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Neville Nicholson
05 Oct, 2007

Monster Hunter Freedom 2 Review

PSP Review | Sometimes the clothes DO make the man.
To say that Capcom’s Monster Hunter Freedom 2 is popular in Japan would be the kind of understatement generally used for events like the discovery of the South Pole (“Boy, it’s kinda cold down here!”) or the moon landing (“Boy, it’s kinda cold up here!”). The game has sold well over a million units in the Land of the Rising Sun and created the kind of spikes in PSP sales that have only been surpassed by the release of Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. In short, it would be fair to say that the Japanese like themselves some Monster Hunter; grammatically flawed, but fair.

Whilst it’s unlikely the arrival of Monster Hunter Freedom 2 on our fair shores will generate anywhere near the same level of hysteria, the game remains an extremely solid experience which no adventure-loving PSP owner should be without. Unfortunately, one of Monster Hunter Freedom 2’s best elements – its depth – is just as likely to put off many gamers, and potential purchasers should be prepared to put in a hefty chunk of hours to get the most out of the title.

The tutorial levels for the game alone will keep most gamers busy for their first few days with the game as they wrap their heads around the vast array of controls, items, weapons and quest types. They say “the devil is in the details,” and in MHF2’s case, it’s less of a “devil” and more a Satantic orgy. As a brief example, let’s go through one of your very first training missions, which in reality, is more like a fast food run.

Player 1 needs food badly.

Player 1 needs food badly.
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First, you’ll want to make sure you’re rugged up nice and warm, because the area you’ll be traversing is a winter wonderland more friendly to the eyes than the heartbeat. If you simply can’t resist the temptation to strip off down to your underwear (we sincerely hope you’re playing this game indoors), you can at least ward off the cold by packing a hot drink or two. Next, you’ll want to keep tabs on your weapons, and whilst there’s a wide array of different weapon types with their own attack styles ( dual blades, crossbows and immense blades that would make Cloud envious), this is only a training mission, so we’ll keep things simple and stick to your trusty sword. Attacking is a fairly intuitive process, tapping the button to pull out your weapon and then unleash a flurry of attacks. But if you run through the whole game doing nothing but, you’ll find yourself with a blunt blade which would struggle to get through the plastic wrap the game came in. You’ll want to make sure you have a few whetstones on your person to keep your weapon sharp and in prime condition.

Setting out, you’ll find the map in the top righthand corner of the screen more than suitable to keep a tab on your surroundings. Each map is sectioned off into numbered areas, with small loading screens in between as you pass from one to another. It all works perfectly well for these simple training areas, though in later levels it can be an annoyance to find yourself heading into the wrong area, wait for the loading screen, and then turn around, only to have to wait once more. This can become even more irritating in the later levels, where the map more closely resembles a bowl of spaghetti with alphabet soup thrown on for good measure.

So now you’re all set to get yourself some viddles. You approach the shore of a lake and find a herd of mammoth-like herbivores feeding nearby. Entering sneak mode, your sword slides silently from your sheath as you approach the rear of the animal, and then launch forth into an attack. The animal barely has time to howl before you’ve cut it down to size, with the remainder of the herd scattering; one becomes angered and stampedes towards you, but you’re quick on your feet enough to roll out of its path. The beast loses interest in you and lumbers off to rejoin the rest of the herd.

With the slain beast at your feet, you keep your sword handy – it’s Christmas Day, and it’s YOUR turn to carve. Each of the monsters you hunt (ohhhhh – Monster Hunter – I get it!) can be carved up for resources, which can then be used to make items, weapons, armour or (in this case) food. This particular beastie offers up some raw meat (you were expecting a Happy Meal?) which you pack away into your trusty knapsack and head back up the snow-covered trail to your camp. But this isn’t just some pointless fetch-quest, so don’t go thinking you’re done just yet. Now it's time to break out the portable spit and have yourself a barbie - and when you’re done playing with dolls, you can also cook the meat you just found. Your eyes and ears on alert, you watch as your character rotates the meat slowly over the flames. A musical cue, as well as the colour of the meat, will let you know when it’s time to take off the meat – too soon, and you’ll end up with a rare steak, too late and it’ll be burnt to a crisp. A few attempts to get the timing right and voila! – a well-done steak. Drop the steak into your item box and it's mission accomplished (cue victory fanfare).

You maniacs! You blew it up!

