Monster Hunter Freedom Unite
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 06/22/09
So, let’s get this out of the way up front: Monster Hunter, as a franchise, is not for everyone. The control mechanics take some significant time to get used to, there is no option to lock-on to your foes, most of the serious monstrosities you’ll face can end you in very short order, and you’ll spend a whole lot of time learning patterns, dodging for your life, and grinding gigantic monsters to become the best of the best. Some folks will find it exceptionally difficult and complex. Some people will become frustrated when a gigantic monster ruins their day. Some people will find that they prefer screwing around in their farm to actually hunting. This is understandable. Monster Hunter isn’t MEANT to be for everyone. There’s a certain ebb and flow to the experience that requires a good amount of time investment on the part of the player to be fully comprehended. Everything in the game world is looking to end you, constantly. You will spend hours and hours learning monster patterns and grinding for items. You will face down gigantic, multiple story tall abominations that can end you end seconds. The experience is, to be honest, not a friendly one. More often than not, if the general aggregated scores are any indication, many people walk away from the game believing that it would require an immense time investment to make any sort of progress in the game, and that there is nothing worth experiencing in Monster Hunter.
This is a fallacy. I hope this review will explain why.
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is the fourth US release of the franchise, which is itself a translation of the Japanese Monster Hunter Portable 2 G, which was essentially an upgrade of the prior PSP Monster Hunter game, Monster Hunter Freedom/Portable 2. Like the prior games, it’s about going out into the world and ending the lives of gigantic monsters you, by all rights, should be unable to take out. It allows you to go it alone or with friends while still staying incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding if you can take on that challenge. Despite many similarities, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is still unique enough to be worth a look even if you’ve played the last three US releases to death. Thanks to some rebalanced gear, a whole ton of added content, and a few little tweaks, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is honestly the best game in the series so far, and one of the best games on the PSP to date.
There’s not too much of a story to Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, so to say. You’re a hunter who has been taken out by a roving Tigrex (nasty bat-dragon thing that looks kind of tiger-like in its coloration), so the local town has taken you in and given you a place to stay. In return, you’re asked to take on hunting jobs for them to help depopulate the countryside of large monstrosities. The story is very basic, but the game more or less casts you as the big hunter in town As such, the game world revolves around you and your exploits. NPC’s will comment on your larger exploits, compliment you on big tasks you’ve completed, and offer you big upgrades as you advance in the story, both through the town and the Guild Hall. Even though the story is kind of small-scale, the game makes a big effort to keep you involved by making everyone be in awe of you whenever you accomplish awesome stuff. In short, the story itself is not that developed or involved, but it does a fantastic job of keeping you involved and making you the star of the show, so at the end of the day, it works just fine.
Visually, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is, as were its predecessors, one of the better looking games on the PSP. The character animations are fluid and feature large amounts of detail, the various monstrosities are appropriately awe inspiring and terrifying, and the game environments are lively and well-detailed. The new monsters are as epic and impressive as those that have come before, and the new armor and weapon designs are also quite nice looking. On the other hand, most of the content is repeated from Monster Hunter Freedom 2, so a lot of what you’re seeing here was in that game as well, meaning that if you’ve played that, this will seem a good bit familiar.
The audio is also quite impressive, with some solid and well orchestrated musical tracks and some outstanding sound effects. The monster effects in particular are very powerful. Even from the smaller speakers on the PSP, when a monster discovers you for the first time, their powerful roar is something you’ll feel, thanks to the aural presentation. There’s also a smattering of voice acting here and there, though it’s mostly gibberish, and it sounds fine for what it is.
Monster Hunter games revolve around three specific types of locations: the town you live in, where you prepare for missions and improve your gear, the guild hall, where you organize group hunts, and the hunting grounds, where you hunt monsters of various shapes and sizes, as well as hunt for materials and consumables to aid your hunts. The town itself is essentially where you’ll spend your time prepping yourself, and there are numerous things to do around town. Your house allows you to review various documents you acquire, manage your inventory and equipment, save your game, and pet your pig, just because. You also have a kitchen set up in the back, which can be staffed with Felynes, semi-sentient cat creatures who can cook up meals for you that might give you some nice stat boosts… if they don’t poison you in the process. The town square contains your item and weapon shops, where you can buy new gear, build new equipment from component parts, upgrade weapons, and attach stat-improving gems to said equipment to improve your stats. You can also talk to the town elder to take on new quests, the old cat lady to recruit new Felynes, and the other town residents to gain useful information. There’s a farm, named Pokke Farm, where you can mine for valuable ores, plant seeds, scavenge for useful items and insects, and other odd things. You can also head to the training hall to learn basic and advanced techniques with the various different weapons by facing off against monsters of different sorts.
