Japan is the breeding ground for videogame-related fervor and its latest phenomenon is the Monster Hunter series. Returning to the PSP, Capcom’s Monster Hunter Freedom 2 has sparked a surge in Japanese school children sleepovers and “educational” camps, all dealing with the way of monster hunting. Earlier this fall, this behemoth of a game was ported over to the States with a whimper. Was something lost in translation other than the giddy fanfare?
Many Playstation 2-to-PSP ports have suffered at the hand of the control scheme. With the lack of two additional shoulder buttons and a second analog nub, many games had to suck it up and just try and go with the flow, usually, with dire results (I’m looking at you, Prince of the Cosmos). I’m happy to report that Monster Hunter Freedom 2 possesses no such problems! With the analog nub to control movement, the D-pad to scroll through pre-established camera angles, and the left shoulder button to instantly place the camera behind your player, this game might just be the closest thing to a perfect control scheme on the PSP. One small gripe, though: the square button has the dual task of being item-using and putting away your weapon. If you’re not careful, sometimes you might throw your bow on your back and then chomp down on a valuable healing item when you have full health. It will happen from time to time, but it’s nothing to get ants in your pants about.
With the control scheme a lock, now we can get to the goods! The gameplay of Monster Hunter Freedom 2 hits a monster hunting bliss. You begin by customizing your avatar’s physical appearance and skillset before arriving at the village. From there, you can either stock up on items, engage in some tutorials, or get right to the dirty deeds. Two things about the tutorial: it’s fun and essential. If you’re a newbie to the series and immediately attempt to neuter some monsters, then you’ll be the one that gets neutered. The tutorial covers all the bases while being fun in itself. While most tutorials bore you to death, Monster Hunter Freedom 2 makes the tutorial more of its own game. It’s also your opportunity to familiarize yourself with the weapons. Your arsenal of destruction ranges from a sword to dual-wielding swords to a gunlance. Seriously, the only noticeable missing method for mayhem is killing the beasts with your mind.
While the hunt is an absolute blast, here is where some of the game potential gets squandered. A prime reason why the Monster Hunter series has been such a joy to play is the multiplayer. With the recent online-centered mantra in regards to multiplayer, it’s a major buzzkill when multiplayer means calling up your friends and seeing if they have this niche game and then inviting them over to play. Once you do have a party of four, the later quests in this game are a bloody good time. If you’re going to be trekking through the terrains solo, then I wish you the best of luck. Towards the end of the game, the projectile-based weapons become more of a hassle and battles turn into hack’n slash’n run affairs rather than being centered on strategy.
The game looks just as good as it did on its PS2 big brother. To put it bluntly, the graphics are gorgeous. The music and sound design also hit an audio sweet spot, where every slice at a monster gives you the all-important satisfaction of visceral gaming. The load times on an old-timey PSP can be borderline intrusive (you get two loading screens before the game even starts and every time you zone to a new area, another loading screen), but with the PSP slims’ new background loading, the problem is almost non-existent.
All in all, Monster Hunter Freedom 2 is a solid package. When you go out to your store to buy this game, buy two copies! Give that spare copy to a friend who has a PSP and then invite him over to your Monster Hunter Slumber Party! If your buddy frowns at you, I guess…
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 1