Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is the latest installment into the Monster Hunter franchise that has taken the PSP by storm in Japan since its first outing way back in 2004. This iteration of the game was actually released in Japan some time ago under the name of Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G and it looked to improve on the formula that had been so successful. Despite its success in Japan, the Monster Hunter franchise has never really taken off in the West, something that Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is hoping to change.
Following a less than successful monster hunt in the opening cutscene, players will find themselves fully rested. A short explanation is given about the role of the Monster Hunter and that's essentially the introduction to the game. Those looking for a deep and meaningful story will be sorely disappointed as aside from the introduction, there is essentially nothing else. Generally there is a brief introduction about why a monster needs to be hunted, but the majority of the time it's fairly irrelevant.
While the lack of a compelling story might seem like a big issue, it is completely negated by the depth of everything else. The game starts players off with a basic set of armour, and a whole host of weapons to choose from. These range from the basic sword and shield combination, to bows and there are also odd choices, such as a hunting horn. It definitely helps to keep things fresh and allows players to really express themselves. Certain monsters will also be much easier using particular weapons, so it also adds a layer of strategy to the planning and preparation. If a monster is too hard to hunt, it might be a lot easier if a different weapon is used.
Equipment may be plentiful in its basic qualities, but there is also an extremely deep upgrading system that compliments all of the different varieties of armour and weaponry. Due to their being no levelling system, the only way to improve a character is by upgrading their gear and it makes the whole system seem much more rewarding. New armour upgrades are only shown if certain pieces are acquired, but finding all of the necessary items gives players something to aim for. Players will also have the opportunity to hire Felynes for their kitchen and they can even tend to their own farm. Both will allow them to gain new items as they look to improve their gear even further and improve their performance in combat.
Unfortunately the huge level of customisation is overshadowed by less than flawless controls during actual combat. Typically, weapons have two attack types and these are controlled by using the circle and triangle buttons. The right trigger can also be used to perform different attacks, and while it is possible to chain moves together, the level of combinations is extremely limited. It does mean that it's very easy to memorise and become familiar with the various weapons, but it feels very shallow. The camera can also be quite troublesome sometimes as it is manually controlled by the d-pad. It's often easier to simply press the left trigger, which positions the camera in a set way, but this isn't always the view required. Trying to move while manually changing the camera using the d-pad isn't an ideal situation.
These shortcomings do detract from the gameplay slightly, but they don't take away from the satisfaction of achieving objectives in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. While monsters may start off relatively small, it isn't long before they really start to diversify. There are many different types, and some of them are extremely large in size; taking them down requires lots of preparation, planning and learning. This is where Monster Hunter really helps to distinguish itself though, as it makes for some epic battles and finally scoring that killing blow can be exceedingly gratifying.
Graphically the game is pretty decent. There is a good selection of environments to track monsters through, but the loading times might get a bit annoying after a while. Each level is divided up into different sections, which all have their own unique feels. However, every time a player goes between these sections, they are greeted by loading screens. It's not a major issue, and it can be improved by doing the optional install, but it can detract from the experience slightly. The main theme to the game is extremely grandiose, but the rest of the music doesn't really distinguish itself.
Where Monster Hunter really shines is its depth. There is a huge number of single-player missions available and these are considerably challenging. Getting anywhere near the end of the game requires some serious dedication, especially with the steep learning curve. Aside from this, there are also missions available to play alongside 3 other players inside the Gathering Hall. This is essentially when Monster Hunter is at its finest, as a group of hunters team up to fight against a formidable foe. It's easy to see hours tick away while playing Monster Hunter because there is just a ridiculous amount of content available.
Monster Hunter offers a huge level of customisation for equipment and a vast quantity of missions. It has depth that is simply unrivalled on a portable system, but unfortunately that doesn't make it perfect. The gameplay is a slight thorn in the side, as it suffers from a lack of depth and a poor camera. It's still fun to play though. There is also a lack of any real story, and that might put some off. However, the ability to hunt down huge monsters with three friends isn't an opportunity that should be missed.