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Monster Hunter Freedom
Reviewed November 2006 by Alex Lifschitz
Release Date: May 2006
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Genre: Third-Person Action
Make no mistake; this is not the Capcom we’ve come to know and love. This is not a side-scrolling shooter starring a robot in blue, nor is there any reference to the flagship title anywhere in the game (I’m looking at you, Dead Rising). Somewhere deep within the development bowels of Capcom, past the guts and oozing, vile innards, which were busy pumping out Mega Man sequel after arbitrary Mega Man sequel, there was a shining gem that seemed to have congealed from the waste filtering through the testing department. I guess you could go so far as to call Monster Hunter Freedom a kidney stone. Now, I don’t know how painful it must have been to pump this thing out – I know that I never want to do that – But, if William Shatner has taught us anything, selling something that erupted from your body can make you some big bucks, so with that in mind, still fresh and bloody from the extraction, Capcom packaged this sucker up and shipped her out for our enjoyment. I never thought I would have so much fun playing with a kidney stone, but then again, Grandpa was always fond of his collection.
Where do we begin? Capcom has crafted a unique universe for their game, free of robots or reploids or what have you. It’s something of a lovable cross between the prehistoric era and the industrial revolution. The game revolves around Kokoto village, a seemingly nomadic settlement where the main source of income is the sale of monster parts. All the hundreds of unique weapons and armor are crafted from hides, horns, and assorted viscera of monsters. And yes, you will be slaying quite a few wyverns over the course of the game. During your travels in everything from a swamp to a volcano, you’ll be fighting every type of dragon imaginable, from tiny Velocidrome (reminiscent of raptors) to the mighty Lao Shan Lung (who is literally the size of a mountain) with weapons ranging from the most blunt and primitive melee weapons to the most intricate and complicated handheld cannons. It’s kind of hard to pin down any sort of plot, per se. The game consists of mission after mission given by those in distress due to the transgressions of these creatures, and you have to go beat the living crap out of them with sharp sticks. And wow, is it fun.
The meat of the game is customization, and it will keep you going for a long, long time. Beating monsters means getting to carve their parts, and these parts allow you to craft all manner of weapons and armor. The appearance of your character varies greatly from set to set, from traditional Musketeer garbs to heavy armor that could probably stop a missile. And with four parts to mix and match (head, arms, chest, and legs), the possibilities are endless. Not only does mixing your armor look damn cool, but they also result in unique ability combinations based on the individual statistics of each piece. Couple this with the weapons, and you can be sure that you’ll never run out of that last piece of armor or great sword to pursue. Admittedly, this is a pretty shallow premise for a game, but it’s just so damn addictive. I have no clue why – I’ve found myself longing to be on the business end of a table saw as opposed to getting that last Cuirass of Slightly Increased Power in ‘Roleplaying Saga 5.’ Perhaps the difference is that you can almost taste the payoff, like an after dinner mint cleansing the palette soiled by the endless grinding of traditional action RPGs, though admittedly, when I did try eating the game, it tasted more like plastic and metal and horrible, horrible pain. The skill system is to blame for the addiction - While you may not notice the extra 5 defenses you got, when that king-sized Diablos thwacks you with a sideswipe, and your armor glitters with that random 30% damage reduction, it makes all the difference in the world.
That’s not to say that the game doesn’t have its problems. The combat system is fluid and entertaining, and it really lets you feel the difference between weapon types - That is to say, someone who has become used to the constant rage attacks of the dual swords will have to readjust themselves to the defensive lance before that can wield it effectively, and this makes for some entertaining battles when four people team up with different weapons (for instance, if you’re cutting a wyvern’s tail off, you need a swordsman, but if you’re trying to defeat a wyvern that holds it’s own at close range, you need some gunners… Or, of you’re trying to cut the tail off of said wyvern, you’ll probably need both, and maybe as dash of dual swordsman to wield a particularly powerful elemental weapon). But this can be spoiled in spots by difficulties that would have made the game much more enjoyable, had they not been painfully overlooked. The horrid camera system comes to mind - Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the first Monster Hunter suffered from this problem as well, and seeing as how this game is an upgraded clone of Monster Hunter G (a Japan-only release), you would think that they could have fixed it. The lack of a second analog stick means that the only way to change the camera during combat is with a click of the L button, which centers it behind your character, or by using the directional pad, which is on the same side as the analog nub, so this creates some problems. Some wyverns move quickly and erratically, and this means that to track them, you need to face them and click the L button, which can screw you up in spots. Thankfully, the PSP itself is flat enough so that you can somewhat easily put your left index finger over the directional pads to control the camera, but it’s no substitute for a tried-and-true camera system. But when you eventually get the hang of it, it becomes much less of an impediment than before. Just watch your ass and make sure you don’t let that dragon out of your sight, lest he come charging from the rear for a cheap death.
