PlayStation Vita has received a few Monster Hunter-style games along the way, but none of them have managed to reach the high acclaim that series is wont to do.
Nonetheless, Sony Computer Entertainment, in collaboration with Japanese developers Dimps and Shift, has taken on the project with the prospect of giving PS Vita owners exactly what they’ve been looking for: a title that makes owning Sony’s handheld a necessity. However, with the console’s track record thus far, the idea will demand some convincing. Step forward, Freedom Wars.
In the heat of battle and philosophical narration, the main character is caught off guard by a bipedal robot adversary and knocked unconscious with a massive blow. Once awake, the main character is found under arrest by the hierarchy Panopticon. At this point, the main character can be customized and created so as to fortify the character's new life after amnesia. In this world of the year 102013, every single resource is hazardously limited, and the world revolves around how those resources are obtained and distributed. In light of this, 50 different Panopticons based directly on major cities on Earth, each of which is a society oversaturated with inhabitants, are at war with each other. The military for each Panopticon is each one's Sinners, who are their prisoners with drastically hyperbolized sentences.
Every Sinner faces one million years of imprisonment, and the only way to get out from under such a heinous life sentence is to fight for a Panopticon and gather resources for its citizens. The narrative was intriguing enough to keep me jumping into matches and fulfilling the runaround, which can’t be said for a lot of mission-based games. The featured Eastern style holds a more serious tone throughout; and while a lot of the tropes are still present, nothing but the narrative takes the forefront, since the diversity of character development across both genders gives a lot of credit to both. A spiritual essence named Aries makes her presence known whenever the main character rests, and her prime objective through most of the game is an undeveloped form of foreshadowing that doesn’t justify itself until late in the game.
Each character’s Accessory is an automated humanoid that acts as a reporter for the Panopticon, as Accessories keep track of misdemeanors and positive performances, which makes Accessories like acting parole officers. Accessories also keep track of their Sinner’s Entitlements: actions rewarded for providing services to the Panopticon. Those who are not prisoners are called Citizens, and they also have free reign to request services of Sinners whenever they please.
Initially, the main Sinner, like every Sinner, starts with absolutely no Entitlement: they're inhibited from doing almost anything, which includes talking to members of the opposite sex, moving too far away from his or her Accessory, or even lying down when sleeping. This gives a feeling of consequence for everything, including holding out weapon and munitions upgrades from the Panopticon, since keeping resources from the Panopticon is worthy of an extended sentence and it always stings to get a surprise penalty after knocking chunks off a sentence. As expected, progressing through the game gives more allowances, like high-level weapons retainable without penalty.
The dialogue in the game may be a mixed bag, since the entire game is voiced in Japanese with English subtitles, but the voice work isn’t jarring or overzealous. Coupling that with a healthy, diverse soundtrack--ranging from calm, upbeat tracks to stark, driving bass lines--yields a game that may not make audible waves, but Freedom Wars doesn't do anything wrong in the sound department. Even the train station-esque announcement that plays over and over gives a sense that the world is being delegated constantly, though it’s still voiced in Japanese.
Equally so, the visuals of the game are stupendous, as the anime-inspired aesthetic is crisp and detailed with only a slight degradation during actual combat, which is justified by the high frame rate. The combat itself is significant as it compiles navigation from Soul Sacrifice and combat from the likes of Monster Hunter and Ragnarok Odyssey in the sense that combat flow isn’t too fast or too slow—a happy middle ground between those two titles. Four Sinners can go into battle, be they actual players or AI allies.
A Sinner’s thorns are literal thorned lines wrapped around their left arms used to move quickly across short distances and reach ledges, as well as grab enemies. In grabbing enemies, players have choices between jumping right into the fray, clinging to the enemy and attacking; projecting toward them, allowing for aerial attacks; or pulling on enemies. In performing the latter, larger creatures can be tripped to then be broken down for collectable parts (Monster Hunters will be right at home with this concept). The great appeal to breaking apart large enemies like Citizen-housing Abductors is that every part that falls off is visible and collectible. The thorns also differentiate the classes, as the Binding thorns are for damage dealers, Healing is for healers, and Shielding is for a tank type.