Monster Hunter Freedom Unite User Review
The game itself is an expansion of the previous title, Monster Hunter Freedom 2. The series had begun on the PS2, and then became primarily portable stateside for a while until Tri (3) was released for the Wii. This particular entry can be summarized with a single word... Epic!
Visually the game looks astounding, which is to be expected considering that the game was released moderately close to the end of the Playstation Portable's life cycle. Environments are vivid in color, and stunning to behold on the handheld's LCD screen. The environmental lighting is also effective and very dramatic. Each environment is crafted differently than the last, and it is clear that a decent amount of time was spent fine-tuning the details. On the down side, creature and character shadows are not so realistically done, as they are merely dark circles. Also, the fishing points seem out of place since they are graphically separate from the water they reside in, but there are no game-breaking faults here.
More stunning than the environments are the many monsters you will hunt as you play. Each has a sort of "hand-crafted" feel to them, and each monster type has their own set of visual traits. Even monsters that are very closely related, such as the four different types of raptor-like Velociprey, have their own colors, and textures. On top of that, boss monsters and their cousin species are accompanied by their own unique visual effects that add to each's life and character. The shimmering scales of a Plesioth are a fin example of this.
The audio of the game is nothing short of spectacular. The music is the mood of the game. Orchestral jingles accompany the start of each quest, preparing any would-be adventurers for their journey. Then, the music fades and the sounds of the environment take over. Every individual type of creature has its own unique set of sounds, and they all merge with the sounds of the environment to form a believable escape from the real. It is difficult not to immerse yourself from the overall ambiance alone.
Once you encounter a boss monster however, a few notes build up tension, then your ears and eventually you yourself are grabbed by carefully orchestrated songs fit to play while battling giants of any kind. They provide an extra boost to every boss encounter's intensity, making them all that much more intense. Finally, when all is said and done, the battle won or lost, you return to the game's more calming and occasionally silly melodies.
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite's gameplay consists of two phases. The first of these two phases is what I'd like to call the Preparation Phase (the other is the Questing Phase, which is simply when you are actually on a quest/stage). The Preparation Phase is the time you will spend before each hunt, in the game's hub world, Pokke Village.
Pokke Village, or rather the portion of it you have access to is rather small. You have your house where equipment and written guidebooks are held. The bed is your hub save point, and an additional kitchen (complete with feline *ahem* Felyne chefs), can be added later on. Outside your house is a small farm, and several shop stands for equipment and items. There is also a Gathering Hall, where you can partake in quests harder than those given by the village chief, and a training school where you can learn the basics of hunting, and even practice on some of the more challenging but early encountered beasties.
Upon speaking to the village chief, or the women behind the counters of the gathering hall you may initiate a quest, where the real fun begins. There are three types of quests, with the occasional variation. They are Hunting Quests where to goal is to kill or capture a target boss monster, Slaying Quests that focus on you eliminating a group of minor monsters, or a monster that cannot be caught (such as Elder Dragons), and Gathering Quests, where the goal is to find and deliver items of interest.
Once started, you are instantaneously dropped onto a stage's map and you head off to complete your task. Sadly, this game is heavily lacking in a story due to its "jump in and play" nature. You hunt, simply because it is your job... nothing more. Still, it makes up for this by being highly entertaining.
It is also worth noting, that in the beginning, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is somewhat difficult and borderline unforgiving. Bosses can very well render you useless and eliminate you in a single (or several) blows. As you progress, this challenge intensifies. The game more than makes up for it though, in that in succeeding, you'll be rewarded with materials from slain monsters, which can be made into stronger armor and weaponry to make your battles easier (simply put, strong monsters equal strong materials). Your currently existing armor and weapons can also be further enhanced. You can even activate special and very useful armor effects called Skills, which can be boosted by crafting gems called Decorations, and adding them to your armor.
On the stage maps you are allowed free reign to travel as you please within their borders. There are various spots from which useful materials may be gathered, and it is from gathering that your more useful items may be obtained. Some items can even be combined with others for greater effects!
Battle is fun. How could it not be with the amount of choices you have in terms of your weapon class? You have about eleven different ones to choose from. There is a little bit of something for everyone. You have your ranged bows and guns, to your swords and hammers. Some are harder to use than others though, but provide a worthwhile experience. Each weapon plays differently, and can offer a different perspective for every battle.
This is even more apparent in the Gathering Hall's quests which can be played with up to three other players via an ad-hoc mode or infrastructure using a PS3's Ad-hoc Party application. The multiplayer in fact, is the selling point of the game. There are more Multiplayer-capable quests than single player (though solo players can access them as well though they are more difficult on your own...)
General controls are fairly simple to grasp, and battle controls only differ depending on your weapon, but require no complex button combinations. The PSP's layout is very well utilized in near all aspects of the control scheme. The main affecting flaw in terms of controls, involves the camera. The camera is frozen at all times unless you move it using the directional buttons of the PSP, or if you reset it to face forward with the L button. More often than not you'll have to remove your thumb from the analog stick to adjust your camera, which can be quite disadvantageous due since it means you'll lose your mobility in combat (unless you get flexible/creative, or you have weird fingers...).
Honestly, replay value in Monster Hunter feels lacking. You have a few character slots sure, but due to the game's longevity, I highly doubt you'll be in a rush to start a new file. Don't think I'm serious? I was into G-Rank (highest) quests in the Gathering Hall quests after over 500 hours, and I still wasn't done with everything (I replayed other quests to farm materials though, and I have no-one to play with though...). Still, despite the lack of replayability, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite more than makes up for it by being absurdly long, and fun throughout that entire time.
It is a time-sink of a game, which is quite surprising for a handheld and it does its job well. I recommend it to anyone with a PSP (or a Vita, as the game is in the Playstation Store for download). It is sure to keep you busy whether with a friend, or on your own, and is well worth the current price tag. Don't hesitate to check it out!
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.