Oh, and many players will quickly become familiar with what the monster hunter community calls ‘The Flex’, which can be the source of many cheap deaths and an all around experience buster. You see, every time you use a potion or healing item, after stopping to gorge on it, your character will do a muscle flex that eats up almost two seconds of time. And it gets much worse when your character has some meat to restore stamina – Your character whips the meat out, takes a few bites out of, THEN flexes, THEN rubs his stomach, THEN gives it an extra pat or two before you can control him again. Have about five seconds to spare when you need to eat meat – If you do it while fighting a wyvern, even with friends, you will have your fair share of moments where you get to watch in horror as, in slow motion, the wyvern turns towards your character and unleashes one of it’s more powerful attacks, while your idiot sits there and pats his stomach contently, prior to getting roasted like the meat he just ate. There are other items that take some time, as this game involves a lot of micromanagement, such as using stones to sharpen your weapon when it gets dull (before you judge, this is a whole lot less frustrating than typical weapon sharpening systems – You just need more sharpness to pierce some wyverns’ hides), but you don’t use these nearly as frequently as potions and meats. All it does is make you see your character as a hedonistic retard.
I truly cannot understate the difficulty of this game if you attempt to get everything alone. The single player faire is pretty lackluster when you consider that all the advanced weaponry needs monster parts from guild monsters. You can do the single player Elder Quests if you wish, but aside from a few shiny achievements, you will have little to show for it. The real challenge lies in the guild which has monsters designed with four players in mind – Meaning that if you go it alone, you will quickly discover that you are expected to do the jobs of four men to bring down a single beast. With the right strategies and weaponry, this is easily within grasp, but the newbies will be quickly discouraged by the sheer difficulty of some of these monsters. It also doesn’t help that most of thy wyverns have frustrating AI patterns that result in hit combos that are nearly impossible to escape from. For instance, when fighting a Khezu at full health, I got hit by a bite, which sent me rolling. Before I could get up, he had launched a devastating electric fireball, which both paralyzed me and dealt huge damage. Before I regained control, he jumped on me, which sent me into a wall, right under him. And before I could get up, he used a Blanka-esque thunder shock, which finally killed me. Without being able to move, I was taken from full health to death in a matter of about twenty excruciating seconds. Most monsters have attack patterns like this, and it also doesn’t help if, like with Rathalos, the wyvern is a complete coward who runs away to another area after you finally track him down.
That brings us to the biggest complaint of all – The complete and utter lack of infrastructure multiplayer. Somewhere in the bowels of Capcom, a game developer is cackling maniacally, wringing his hands with glee at the thought of the PSPs that will be thrown against the wall in sheer frustration – Oh, the profits they will reap off of newly sold models! Ingenious! They took a page from Nintendo’s Big Book of How to Make Money from Forcing New Systems On to Unwilling Consumers ™, much like the way Nintendo had you buy four GBAs and link cables to play Crystal Chronicles. That rathalos is a little too tough for your tastes? Just have all your friends shell out cash for PSPs, and between the savage beatings they are sure to administer to you, they’ll slay some dragons with you.
Thankfully, there is a way to solve the dilemma. Datel sells a handy little piece of machinery called the WifiMax adapter, and it is essential for the monster hunter experience. By using this in conjunction with a computer and a program called Xlink Kai, you can trick your PSP into tunneling your information to a central server, so you can ad-hoc with some dude 2,000 miles away. With this setup, you can jump online and do what you wish, but it is still no replacement for a tried and true online infrastructure mode. Capcom was either in Sony or Datel’s pants on this one – either way, you need to shell out some extra green to get the most out of your game. But damn, is it ever worth it. Just be sure to avoid any “n00bs” you may find online. “zomg, lol im going 2 bring a great sword to fight fatal1s becuz it l00ks c00l lolol!!11!” is a colloquialism you will come to associate with the unwashed masses online. Find a good group and stick with them.
Anyone who has played the original MH may have come to acquaint themselves with the old style of controls, in which the second analog stick was flicked every which way to perform attacks. They also may be dismayed to know that this was scrapped in MHF in favor of a more traditional button scheme. You may want to avoid these people – the new control scheme is actually much better on the PSP, and you’re sure to hear from them the same vitriol that you may associate with a person whose favorite indie rocker just went mainstream. It works a lot more cohesively when all it takes is the press of a button – the old control scheme only really replicated the heft of a great sword, but it was tiresome with the other weapons as opposed to the new, easily timed button presses. Everything is within reach here, which means you don’t have to strain if you want to use a spare finger to control the camera or reach around to other buttons, and the analog nub works just as well as the analog stick in terms of movement. No lag time, easy to get into, and great during combat. No complaints here.
