Sweet As Syrup: Monster Hunter Freedom Unite

A while ago, I started a series which I didn’t finish. This was called the “Monster Hunter Retrospective”. I’ve decided to continue this retrospective, but instead of doing it in the same way as before, these will be more straightforward reviews. So, I hope you all enjoy these reviews as much as I have writing them! I thought that since I had already covered the first generation, I may as move onto the second one. So, today I’m going to talk about the penultimate game of the second generation of Monster Hunter. Today, I’m going to talk about Monster Hunter Freedom: Unite!

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GARGUAMESH!

Background Information

Monster Hunter 2 was initially released in 2006, 2 years after the first game’s release. Monster Hunter 2 was never brought stateside, but it’s portable expansions were! The first of which was Monster Hunter 2 Freedom which unfortunately trimmed some of the features of its console counterpart. Thankfully, all these features were brought back for its expanded re-release: Freedom Unite

Freedom Unite is often considered one of the best games in the series, alongside 4 Ultimate. Freedom Unite was released in North America back in 2009 for the Playstation Portable. This version unfortunately didn’t do very well, due to the lack of online play and beginner-unfriendly gameplay. Despite this, the game still has a solid fan-base and remains a classic in the eyes of many PSP owners.

Plot

Monster Hunter is a game series that lacks a narrative for most of its games. Despite that, this game does give us tiny snippets to get us interested in hunting these monsters. In the opening scene of this game, our character is attacked by a vicious wyvern known as Tigrex. Tigrex thrashes my character and knocks him off a mountain, only for him to awaken in the neighboring village of Kokoto. This is about as deep the plot goes, to be honest. You’ll be sent after many monsters in the game, until facing and defeating Tigrex. From there, you continue to hunt bigger and stronger monsters. It’s nothing deep, but it is enough to get you invested in what you are doing.

Gameplay

Monster Hunter 2 plays very similar to Monster Hunter 1 in almost every way. It’s still about killing monsters, collecting parts to build new gear, and then killing newer and stronger monsters. The game is a hack ‘n’ slash game, but with a large focus on strategy. As with any Monster Hunter game, simply hacking with your sword won’t guarantee your victory. You have several weapon types that work better on certain monsters and with certain builds.

The game features a ton of different weapons, from the mighty Great-Sword to the nimble Dual-Blades, there’s a weapon to suit everybody’s play-style. Gameplay mostly involves your hunter venturing into a particular area in order to hunt monsters (as the name implies), gather items, steal eggs from their nests, or even capture large monsters. You can craft new armor and weapons for your hunter to use by completing hunts, thus allowing you take on even harder quests.

If there is any major complaint I have with the gameplay, it’s the staggering difficulty. This game is not beginner-friendly in the slightest, the tutorials don’t even touch you every aspect of the game! On top of this, the game lacks any online support, so you’re stuck playing through the game on your own. This can be circumvented if you have friends also own PSPs, but since few people owned them, I was stuck playing on my own most of the time.

This game introduced some new elements that took a bit of the stress away. For example, you now had sidekicks known as “Palicos”, which are these tiny adorable cat-people that follow you into and quests and help you fight monsters. Of course, they aren’t as strong as you and usually can’t take more than a few hits without retreating. Still, they provide a distraction in a boss fight when you are trying to heal or use a whetstone to sharpen your weapon.

Armor upgrading has been fine-tuned, when compared to the original game. In the first generation of Monster Hunter, you needed to acquire items to upgrade your armor, just like your weapons. Luckily, Capcom realized how tedious this feature was for grinding, and made it so all you need to upgrade armor is Armor Spheres. You can also now craft special gems that grant bonuses when you sock them into your armor and weapons. My favorite new feature is the inclusion of a day and night cycle. Certain monsters will only come out at certain times of the day, and going to an area at night may change certain things. For example, going into the desert at night results in the temperature changing from blistering hot to freezing cold. It’s a small change, but it’s something that I like as it adds more to the world.

And what would Monster Hunter be without a bunch of new monsters to hunt? The developers really went all out on these new monsters, as some of them rank as my all-time favorites. You have the fire-y and majestic dragon known as the Teostra, or the lightning-ape Rajang. The game also introduces some wyverns with supernatural or unique abilities, like the Kushala Daora that calls upon the power of wind to knock you off your feet or the floating Lovecraftian horror known as Yama Tsukami. In all honestly, this game probably has the best selection of any Monster Hunter game I’ve ever played. Couple this with the insanely brutal difficulty, and you’ve got a game that could consume years-worth of free time!

Aside from the features I’ve mentioned, there isn’t a lot of changes to the gameplay or combat here. This isn’t a terrible thing, as the combat is still the most entertaining part. Sadly, the game still suffers from just feeling a bit slow. It lacks the more action-oriented features of later games like 3 or 4. While the game is still a pure hack-and-slash, it is challenging and requires a lot from the player. It’s very difficult to learn and even more difficult to master, but totally worth it all the same.

Something I didn’t enjoy too much with the game was the early levels. The game starts off kind of slow, and continually puts you against weaker or smaller monsters until you reach 3 or 4 stars. You mainly fight larger versions of smaller monsters, and there’s no way to skip the starting tutorial bits. Likewise, you won’t encounter some of the big set-piece bosses until much later in the game. Another issue with the game is its infamous amount of grinding, which is more infuriating with the limited multiplayer options. Later games alleviated a lot of the grinding, but it’s more noticeable in the earlier portable titles. Regardless, I found the gameplay in this game to be fairly enjoyable, despite the somewhat slow combat and amount of grinding.

Visual Stimuli

The graphics for this title are pretty nice, especially for a PSP game. It may not look super great now, but for the time it was pretty good stuff. Monsters have unique enough designs; some of the new ones in particular have some of my favorite designs in the series! The music is fantastic as always, really capturing the essence of exploring the wilderness to track down monsters. The track that plays whenever you enter the first area just strikes at my heart and fills me with utter joy and nostalgia. There’s no voice-acting in this game, instead characters just grunt when you talk to them. It reminds me a bit of Banjo & Kazooie, to be honest. All in all, I found the production values of this game to be pretty good!

In Summation

This is a game that’s not for the feint of heart. Difficult, time-consuming, somewhat tedious, kind of unfair, all perfect descriptors for this game. However, if you put the time and effort into this game, I think you can really find yourself like I do! It’s definitely one of the hardest MH games to get into, especially when compared to games that would come later. If you can get past the more hardcore grind-y elements, the lack of online multiplayer, and the slow beginning, than I think you’re going to have yourself a fun and very long adventure. With that, I can definitely say this game is as sweet as syrup, and deserving of an 8.5/10. Happy hunting and have fun!

 

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