Yeah, this is probably the first game to invoke a proper sense of fear in me since the first Silent Hill game. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is all about the primal fear of the unknown, and also about fearing something about one hundred times your size. There really is nothing like the first time you take on a mission, something simple, like gathering mountain herbs, and then seeing what looks like a cross between a tyrannosaurus rex and a dragon barreling down on you. Armed with only a tiny sword and shield, do you take flight and high tail it back home? Or do you stand your ground and try to take this massive beast down, in order to provide yourself with some amazing armor and weapon materials? Choices like these come up constantly in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, along with wondering how many more missions can be completed before the PSP battery dies, which happened to me a couple of times while trying to pick up some quick cash to increase the power of my armor.
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is perfect for those out there who never could grow out of their Phantasy Star Online days. At first it feels a bit overwhelming getting in to this new town/game and have a whole bunch of options in front of you, but really it is as simple as creating your character, grabbing one of the many weapons, and heading out on a quest. From there the game unfolds and introduces new things slowly yet surely. Though one thing the game is not shy about showing you is it's massive collection of over-sized monsters that are simply out to make a meal out of you. From the get go you're going to need to learn that it really is okay to turn tail and run away. Unlike Phatasy Star, there isn't too much of an indication on how capable you are against the enemies you will be facing, so it's always a dangerous world in Monster Hunter, and that's where some of the excitement comes from.
A majority of your time in Monster Hunter is spent completing quests for the town leader. This kind old matron of the village will send you off to your death without a second thought and she'll always do it with a smile. Completing quests for the town will reward you with a myriad of items used to strengthen your character, and will unlock other areas to explore with bigger monsters and bigger rewards. The game thankfully makes it very easy to complete your quests even when you happen upon one of the rare beasts that could easily ruin your day. They typically follow you but there are many places to hide, though once they have their sights set on you, they can be a little tough to shake. But what kind of hunter would you be if you didn't bring along some traps to stall them? Not a very good one I would say, of course even I didn't immediately understand the complete usefulness of traps that are available in the shops. Be sure to stock up on some before heading out.
Monster Hunter looks great for a PSP game, with fairly detailed character models and a really impressive world. Each of the different areas have a large variety of visuals, from the ice caves in the mountains to the riverside by the jungle, these locales are quite a sight to behold. The only thing that looks better are the monsters themselves. They vary in size, shape, and color and really are quite an imposing sight, even on the small PSP screen. I found myself screaming in terror as one of the larger flying beasts bore down upon my poor little avatar as he bit the dust, taking my precious reward money away in the process. Audio is for the most part a mixed bag, simple melodies, with a score that really picks up when a massive monster shows up on screen to really heighten the tension of battle. Overall though, the use of music to give the game a more epic feel works, but at times feels lacking in terms of presence.
Controls are something that take a little bit of getting used to. First, the camera controls are mounted to the D-Pad. I don't know if I want to chalk this up to a flaw on the part of the PSP or what, but not being able to move and alter the camera at the same time makes battles a little bit more difficult than they need to be. This is especially evident when a monster knocks you down and then manages to get behind you, at this point you spend time trying to maneuver the camera to see where the enemy is. While you're recovering the enemy typically has enough time to get another attack ready, and when you're unable to see it, the game just becomes frustrating, especially when it's a rare monster that can take you down in as little as three hits. Combat could have benefited greatly with the addition of a lock-on function, considering how much trouble the camera gives. Another thing that would have been incredibly useful would have been life bars for the monsters. Granted they all display signs of weakening, but it's a bit disheartening to fall to a tough foe after an extended fight and not know whether or not your attacks were even effective.
One thing to be aware of with this game is that it is a massive time sink. Capcom has touted more than five hundred hour of playtime, and that certainly seems plausible considering all the online play, and downloadable content available for the game. There is also a very expansive item creation system that allows you to create tons of items, weapons, and armor. For those who really want the full MMO experience there is also a fishing, gathering, mining, and for the entomologist, bug hunting. The only downside to all this gameplay? It only takes place across the three zones, the forest, mountainside, and desert, granted these areas are large, but the paths rarely change.
For those who have the proper hardware this game can go beyond Ad-Hoc gameplay and you can use a tunneling service to play online with friends, and while it's nice that a work-around is present, it would have been better to have the Wi-Fi play without having to jump through a few hoops. Playing online is also similar to Phantasy Star, in that the difficulty and monster strength will be increased to make up for the additional players. Make sure everyone is packing traps if you intend to go online.
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is a bit overwhelming at first, and it is slightly at the detriment of the title, because unless you just dive headlong in to the missions that the game has to offer you're going to spend a lot of time wandering around the village wondering what the hell you should do. I'll tell you here, just jump in to a mission, get the fighting down and from there the game opens up nicely. When it comes down to whether or not you want to purchase Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, one thing to keep in mind is that your Monster Hunter Freedom 2 character can be brought over to Unite, which hopefully will be a continuing trend for anyone that considers future upgrades. For someone jumping in for the first time, this is a very comparable title to that of Phantasy Star, and holds up just as well as a psuedo-MMO experience, give it a shot if you thing you've got enough free time.
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite has the gameplay chops to make it a lasting staple in the PSP library, get yourself a copy and tell your friends to join in too, you won't be disappointed, especially if Phantasy Star was your thing back in the day.
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