Oh, and some people may complain that you can’t go directly to a block anymore from running, that you have to take out your weapon and then block. You know who you are. And before you go posting on the forums, know that you can just hit circle, triangle and R all at once to go directly to a block. I had a tough time with other former Monster Hunter players with this. It’s there. Don’t worry.
I have no problem with saying that this is the most graphically advanced game on the PSP, period. Better than Ridge Racer, better than Syphon Filter. It looks pretty much on par with it’s PS2 cousin. The poly count is unnervingly high, and the texture jobs are damn good for a portable game – Needless to say, when you really zoom in on the textures, they can get a bit blurry, but at the angle you play at, it looks astounding. The colors are incredibly vivid, the animations are fluid, and the armor and weapons are fascinating to look at. I don’t know what kind of absurd magic they must be working over at Capcom, but they managed to cram a console-quality game onto a handheld. The backgrounds alone are nothing short of stunning, and for all this, it uses up as much battery as the next game (unless you’re playing online, in which case, keep a charger handy). Now, if only this much effort had gone into making infrastructure multiplayer, I could die a happy man.
Are you a fan of the bagpipe? No? Then stay the hell away from this game. The quality of the sound is arguably good, from the music to the effects. Each wyvern has a unique scream (as does your character), and the soundtrack is solid, if not epic, when it comes to major wyvern battles. The soundtrack tends to match the situation. For instance, the town theme is a very folksy tune, featuring plenty of bagpipe. The guild theme has an atmosphere of calm celebration, and yes, features plenty of bagpipe. The battle theme, thankfully, is more regal and heroic, and the kitty kitchen theme is more off the wall, using fiddles and light percussion. The meat jingle will become an identifying sound of the game, no doubt, as will the comical ‘engrish’ that follows a successful BBQ. Everything seems to fit like a glove, with quality to boot.
Minor complaints aside, Capcom has turned out a real gem in Monster Hunter Freedom. A fine game, and a major time waster. Sadly, it doesn’t look like MH2 will be hitting our shores, but Monster Hunter Freedom 2 is a possibility. Capcom, if you are reading this, WE DESPARATELY WANT YOU TO BRING MONSTER HUNTER 2 HERE. OH GOD, WE WANT IT SO BAD. PLEASE. PLEASE DON’T HOLD OUT ON US. WE’LL DO ANYTHING. ANYTHING!!!
Oh, and we also really want Mega Man Legends for the PSP. Get on that, will ya?
But back to the point – A great game on its own, and the portability only makes it sweeter. The only real lacking aspect is the camera and the complete lack of infrastructure multiplayer – Capcom, we understand that maybe you don’t want to put it in without any kind of proper text support, but there is a microphone headset for the PSP, and as much as I hate voice chat, it’s a real bitch to have to use the WifiMax adapter and Xlink Kai every time I want a new Lao Shan part. Please include it next time? Pretty please?
Playing Hints and Tips
Guns are generally better for harder wyverns, as they give you room to maneuver and stay out of harm’s way, but if you learn attack patterns well enough, you can use a melee weapon quite proficiently without incurring the costs of creating new ammo.
Treasure quests are a great was to get jewel tickets, egg tickets, expand pickaxes, and Rathalos plates. If you have a friend to play with, try it out.
Spring for the WifiMax adapter. The best part of the game is playing online.
Having trouble getting rare ores and parts? Check veggie elder trade lists. You might be able to get what you want easily for something you already have.
To get expand pickaxes easily, go to the training school and fight Monoblos or Gravios as a gunner. You get the ammo for free, you can beat them without taking damage, and 75% of the time, you’ll get an expand pickaxe in the rewards.
The best way to get money is by fighting Kirin+ or G-Rank Plesioth. Kirin Hide+ sells for 6,500 gold apiece, and Green Plesioth fins (which are abundant) sell for about 5 grand each.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Hands down, the best looking game on the PSP. Puts all other portable games to shame.
Fantastic soundtrack, and great quality.
One of the most fun games on the PSP, but some parts can be downright frustrating, especially if you’re tackling it alone.
fThis game is a keeper for anyone with the system. I have over 250 hours clocked, and still going strong. Yikes.