Monster Hunter Freedom Unite PSP Review

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If you were living in Japan right now, then you’d most likely know of the Monster Hunter franchise. It’s a huge phenomenon over there, with something like 8 million copies in the franchise sold. What’s even crazier is that the latest edition for the PSP, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G as it is named in Japan) has already clocked over 3.3 million sales in the land of the rising sun. Not bad for a game that’s only been out since the end of March 2009.

The rest of the world hasn’t taken to the series as much as Japan. Only a select few can handle the immense hardship that is given to the player trying to take up the role of a monster hunter. Capcom love to make the Monster Hunter games incredibly deep and they come with a huge learning curve to overcome before you get into the bulk of things. This puts a lot of gamers off but people who have stuck with the series though have got themselves into a game that can last hundreds of hours, with plenty of quests and monster slaying to occupy them.

Capcom are hoping to get more English speaking people in to the series this time. They have already started a big marketing campaign with videos explaining why the series is so popular and why you should join in the fun as a monster hunter. Alas I have to think that it won’t get the popularity it deserves because Unite is basically Monster Hunter Freedom 2, with lots of extras thrown in. This means it still has the same problems as the last time it hit the PSP system.

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The game has you taking control of a hunter who has just been attacked and serious injured by a giant wyvern looking creature that lives in the mountains. The game starts you off naming the hunter, who then wakes up in the snowy village of Pokke. This is your hub where you will be accepting missions, crafting and even getting the cat race known as Felynes to cook you meals. There isn’t any story in the game – it’s all about accepting quests, creating weapons and armour and becoming a legendary hunter by completing every task possible.

From the get go players will see this is a game for the dedicated. In the starting room there’s a shelf which contains a huge amount of books that need to be read through. These books explain locations, weapons and other features the game offers. There’s a lot, but there’s even more as you play the game, with other books unlocking as you get up the hunter ranks. As a gamer, there is one thing you will need to have to get the most out of Unite, and that is dedication. If you aren’t willing to keep playing the game and learning it, then you’re going to die so many times and just get extremely annoyed at the game. It isn’t a easy game, in fact at times it borders on heartlessness as you get beaten by the next huge boss monster.

You learn as you carry on though, trying and testing the games selection of weapons to find which is best suited to take down the monster you have been hired to kill. Unite features eleven different classes of weapons ranging from swords and shields, to huge blades, guns and even bows and arrows. All these come with their own explanation of use as they play differently. For example the great sword class deal most of their damage by hitting the enemy with the middle of the blade. Hitting with the tip or having it hit the monster too low causes less damage to be struck on the enemy. Lances on the other hand come with shields that allow you to attack while protecting yourself from incoming assaults.

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Weapons aren’t the only things you need to take into account. Armour also plays a major part, especially in locations with extreme weather or temperatures. It means you have to create some armour sets that are specifically made with a location in mind. For the Snowy Mountain area you need clothes that protect against cold, either that or a hot drink to reduce any health and stamina lost from the harsh conditions. All these variables help add depth, with each quest requiring a degree of preparation.

Once training school is done with, which are all optional but are certainly recommended, it’s then time to really get dirty. Quests come in different forms. Single player quests are gained from an old village chief while the gathering hall contains quests that can be played in single player, but are more directed at people who are playing with others. Typically, quests usually revolve around slaying so many monsters, gathering items or hunting down a giant beast.

While playing solo is fun, it’s more challenging since the monsters only have you to focus on in a battle. Playing multiplayer is so much more entertaining and rewarding as you and three other people gather together to go on a quest. There isn’t that much to do apart from gathering in the gathering hall and then setting up the group and embarking on your hunting mission, but just having friends there when you are exploring the outside world of the village makes it more of a worthwhile experience, particularly when you team up on that giant dragon that made you fall when you tried to do it by yourself. There’s no lack of quests since the game features over 400 of them, in different locations like jungles, lava pits and deserts, it all counts for plenty of game playing hours.

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A bummer is that Capcom still insist that the PSP instalments of Monster Hunter are limited to local play only, which is incredibly annoying and makes no sense. I had to keep inviting my friend round as much as possible to get some good co-op play out of it, it would of been so much better and easier to just do it over the net when he was at home, so we could have played to the early hours of the morning. I hear that the Japanese-only ad-hoc party application that came out for the PS3 to allow you to play PSP games online works well with Freedom Unite, so it might be worth checking out, hopefully a English version will arrive in the near future.

As many of the quests require you to hunt down monsters, fighting is something you will always be doing, even if the quest requires you to just gather some herbs, you will still run into contact with the wild beasts. Taking down huge monsters gives you a rewarding feeling. It’s no easy task as the combat isn’t the most user friendly. A major factor that I think will affect your judgement on the game is the manual camera – there’s no lock on system, like the Legend of Zelda games have. Clipping L button assigns the camera behind you, so you end up hitting this a lot to keep it centred on you to view what’s in front. If the beast is flying, it can be really annoying to find it, you have to keep spinning the character round while repeatedly pressing L until you see it. You can freely move the camera with d-pad, but using at the same time as the L button is just a pain for your hand. It’s not game breaking, instead it adds that bit of challenge towards the player and you eventually get the hang of it. The problem is that it isn’t very friendly for people who haven’t got the tolerance for learning to control the camera.

