armor early on from first-game items and tickets, and you won’t have to worry about finances (I was able to start with somewhere around half a million zenny, bwahaha).
Not to say you’re going to simply restart and build the same armor and weapons. Like any good sequel, there’s newness abound – this time, with the addition of new levels, wyverns, and some VERY epic elder dragons. New enemies run the gamut from simians, such as Congalala and Blangonga, to giant enemy crabs such as Shen Gaoren (who wears a Lao Shan Lung skull as a shell, to give you an idea of size – he’s very big! And, yes, you can attack his weak point for MASSIVE DAMAGE), to new, intimidating dragons such as Akantor (who is, in the words of the internets, “huge like Xbox”). And with new wyverns comes loads of new weapons and armor. Throw in new elements, missions, and farming development, and you have yet another game with millions of possibilities and hundreds of hours of gameplay lying in wait. As of now, I’ve logged about 150 hours, and I still have a whole lot left to do.
There are other minor tweaks that go a very long way – you can tell Capcom heard the criticisms. First and foremost is Background Loading, a feature which ends up being a virtual godsend. Enable this, and as you enter new areas, the game begins loading others in the background based on where you’re going. Now, loads that took as long as 30 seconds in the first game pass as quickly as 2 or 3 seconds, which makes it infinitely more enjoyable to play. This is, without a doubt, the greatest upgrade the game has to offer in terms of technical improvement, and it goes a very long way towards making it more fun to play.
Of course, there are the new weapons – the long sword, the bow, and the gunlance. They each have a purpose in the game, serving as alternatives and in-betweens for the existing weaponry. They could be compared and contrasted endlessly, so here’s the basic rundown – the long sword is a cross between the great sword and the sword n’ shield, offering mobility and power, but not specializing in either. The gunlance is a lance with different movement capabilities and attack patterns, and, of course, a gun (that shoots both regular shells and a very powerful Wyvern Fire/Explosion). The bow is the new ranged weapon, featuring infinite ammo, but stamina consumption required to fire, and replacing ammo with arrow coatings.
Other, smaller tweaks help a whole lot in passing the boring parts very quickly. You can now warp to any area of the new village from a convenient menu when you get close to a door – no more cutting through town and going through countless load screens for the pre-battle setup. Just warp to your farm, kitchen, home, and straight to the hall! Speaking of which, the Gathering Hall now features an item chest like the one in your home. Forgot an item for a quest? Just walk on over and yank it out without having to travel all the way back to your home. There’s a similar chest on the farm now for easy farming and depositing. Speaking of which, some areas of farming now allow the option to select the farming dialog once, and then send all the items you harvest directly to your inventory instead of jamming on the square button for 30 seconds while you farm mushrooms. Plus, you can skip cutscenes now, so no more waiting while your cat blows up to harvest minerals – just go straight to getting your ores.
When making armor and weapons, there are not only new customization options, but aesthetic ones as well. There are now previews, so if you’re interested in seeing what a particular weapon or armor looks like, just hit select to get a view of the piece in question. And, if the armor happens to be G-Rank, you can even change their color (in small segments – not very noticeable). Capcom also added a jewel system for weapons and armor. Equip-able items have jewel slots, and by crafting jewels, you can add skill bonuses that amount to new abilities. For instance, if you can fit 8 psychic jewels into your armor, you can gain Autotracker, allowing you to always see where wyverns are on the map. Or, if your armor only has Hearing Protection +10, giving you a basic Earplug skill to resist wyvern screams, throw on enough Silencer jewels to jack it up to +15 and get High Grade Earplugs. Does you armor happen to have Health -10, lowering your overall game health? Throw a single Strength jewel on it to knock it down to Health -8, negating the effect. It actually works very, very well, and adds a whole new element of depth to armor creation and customization. You can even upgrade existing armor this time around with the use of Armor Spheres, usually received from mining or spoils.
The levels themselves also have brand new elements. With the new levels come new features, such as day and night systems, environmental damage, and the ability to use stamina to climb faster. You can now also sell items directly from the spoils screen if you defeat an enemy, instead of being forced to leave items behind in case of a full inventory. And, finally, the effects of the felyne kitchen now last through saves – in the old game, using the kitchen and then quitting meant using it again when you booted the game up. No longer.
There are so many other tweaks that it’s tough to cover them all, but suffice to say that they fixed all the small things. The big things, however, still go unsolved. For some reason, Capcom still hasn’t included online play in Monster Hunter Freedom 2, forcing people to either solo the group missions (which can be insanely difficult) or resort to 3rd party solutions such as Xlink Kai, which requires additional equipment – and even then, most of those players have already moved on to import copies of 2G. It’s a glaring omission, and its absence is still a heavy thorn in the side of players without the ability to play with others. They did, however, set up a system for downloading new content and quests for the game, adding even more replay value to an already life-consuming game.
You can also dress your piggy in cute little dresses.
The controls are exactly the same as the last game – no tweaking, for better or worse.
The graphics, just as well, are the same as the last game. There are some improvements, mostly on the new little details on existing bosses and the general looks of the new ones, but there isn’t an astounding leap between the two games. Which isn’t a complaint – it still looks fantastic.
The only things changed about the sound are the sounds themselves – the meat-roasting theme, the village music, and a few small effects here and there. In my opinion, especially as far as music, the changes are for the better, but there’s not any incredible news here.
Monster Hunter Freedom 2 improves on its predecessor in almost every way. It offers plenty of new content and fixes a lot of the old problems, all while sticking to the formula that made it so addictive in the first place. Japan doesn’t go crazy over many things – small virtual dogs, used panty vending machines, pachinko – but Monster Hunter seems to be one of them. If you liked the first game, you’ll like the sequel; if you never played, this is a great starting point. Just make sure your friends get it too, or it’ll be a very, very lonely hunt.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
As beautiful as the first one, and the new enemy designs are extremely detailed and imaginative.
Nothing awe-inspiring, but it conveys mood very effectively, and doesn’t get on your nerves.
Great fun if you can find friends to play with – otherwise, it could be frustrating. High-ranking items require difficult quests, and you’ll probably need a group. However, new tweaks such as Background Loading make this much less aggravating than the first game. This would be a 5 if they just created an online lobby.
Again, I’m 150 hours in as of now, and fully expect to log 150 more before I’m done with it. At least.