Monster Hunter Freedom Unite - Staff Review  

Endless Achey-Hand Loot Hunting
by Tom Goldman

More than 80 Hours
+ Tons of items to collect and create.
+ Many different ways to play and things to do.
+ Varied monster encounters.
- Controls hurt the player's hand.
- Selection of armor can be overwhelming.
- Lack of monster health bars can be frustrating.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The objectives found in Capcom's Monster Hunter series can easily be garnered from the title itself, as Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is about one thing and one thing only: hunting monsters. Thankfully, many other gameplay elements go along with this one basic concept. For example, successfully hunting monsters will require proper armor and weaponry, which players must craft themselves out of ingredients found on quests. Monster hunters must also have a well-stocked home base where they can have a meal, read up on the latest monster news, or create bombs and potions for the next hunt. The basic gameplay concept also lends itself to multiple gameplay modes, including multiplayer and treasure hunting. When it comes down to it, you'd be hard pressed to find another game outside of the MMORPG genre that has more content than Monster Hunter Freedom Unite.

   The meat of Freedom Unite is, as noted before, in the hunt for monsters. Big monsters, little monsters, flying monsters, burrowing monsters, and even completely defenseless monsters will all be the victims of the player's hunt. From giant, armored wyverns to lightning-infused horses to flatulent primates, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite has a huge variety of creatures to go up against, all with different abilities. However, the monster selection does have one weakness in how it tends to rely a little too much on wyvern-type monsters that all have very similar abilities. Freedom Unite does its best to differentiate between these types, though some battles will feel nearly the same as those previous.

   Battling beasts will require the player to choose from eleven different kinds of weapons: longsword, greatsword, sword-and-shield, dual blades, hammer, hunting horn, lance, gunlance, bow, light bowgun, and heavy bowgun. Only one type can be equipped per quest, without the ability to switch mid-quest, though players may always wield any that they choose and are not limited by a defined character class. Each weapon works fairly differently than the others, often including new special abilities rather than just changes of speed and strength, lending variety to the combat. The sword-and-shield combo is quick and allows the player to block, while the greatsword is incredibly powerful but slow with a charge ability. The longsword is a balance between the two, and comes with a meter that increases the weapon's power when full, but the longsword does not allow for blocking. Through the hunting horn players can emit certain notes that might raise health or stamina. These few examples show how deep the combat system can become by using different weapons depending on the abilities of the monster being hunted.

Giant hermit crab is giant. Giant hermit crab is giant.

   Taking down monsters can be either an incredibly easy or an incredibly daunting task. Freedom Unite is paced well, starting with simple gathering or kill quests and then throwing in tougher boss-type monsters. The boss fights gradually get harder, until it gets to the point where every kill feels like a huge and nearly-impossible victory. Later, the game will task players to defeat multiple boss-types at once, followed by the game's ultimate hunts: elder dragons. These beasts are so powerful that simply driving them off of the field without killing them can constitute a victory. Through its pacing, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite really gives players the rewarding feeling of becoming a powerful hunter without putting any unfair barriers in their way, and always tasks hunters to play it smart or pay the price.

   Though the game has good pacing, combat is not without flaws. The lack of enemy health bars can be one of the more frustrating parts of combat, as it's often hard to know how much damage an attack is really doing. Monsters will sometimes become enraged or limp around when damaged, but the guesswork involved as to what is effective or not can be bothersome when certain battles can take more than thirty minutes. The absence of health bars could or could not be part of what makes Monster Hunter challenging, and there are "magazines" the player can read at his home base that cover some enemy weaknesses, but more indications of the player's battle effectiveness would have been much appreciated.

   Another problem tied into combat, though related to interaction, is Freedom Unite's camera controls. The developers probably did the best they could with the PSP's layout, but that doesn't mean the hand-destroying controls shouldn't be mentioned. The character is moved around with the analog stick on the left side of the PSP, while the camera is controlled with the d-pad also on the left side of the PSP. Most third-person games put these two controls in two different hands, but Freedom Unite puts them in one, which can really task the player's left hand and will likely cause some to stop enjoying the game during long, hectic fights. The choice of camera angles and views is fairly limited and not that great either. Pressing the L-trigger can constantly center the camera behind the character, though with all of the running around players must do to avoid attacks and position properly in battle, having the camera constantly behind the character is not realistic.

