Monster Hunter Freedom PSP Review

Grab your sword and helmet and join the ranks, novice hunter – there be monsters in them thar hills!

Graphics
If there was one game to show off the detailed graphics the PSP is capable of, this is it. From the dazzling opening sequence to the wonderfully atmospheric zones of the hunting grounds and the painstaking detail of your chosen characters model, everything screams quality. Even the frame tearing of GTA isn’t evident. However, the beauty has come at a cost; the game is divided into various sections, each of which require the textures and models to be loaded each time you enter. A bit of a pity.

Gameplay
Let’s get the story out of the way first because – trust me – it won’t take long. You take on the role of an apprentice hunter, responding to your village chief’s demands and the call of fame and glory by slaughtering all manner of beasties and gathering items. And that’s pretty much it. Any true RPG fans may feel a little cheated at the almost complete absence of any storyline whatsoever (other than your villages need for food and defence from predators), but the number of reasonably interesting quests manage to keep things ticking along nicely.

Your first point of call is to decide what your game self will look like. There’s a standard selection of characteristics to pick from; male and female, skin tone, face and hair, all of which have a reasonably large number of different options available for the fussy. Once your character is named, you are taken to your village, which forms a hub for signing up on new quests and sorting and selling your items. The game is as complex as you want to make it; if all you want to do is go and slay monsters, you can simply buy new gear and get on with it. However, you also have the option to both create and improve armour and weapons using all manner of items you have obtained in your adventures. Creating the best stuff will need time and effort put into gathering their components (and also the money to make them in the first place). As well as this, you are also given the option to tend to a small area of land, run a kitchen, and take care of a pig wearing a babygro. You’ll understand when you play it.

The quests start out easy; gather x number of n items, or slay a certain creature and bring back its meat/horns etc. Once you have chosen the quest you will embark on, it’s time to leave the town; this automatically takes you to the “hunting grounds”, which cover varied terrain from swamps to deserts. Each hunting ground is made up of several numbered zones, which make navigating a little easier. You are given a supply box with various tools that might come in handy (map, binoculars, and so on), your choice of small and dual swords (fast), bulky swords and mallets (slow but powerful), lances (very powerful but slow) and crossbows, and pretty much left to get on with it. As well as the task at hand, you can detour to different areas to get new items, indulge in a spot of fishing or mine for rare ores. There are even a couple of NPCs dotted about here and there, who can trade items with you. Sadly, this is where the first niggle with the game play arises; every zone has its own loading screen. While the load times aren’t extortionate, they do break up the flow of the game play and make long distance travel tedious. As well as the standard village missions, you can also earn the right to take on special Hunters Guild missions, which are only available once you have gathered enough Hunter Points by completing quests.

Secondly, the battle system is similarly frustrating; while the basic hack and slash controls are easy enough to slog through on the earlier missions, they quickly show how ineffectual they are once you start hunting speedy prey. The complete lack of any lock-on ability makes battle clumsy and awkward, which is especially irritating when so many scenarios see you facing multiple enemies at once, or creatures that can move far faster than you. This, coupled with a completely unintuitive camera, means that you frequently need to do too many things at once in order to actually deal any damage to your opponent. Your character also can’t use any items while they have their sword out, so using a health pack while fighting (it will frequently be a necessity) is out the window. Conversely, it’s easy to accidentally waste items thanks to the scrolling item bar while you’re trying to evade enemies and use tools at the same time. It’s a problem that could easily be rectified; hopefully by the time the sequel is released. Other than this, the variety of monsters available to slaughter is quite varied and interesting, and doesn’t always follow set patterns which makes for some enjoyable hunting and exploring. Some of the elite monsters you will have to face can even be crept up upon; a small eye in the corner of the screen will let you know if you have been spotted. There are some handy tools to help you avoid being overcome by larger beasts, such as smoke bombs and flash grenades.

Finally, if the idea of hunting strange beasties alone doesn’t appeal to you, you can always team up with up to three other players for some ad-hoc action. While this doesn’t make up for true wireless online play, it’s still a nice extra (and gives you a chance to show off your elite gear). For added appeal, you can even treat your virtual buddies to a beer at the Hunters Guild; plenty of animations like swinging a tankard of ale, or collapsing comatose onto the table, are available for your amusement (if not that of your real-life friends).

Sound
Sound throughout the game is functional but not particularly noteworthy. You are able to customise the sounds your character will make at the start of the game, so if high-pitched manga-school-girl-esque whoops and yelps aren’t your thing, you aren’t forced to listen to them throughout. There is no voiceover in the game; the furthest it stretches to are a few emotive “Ahh!”s and “Huh!”s from the NPCs, and a really annoying “Nya!” from the cat-races you will encounter. Music is similarly absent, although some intense action melodies have been put together for more difficult encounters to get the adrenalin pumping. While it doesn’t quite work, it’s still nothing to complain about.

Lifespan
With stacks of missions for you to take on for both the village and the guild, and even more available if you take on the multiplayer aspect, the game itself will last a hefty amount of time. The only issue is that, more than likely, only the most dedicated gamer will see them all through to the end, as they do become somewhat repetitive after a while (not helped by the load times). The extra tasks like fishing, mining and finding seeds for your garden might kill a little more time and break up the monotony, but really doesn’t go into enough depth to hold the attention long. Similarly, upgrading your gear and finding that elusive Velocidrome Fang will add on the hours, but only if you’re motivated to do it. The game is really only as long as you make it.

Overall
An enjoyable romp with undoubtedly the best 3D graphics on the PSP, but still has a way to go.

8 out of 10
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