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It’s the same with the fighting. When you experience your first huge monster and take your death, you think “what the” and the next time something big appears on your PSP screen you’re actually thinking “oh crap, now what” It puts that fear on you every time some huge monster appears. The death count will rise and you might fail numerous times, but then suddenly it all fits in to place and you’re dodging the monster like a pro as you’ve learnt its attack patterns. The combat feels like an old school video game and you sit and have to study the monster’s behaviour pattern, finding where and when to strike it. It’s this that makes it all so rewarding when you defeat what was opposing you. It’s the most rewarding thing in the game and the best thing is that it happens time and time again.

In a game of this type, you would expect some sort of leveling up progression system. The Monster Hunter series has never included any sort of leveling up, so the only way you can increase your stats is through better equipment and temporary stat increase items, which all have rarity levels.

Plenty of items will be gathered from quests and these fit into the other important aspect – crafting items. Creating new equipment or upgrading currently owned equipment all requires specific items. It doesn’t do any harm in replaying quests to make sure you’ve collected another Giaprey hide to create some Giaprey boots. You’re free to go and find the items you need in quests you’ve done or need to do. To get the best of the best equipment you’re going to have to take down some scarily vicious and incredibly challenging enemies. It’s simple to make items, you just go to the vender in town and click on the item you want making.

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This is basically what Monster Hunter is all about, but the real deal with Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is the extra content Capcom has put into the game. Freedom Unite is fine for people who have never played the series, but if people have, they might be a bit sceptical if I told them that Unite is simply Freedom 2 but with extra content. I mean would you really want to buy a game that is nearly identical as before for nearly the same price?

Looking at the extras you get it’s not that half bad of a deal for players. The biggest feature is the ability to install some of the game onto your PSP memory card duo, which results in much more faster loading times than previous games on the system. The loading before was hideous with missions taking anyway between 20-30 seconds to load up. Now they are like 5-8 seconds. A warning though, the game requires you to have a 1GB memory duo to install the game, since the game takes up nearly 600MB for the install. It’s certainly worth it and I recommend that everyone does it to improve the game’s performance.

More missions, weapons, armour and monsters are added, along with even more challenging quests. Another cool feature is that the cooking Felynes are no longer limited to your kitchen. Capcom has given Unite players the ability to take a Felyne into battle with them on a quest. Even though the game allows 4 human players to take part in quests, players can only take one Felyne into battle, which is a shame. They also cannot be taken into quests when you are playing with other humans, it’s strictly for solo. They do however increase in levels and gain stat increases through questing or when you give them a training regime in the Felyne kitchen. You can ask the Felynes to increase their attack, defence, experience or your relationship with them, so they behave more appropriately when battling, it’s not a human player, but it’s good enough to help you to keep your presences unknown against a monster as your cat takes the pain. If the RSPCA found out this, someone would be in trouble.

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They are other minor improvements that are a welcome addition to the franchise. The storage box can now hold 99 of an item and you can set up to 20 different equipment layouts. There’s a new location called the Great Forest and 4 areas from the first Monster Hunter Freedom game have been added. A nice aspect of Unite is the function that allows players who have played Freedom 2 to import their character, with all quests they have done completed, weapons intact and all items in the item box. It’s great for people who don’t want to go through all the quests again and just want to get on to the new content.

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is a sharp looking game with some lush graphics for a handheld. Jaggies are still present, but that doesn’t ruin the experience on the small screen. Animation is fluid and the environments, while sometimes plain, do set the setting well. It does seem more detail went into the models as the hunter, with all the different gear, looks grand. Freedom Unite contains some fantastic original looking sword designs along with other crafty thought up weaponry. Monsters at first seem a little generic, but the further you get into the game, the more it opens up, with some unique designs and humongous giants that tower above your hunter. The size and scale is spot on.

Music is largely used to set the tension, mainly when you come up against a monster. Most of the exploration will be to the sound of wildlife, but meet a challenging enemy and the beat will hit to let you know you’re up against all odds; it’s great when listening through earphones. There’s no voice over work, so the only voices you’ll hear at the grunts or meows of the village population or the scream and deaths of violent monsters as you hack them down. Lovely.

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As I said at the start, Monster Hunter is a game that Capcom is trying to push on people, but it simply won’t take off. It’s too much for most people because of the challenging gameplay. I’m sure several newcomers will try it and enjoy it, but a lot will just throw it to one side because of the high learning curve and challenging gameplay. It’s a shame that Capcom can’t just make it that little bit more user friendly.

It will eat up your life; maybe even take it away with the insane amount of quests you have to take upon. I’m not joking when I say you’re looking at around 400 hours of play if you want to seriously beat all the quests that are on offer. Freedom Unite is super value for money and even if you’ve played all of Freedom 2 quests, there are still the extremely hard G rank quests that will take some time to plough through. Fans should buy it and people interested should give it a go. If you class yourself as a run and gun gamer, as in people who have to rush into things and kill stuff, then stay clear, this game isn’t for you. On the other hand, people with patience are going to find themselves whisked away into the wonderful world of hunting monsters. As the saying goes “patience is a virtue” and it certainly is with Monster Hunter Freedom Unite.

8/10

by

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Version tested: PSP

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Genre: Action RPG

Players: 1-4