Monster Hunter Freedom: The bane of my gaming life, a source of endless trial, a timeless lesson in pain, but eventually, the reason I held on to my PSP. It's sounded stupidly simple on paper: a seemingly endless grind-fest; slaying monsters for loot with which to upgrade. Story, insofar as it loosely exists, is of absolutely no consequence. Your goal is to dominate an increasingly-difficult array of baddies, plain and simple. You have your basic town full of NPCs and merchants, your home base, a training area, and an upgradable "farm" for the purposes of gathering resources.
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The game's skills and attributes are linked primarily to weapons and armor, which will be immediately familiar to fans of RPGs. Armor components are made individually, and the player with often rewarded for completing an entire set with enhanced attributes for wearing every component of said set. As for weapons, each type has its own pros and cons. The bowgun offers the benefit of ranged attacks, but depends on a finite amount of specialized ammo -- fire rounds, lightening rounds, etc. -- that one often needs to craft in order to be effective. Dual blades offers a flurry of slashes and allows the character to nimbly dive about, but he or she sacrifices the ability to block. The Great Sword offers powerful (albeit slow) attacks and the ability to block, but can be cumbersome to use. Hammers are very powerful, but have a short range and once again leave you without the ability to block. Sword and shield offers a very middle-of-the-road option, but can become surprisingly helpful even as the game rols on. Chances are you'll find yourself relying on one of these categories; I, for example, stuck mainly to the lance because I found it offered the control and agility that served me best in the fight against Monster Hunter's many wily foes. Crafting is absolutely integral, and sadly you'll often find yourself replaying quests over and over for one or two rare items necessary to upgrade either your weapon or armor. The crafting system is extremely intricate, though it does delve headlong into trial and error without a FAQ. Some essential items, such as traps or flash bombs, can be bought; however you will often need to embark on the tedious journey of again revisiting the same areas again and again in search of components for more advanced items.
Of course, where would we be without the Felynes. These adorable cats serve a few purposes, such as cooking meals that can grant buffs, providing useful information, or bravely carrying a bomb into a mine so that you, devil capitalist, can get your hands on that sweet, sweet ore. Often they will make appearances during your quests, during which they will pounce and steal your items -- that's right, you will be mugged by cats -- at which point you're resigned to slashing your adorable furry friend until you deplete his health, thus retrieving the stolen item. The game manages to evade moral outrage with the "No, kitty doesn't die; he just escapes into a hole in the ground!" but that doesn't quite ease the stomachs of those of us averse to repeatedly stabbing a cat with a lance the length of a compact car.
The game does have a few flaws. The controls are simple enough, but find themselves marred by an awkward camera control system. While movement is mapped to the analog nub, the camera is mapped to the D-pad, resulting in the dreaded "Claw" technique of contorting one's hand to use both the D-pad and the analog nub. This would only be a minor annoyance -- albeit a persistent one -- if not for the fact that Monster Hunter Freedom lacks the lock-on function of its console counterparts.
Monster Hunter Freedom is also extremely long. There are a myriad of quests, each of which challenges you to race against the clock to either gather a certain number of items or, and this is the fun part, slay beasts. You will start out out small -- killing raptor-like creatures or oversized apes -- but eventually you'll be pitted against one of the dreaded wyverns. Each of these requires a different combat style, and most, if not all, have a weak point to be exploited. The allotted time for your quests can be up to 50 minutes; while this may seem gratuitous, given the relatively small environment -- certainly not an area that requires a vast amount of time to traverse -- the limit seems almost unfair during higher-difficulty quests. More than once I've found myself nearing the end of a battle with a wyvern only to collapse onto the ground in failure, felled by the cruel whims of Father Time.
As you will probably notice, this game has a very distinctive Japanese feel -- and by that I mean the game relentlessly beats you into submission, calls you a failure, and laughs at your tears. Some might call it masochism (mainly because it clearly is), but most of your facepalming will come from your own errors -- blocking when you should have dodged, leaving yourself open during one of your over-zealous attacks, etc. -- bringing upon you the sense of shame that is as much a staple of Japanese games as obnoxious teenage girls and protagonists with impossibly-styled hair.
All issues aside, Monster Hunter Freedom is fun -- ridiculously fun, in fact -- and given that you can easily sink over 100 hours into the game, it's an absolute steal.