As the title of the game might suggest, Freedom Wars is a game with a lot ambition. While it technically adds to the pile of “hunting-action” games popularized by Monster Hunter, writing Freedom Wars off as a product of its genre would be a disservice. This is a game that isn’t afraid to stand out, and it accomplishes this by introducing a world that is not only distinct but detailed enough to characterize just about every aspect of the experience.
The game starts off with a group of people, including you, defending their Panopticon, the equivalent of a prison-hometown hybrid, from giant monsters. Your character seemingly gets massacred by a giant, only to be suddenly revived with a healthy dose of amnesia, because it’s always amnesia. In this case the memory loss works out, because when your character wakes up he ends up being just as shocked by the world Freedom Wars as you are.
Freedom Wars’ world runs on a society with two classes, the citizens who are free and the sinners who are imprisoned, with the sinners needing to complete missions in order to work off their prison sentence. You start the game completely confined to your cell, but as you progress you can not only shave off your prison time, but obtain entitlements like leaving your cell or simply being able to talk to girls. If you try to do any kind of action you haven’t purchased the entitlement for, you get slammed with a bigger prison sentence.
The emphasis on rules and entitlements characterizes Freedom Wars as both cruel and hilarious. During the opening sections of the game, I was intentionally tricked into violating the rules with the game presenting situations like being given an option to lay down (you can only rest while sitting up, duh!) or trying to walk more than a few steps in your cell (stop recklessly wasting your energy!) along with a whole host of other seemingly normal but punishable activities. Even after passing through the tutorials, I would still occasionally get infractions for running too much or picking the wrong dialogue options. Ultimately, the rule violations won’t seriously set you back, but it’s hard not to feel bad whenever you incite the authority’s wrath.
Initially stepping into the world of Freedom Wars can feel very alien, but when you get back to the battlefield things finally start to feel more familiar. Freedom Wars works with mechanics similar to Monster Hunter, complete with weighty attacks, dodge rolls, and a sizable collection of monsters to fight. Similarly, the game follows a cycle of completing missions, gaining better materials, crafting better equipment, then tackling harder missions.
Things diverge from the norm when you get to your movement options involving the Thorn device. Using the Thorn is kind of like using a grappling hook, as you can shoot it to pull yourself towards objects or enemies. Effective use of the Thorn allows you to freely fly across the map in a manner that is polar opposite of the prison lifestyle you lead outside of the missions.
Fighting giant monsters isn’t all you do either, as another big part of Freedom Wars involves rescuing citizens. You often have to compete with rival Panopticons for ownership of these citizens, which can lead to some exciting races as you balance fighting monsters with making sure no one is left in your human enemy’s grasp. These types of missions are generally my favorite, but there are plenty of variations ranging from fighting off waves of smaller enemies to more traditional giant monster hunts to keep you busy.
Both combat and rescuing citizens emphasizes the importance of teamwork. Multiple people can use their Thorns to grapple a monster and work together to pull it down, incapacitating it. If you’re carrying a citizen, you’re basically defenseless and must rely on your partners for cover. There are very few missions in Freedom Wars that you tackle alone, which is both convenient but occasionally a burden. While I usually manage to dodge enemy attacks just fine, the AI team often isn’t be as lucky. It can occasionally feel like you’re babysitting your team, but it balances out because they’re equally as good about reviving you.
One of the most impressive aspects of Freedom Wars is how despite there often being a ton happening on-screen between your team members and the amount of enemies, the game still manages to still manages to run smoothly. As someone who’s played a lot of Vita games, I’ve often been disappointed by many of the device’s games when it comes to performance. Thankfully the trend seems to have bucked here, with the only framerate problems I noticed coming when the weather effects start to become more intense.
While there’s a lot to like about Freedom Wars, one thing I do feel I should point out is that it takes some time to click. The world and style of Freedom Wars initially pulled me into the game’s world, but it also tended to push me away as well. Basically, outside the missions the restrictions can feel suffocating, but during the missions you have almost too much freedom in terms of options which creates a high learning curve.
For example, the hub area is loyal to the game’s premise to a fault and it ends up making the place a hassle to traverse. When you start the game, you can only run for a few seconds before getting slammed with extra years added to your sentence. For similar reasons, you need to be careful with who you talk to and what you say, meaning I was more likely to avoid NPCs than try to make conversation. Perhaps the biggest annoyance is that the layout of the hub areas looks very drab and same-y, which makes sense for a prison, but can be confusing to navigate.
As you play the game these issues eventually go away, but when you’re first getting started it can really make things grate. There’s a point fairly early on in the game where you have to spend an extended period of time exploring the Panopticon and progressing the story, and it almost killed my interest before ramping things back up just in time with some great missions. Thankfully after you finish that part in particular, you can also unlock a quick travel option which really helps the pacing.
The other major hurdle comes from the controls. I’m not saying that they’re bad, but as someone who generally plays a lot of video games and tends to learn controls quickly, I definitely had to go through an adjustment period. The learning curve comes from the fact that your character has a lot of options in his repertoire which makes it difficult to keep track of what you can do and when. For a significant part of my playtime, I found myself scrambling to remember which buttons did what and attempting to naturally transition from movement to combat without success. Persistence will eventually reward you, as once the controls click you can effortlessly pull off some really impressive maneuvers, but I can’t help but think the controls could have used some streamlining.
As long as you’re willing to spend some time with Freedom Wars, though, you’ll find not only a great hunting game but a game completely confident in what it brings to the table. The movement and combat feel great, the world is interesting, and it’s one of the most technically impressive games on the Vita. Most importantly, for the first time ever, I’ve found myself continually wanting to go back to a hunting game that isn’t called Monster Hunter.
Food for Thought:
1. At the beginning of the game, you need to select the Panopticon you want to serve, and unfortunately none of the real world locations were particularly close to where I live. If you’re connected to the internet, you can donate items to help build the rank of the Panopticon you chose through a global ranking system. Not surprisingly, Hong Kong appears to be at the top, while the Panopticon I chose, Anchorage, is not faring nearly as well.
2. I tried the online mode a little, but to be honest it’s pretty risky. If you can find a group with solid connection then everything works great, but if even one person has a poor connection then you’re likely going to have a bad time. This was especially noticeable in the PVP mode, where people seemed to be teleporting all over the place, which can be a problem when you’re trying to kill them.
3. Freedom Wars only features a Japanese dub, which for the most part isn’t a problem, but there are some lines that don’t have subtitles that I ended up being pretty curious about. Any time you hear a voice from the loudspeakers while exploring the Panopticon, it remains untranslated without any kind of subtitle, which I think is a bit unfortunate. I imagine it’s some kind of propaganda about following the rules, but it’s left entirely up to my imagination, I guess.