When you’re ready to take on a mission, you’ll either to and talk to the Elder (for low-level solo missions), the Old Felyne (for high-level solo missions) or head to the Guild Hall (for higher level missions, both for solo and multiplayer) to take on some hunting. When you talk to whoever is assigning the mission you’re looking to take, they’ll give you a list of different choices, each of which with different objectives. Some missions might want you to capture or kill a specific beast or series of beasts, while others might want you to find or catch specific flora and fauna. Others still might just allow you to go forage for materials and items to use in your hunting quests. Once you’ve been assigned a mission in town, you just go out and take it on, but in the Guild Hall, you can invite friends to go on missions with you, through either a Wifi connection or a program that allows for wireless internet play, such as XLink Kai. Your friends can all jump into the same Guild Hall and can take missions you post on the mission board for them to accept, and you can bring up to four players into any mission, which you’ll definitely want to do whenever possible, as some missions are pretty much begging for assistance.
Once you’re out in the field, that’s when the fun begins. Now, let’s get this out of the way up-front: there are a whole lot of things you can do while out on the hunt, including fishing, mining, bug catching, foraging, and cooking or mixing up goods as needed. All of these things you can do are useful and worthwhile, and after a while, you’ll start doing them as if they were second nature in many circumstances. But most of the time, this is not what your purpose in the hunting grounds will be. No, most of the time, your purpose in the hunting grounds will be to find a large, angry monstrosity and subsequently end it by using whatever tools happen to be at your disposal at the moment. The first few hours you spend playing will be spent learning how to use the different weapons to see what’s best for you. There are many different types of weapons in the game, from long swords to sword and shield combos to bows to arbalests to gunlances to hunting horns and beyond, each of which plays differently from the next, and knowing what works best on what monster and what you like most will be a big part of the fun of your first few hours in the hunting ground. Your character can walk and run about the world with the analog stick, interact with things with the circle button, dive around to dodge attacks with the X button and use items with the square button. Holding the left trigger allows you to sort through your inventory and select the item you want to hotkey to square, and for gunners/bow users, to choose ammunition or arrow coatings. Drawing your weapon by pressing triangle changes up the controls somewhat, as the X button still allows for dodging and diving, but square now puts away your weapon while triangle, circle and both buttons simultaneously work as your attacks for melee or your reload/shoot/melee actions with bows and bowguns. Different weapons have different com at specific controls, most of which revolve around the R trigger, which acts as something of an all-purpose weapon context button, allowing you to zoom in, or power up, or charge a move, or block, or what have you, depending on the weapon equipped.
At first, you’ll be facing down against smaller monsters like the raptor-like Velociprey, Giaprey and Ioprey families, the gorilla-like Congas, the insectoid Vespoids, and other smaller threats, but as you adjust to the experience you’ll find yourself facing down against gigantic, multiple-story tall monstrosities, and it’s here where the real fun and challenge of the experience comes in. The game, assuming you’re going in order and not just jumping in with friends against whatever they pick, will start you off with the gigantic bird-like wyvern Yian Kut Ku and a gigantic King Kong-like ape monster named Congalala. From there the monsters only become more ferocious. You’ll find yourself hunting monstrosities of all shapes, sizes and designs, like Tigrex, a dragon/tiger/bat hybrid that can cover large distances with his leaps and hurts like crazy, Blangonga, a baboon-like ape monster who burrows underground to sneak attack you, Plesioth, a sea dragon who spits water and slithers across the ground like a snake, and Rathlos and Rathian, male and female dragons who are fast, agile and spit fire like crazy, among many, many others. It’s here that the major appeal of the game comes in. Fighting these monstrosities starts off simply enough. Against something like Kut Ku you can just lump on him until he drops and collect the spoils of victory, but as you progress you’ll find that simply running into battle is not a successful strategy for victory against monsters like Tigrex and that more careful planning is required. Fortunately you have plenty of strategic options available to you, from exploiting the lay of the land by climbing cliffs and goading monsters into charging head first into walls, to using pit traps to capture monsters so you can knock them out or carve them up, to using bombs to hurt monsters and bait to lure them into traps and beyond. You can approach any mission any number of different ways, which makes each mission an adventure by itself, and the satisfaction that comes from outsmarting something ten times your size is… gratifying.