You maniacs! You blew it up!
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From this one example, you can get a taste of what to expect from Monster Hunter Freedom 2, as even the training missions contain more depth than most other would be dungeon-crawler type games. It’s a mix of action and strategy which succeeds where many other games would fail – having enough action and swordplay to prevent the game from being a joyless hunting simulator, whilst having enough item management and strategy to prevent the action from being stale and repetitive. The use of items, in particular, is a major differentiating factor between this and other games, as aside from the use of food and potions to maintain and increase your health and stamina, you can utilise various traps, as well as items like paintballs to help track your prey. That said, there will undoubtedly be those who find the heavy use of items and resource management dull; you’re likely to know which side of the fence you’re on by your reaction to the training missions – “Oh, you have to pick warm clothes in winter! That’s so cool!” – or – “I have to sharpen my sword every ten enemies or so? Ugh…”

What storyline there is in Monster Hunter Freedom 2 is kept to a minimum, with your character – a lone hunter – being found half-dead in the snow following a rather nasty encounter with a dragon. After some time to rest up in nearby Pokke Village, you set out to make a name for yourself as the new village hunter. The storyline and character interaction are somewhat vague in the way that the majority of games with user-created characters are vague. Somewhat surprisingly, Monster Hunter Freedom 2’s character creation process is quite in-depth, with a number of different face models to choose from, a wide selection of hair styles and different voice types, and an impressive selection of genders… well, two. Clothing is limited from the get-go because of the use of various garments and armour types for different terrains, so while you can eventually dress however you like, you have to remain mindful of the positive or negative effects of your garb.

Once you’ve completed your training missions and head back to town to stock up on supplies, you’ll head for the Gathering Hall, where the REAL challenges await. There are well over 200 different quests, each with adjustable difficulty. Some are relatively simple (hunt and kill X monster or X number of X monsters), or you may have to procure specific items (either found in the field or harvested from specific creatures) and use them to create a certain potion or weapon. If you’re ever in doubt, there are plenty of NPCs in the village who are ready to give you some advice, and you can even get some real-world assistance at the Gathering Hall from other players online.

The visuals in the game are nothing short of breath-taking for a portable title, with stunning vistas and great animation. The many and varied varieties of monsters (from lumbering behemoths to buzzing wasps and prehistoric birds) are fantastic to watch in action, and some of the larger creatures are simply jaw-dropping. There are some minor clipping issues at times, as well as some pixillated textures, but given the scope of the game and the limitations of the hardware, they’re not a debilitating factor when everything else is so impressive. It’s not going to give Bioshock a run for its money, but portable 3D adventure games with this level of detail and so few frame rate issues are few and far between.

If anybody needs me, I'll be whimpering in a foetal position behind this rock.

If anybody needs me, I'll be whimpering in a foetal position behind this rock.
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The soundtrack, too, is impressive, with a fantastic orchestrated score that starts off serene and peaceful and then swells to a dramatic crescendo when battle is joined. A pair of headphones is strongly recommended, especially in lieu of the aforementioned music-based hints (as a means for timing your cooking). The environmental sounds are well done too, and nothing complements the sight of a forested mountainside better than the sound of the wind whistling through the trees. It also helps to hear the footsteps of a creature thundering up from behind you sooner rather than later.

There is a dizzying array of controls to master, which is why even the most seasoned gamers are recommended to take on the training missions first to get their heads around them. Combat works very well for a game of this type, but is let down in part by the camera system. Rather than rotating the view with the triggers, you’re forced to use the D-pad, which makes it nigh-on impossible to change the view in the middle of a fight. Compounding this is the lack of a lock-on feature, which can leave you facing the wrong way after an evasive maneuver, swinging your sword away at thin-air while your enemy leisurely saunters around and starts kicking your ass… literally, in some cases.

Of course if you’re struggling to complete a particular mission (and you will), you can set up your own hunting party by enlisting the aid of up to four friends with Ad-Hoc multiplayer. And here is where the game both wildly succeeds and spectacularly fails. From the get-go, Monster Hunter Freedom 2 seems like the perfect game for online play, and if it had been incorporated, it would have been one of the better hack-and-slash games on the market, and not just on portable systems. The game is very polished and the amount of items, weapons and armour you can find or create would lend itself extremely well to some sort of online trading system. The game is still well worth playing, but online play with friends would have really been the icing on the well-done steak…er, cake.
The Score
Monster Hunter Freedom 2 plays much like the love child of Phantasy Star Online and World of Warcraft, but lacking the online component. It may prove daunting for many, but could be the perfect match for those looking for a hefty adventure.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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4 Comments
6 years ago
Unbelievable. No online play. I have the original, and was only really considering this if they added online icon_sad.gif

Does anyone know about the load times of this vs the original?
6 years ago
I rmember hearing that there was some kind of tunnelling program you could use with the original for online play - is there something like that for this?
6 years ago
Yes there is, I havent used it in ages and have forgotten what it is called unfortunately it does almost every console from the last generation.


On another note, I treded in the first version of this game today for this one and hopefully it will give me hours of happiness. I love games that are quite deep.
6 years ago
You may be refering to Xlink Kai. Ive never played any of the Monster Hunter titles before. Would anyone recommend playing the first one before attempting the second, it is part 2 more of an improvement over the first to the point of not even considering trying part one?
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  13/09/2007 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $79.95 AU
Publisher:
  Activision
Genre:
  Action RPG
Year Made:
  2007
Players:
  4

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