This ape will flatulate upon you. This ape will flatulate upon you.

   If these two flaws can be overlooked, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite has a depth and unique feel all its own, particularly in the crafting system. The purpose of hunting is mostly to collect ingredients to create items, armor, and weaponry. Monsters can be carved for their hides, wings, teeth, essences, and other parts, which can then be turned into new equipment or items. Other ingredients are found through gathering, mining, fishing, collecting bugs, and finding hidden stashes. Freedom Unite's town hub houses an area called the Pokke farm, staffed by the game's anthropomorphic cat-like Felynes, which provides ingredients from every category, and can be upgraded to dole out rare ingredients as well. The game's huge amount of unique, craftable armor sets, each with different resistances and skill granting capabilities, is a definite strength, though the selection can be overwhelming. Weapons are thankfully not as complicated and easier to craft and upgrade. Crafting items other than equipment is a big part of Freedom Unite, as players can create multitudes of potions, bombs, gathering gear, traps, and dozens upon dozens of other kinds of things helpful to have along on a tough hunt. It's a lot of fun to discover new item combinations, and to carve pieces out of a beast after a long battle which can be used to craft a new weapon.

   RPGamers looking for a game with a deep story need not apply; Monster Hunter Freedom Unite provides no story worth mentioning. The player's tale can be told in a sentence: while journeying to a town he gets knocked out by a giant monster. From that point on, the story is told through mission text that, other than the objective, is meaningless to read. This doesn't mean that Freedom Unite is a poorly written game, as its training master dialog, information text, and multiple snippets of communication that come Felyne companions (which are extremely helpful, by the way) and townspeople are all quite clever and entertaining. Freedom Unite is not the type of game that needs a traditional storyline, nor would it fit with its structure, so the lack of one doesn't matter that much at all. Nonetheless, if a deep storyline were somehow injected into Monster Hunter, it could become one of the more epic RPGs out there, but then it would probably become something completely different.

   Capcom's equipment designers did a great job with the look of all the different kinds of weapons and armor, and with the modeling for each beast. Nothing is all that mind-blowing about Freedom Unite's visuals, but sometimes they will make the player stop to look at a distant rainbow. Primarily, the game's graphics are creative, and include often silly character animations. There are many different kinds of environments, each with their own unique style, and they look pretty good. Meanwhile, there isn't a lot about the game's music that will stick out, though the themes that are available will probably get stuck in the player's head from time to time as they're charming. Insects buzz, Felynes meow, and weapons swoosh through the air. The game's sound effects do the job.

   Don't expect to complete all there is to complete in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite overnight. In fact, don't expect to complete everything in a year either. The game's main single-player quests alone can easily take dozens of hours to complete. Throw in multiple quest completions to acquire loot to create armor sets, many training missions that set the player up with unique gear for specific monster battles, a treasure hunting mode, managing a kitchen and barracks full of Felyne companions, and the constant harvest of items from the player's Pokke Farm, and those who never go online could easily play for well over a hundred hours, if not longer. This doesn't even take into account the multiplayer action, which can actually be experienced online using a PlayStation 3, which contains even more missions than the single-player component and at its highest levels the toughest missions in the game.  It's not an absurd claim to make that Monster Hunter Freedom Unite would be the only game someone would need while on any length of trip, assuming there is an outlet nearby the charge the PSP.   Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is not a perfect game, but it is a pretty awesome one. It makes its world feel like a place where you could find anything that can be turned into a powerful item at anytime, from a lost umbrella to a dinosaur tooth, and constantly ups the pace of combat, and along with it the power of craftable items. There is not much else out there on the market like Monster Hunter, especially in regards to the amount of content provided. If the hand aches created by the PSP's control scheme, and the sometimes extreme challenge can both be overlooked, there's really no reason why the game shouldn't remain at least on standby for as long as any RPGamer owns a PSP.

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