All of this will be familiar territory to fans of the prior games, and those who’ve traveled the territory of Monster Hunter Freedom 2 will most likely be wondering what’s been added and changed. The biggest addition is the addition of Felyne Companions, AI cat creatures who join you in battle as assistants and can fight along-side you to take down menaces both large and small. You can train these companions in a number of different ways to boost their offensive and defensive abilities, raise their health, and teach them various useful abilities. Some Felynes will strike foes, some will toss bombs, and some will alternate these attacks as they see fit, making some more useful than others in certain situations, though what you find to be useful when will ultimately be up to you. There are also several new maps and maps that have returned from Monster Hunter Freedom, as well as several new colors of older monsters, each of whom come equipped with more powerful and different attacks to learn and avoid. There are also six new and more dangerous monsters, like the Tigrex-like bat-headed Nargacuga, the insectoid Queen Vespoid, and the jellyfish-like Yamatsukami for veteran players to contend with, as well as new G-ranked quests to take on. These G-ranked quests will test the skills of even the most gifted Monster Hunter vets, but the rewards that come from them in the form of new gear and upgrades makes them worth taking on. There are other, smaller changes, like some modified statistics on existing weapons and armor sets, some new combat changes for certain weapon types (for instance, gunners can now aim from third person in addition to first person by holding down the R trigger), faster loading times than before when using the memory card install option, some new attacks for older monsters, and some added inventory slots that make Monster Hunter Freedom Unite a more in-depth and expanded product for both new players and veterans alike.
The core game offers, quite literally, hundreds of hours of play and replay value, between the large variety of quests to take on and monsters to slay, for both one and multiple players. There is a large amount of gear to find and build, items to use, and other worthwhile things to work with, and with the large amount of new and existing content in the game, you’ll have a lot of things to experiment with. Players can also import their characters from both prior Monster Hunter Freedom games to give themselves a bonus to start out, with Monster Hunter Freedom 1 players receiving a cash bonus to start off and Monster Hunter Freedom 2 players being given their characters from that game, equipment and all, ready to go, so veterans of that game can jump into this game immediately and get right to the new content. As noted prior, the game also allows for Wifi play for up to four players, either locally or online with a program like XLink Kai, meaning you can jump right in with friends and obliterate monsters with like-minded folks whenever your heart desires.
Now, as noted, Monster Hunter as a series has something of a steep learning curve, and you’ll be expected to spend a good few hours learning how your character’s abilities, the different weapons and armor skills, and the various items all work together, on top of what time will be spent learning the different monsters and how they can end your adventures in a hurry. If you’re not looking to spend a good amount of time learning the ins and outs of a game, Monster Hunter as a series is probably not for you. You will also spend a not insignificant amount of time out in the fields grinding certain monsters or locations looking for specific items to build specific gear, not unlike something like a World of Warcraft, minus the monthly fee, and while that’s not a terrible idea as it rewards persistence and that sort of thing, it’s frustrating in many respects fighting, I don’t know, Rathlos for the twentieth time because he refuses to drop a Ruby, and impatient players will tire of this eventually. There are several control mechanics that will be unintuitive to new players as well, and while veteran players will either understand why things are the way they are or will at least accept them, new players may find it annoying that there’s no lock on, or that if a gigantic monster hits you, you will go flying and rolling around like a doll because you didn’t roll out of the way in time. Also, as this is essentially an upgraded release of Monster Hunter Freedom 2, a lot of the content from that game has been carried over to this game, and if you had your fill of the game, six new monsters and some new gear may not be enough for you to jump right into this release. Finally, while it’s great that the game can be played online through XLink Kai, some sort of actual Sony or Capcom endorsed online play product would be a far better thing to have available to play this online with friends, and setting up XLink Kai may simply beyond the means and interest of some players.
To be honest, though, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is pretty much one of the best games available on the PSP. It’s absolutely the best version of Monster Hunter available in the US, and if you’re willing to devote some time and patience into learning the mechanics of the experience, it’s well worth the investment. The game is well presented in all respects, the gameplay is solid and satisfying, there’s a ton of content to see and lots to do, and there’s plenty of reasons to play and replay the game for hours upon hours. There’s something of a steep learning corve to the entire franchise, certainly, it can take a good amount of grinding to accomplish certain things, absolutely, the control mechanics can be odd for players to learn, definitely, and it’s depressing that this is more of an expansion pack than a full game and that there’s still no real online support for the game, without a doubt. This doesn’t change the fact that Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is a fantastic game, if you’re willing to commit some time and patience to learning how it works, and anyone who has a PSP would be well served checking it out if they think they have what it takes to take on gigantic dragons and live to talk about it.
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is one of the best action RPG’s available on the PSP to date, and while it features a steep learning curve and a few odd design choices that might hurt your feelings, it more than makes up for it with some slick design and outstanding concepts that should please fans, both old and new. The concept is solid, the audio and video presentation is outstanding, the gameplay is varied and compliments the experience nicely, and hey, killing gigantic monsters is FUN. There’s enough new content in this release to appease old fans, and new fans will find that there’s a ton of play and replay value to the game, both alone or with friends. The game takes some getting used to and some time spent learning the mechanics, it requires some patience and a decent amount of grinding to unlock the coolest stuff, and it’s unfortunate that there’s no online play available without third party programs like XLink Kai, but frankly, if you’re willing to overlook these issues and willing to give the game a fair shake, you’ll find there is a lot to love about Monster Hunter Freedom Unite.