In an ancient time of wonder, when dinosaurs and giant animals roamed the earth, when the desert and sea was the domain of giant crustaceans, and dragons ruled the sky, there was an elite group of people, making existence for humanity a possibility.
This is the premise behind the Capcom’s Monster Hunter Freedom 2. Sequel to the cult classic Monster Hunter Freedom, MHF 2 once again puts players in the role of the protector of a somewhat primitive village, defending it from the gargantuan beasts that roam the nearby landscape. Capcom has managed huge improvements within the title, creating variety where in areas that were previously somewhat bland, while still maintaining the brand’s integrity.
The Game begins with character creation. For those Monster Hunter veterans out there, importing your saved data from Monster Hunter Freedom is possible, although with some limitations. Your character retains his name, and you get to revision his looks with some new character features. All your equipment, as well as items above rarity level 4 are traded in for a combination of cash and tickets, the later of which can be used in place of certain materials for the purpose of crafting new weapons and armor. For those starting from scratch, you will be given the option of creating a male or female hunter, with multiple options for hairstyle, color, and skin tone. While this may not seem overly in-depth, the majority of your career will have your character clad head to toe in unique armor and gear, leaving your crafted persona to only be seen when you “dress down.”
After creating your character, the story unfolds. Your character was a successful hunter in the village of Kokoto (the name of the starting village from the first Monster Hunter Freedom). Pokke Village, a nearby settlement resting in the cold embrace of the snowy mountains, is to be your new home. The residents have come across many monstrous entities, and require your unique skills. On your trek to the village, however, your player character is accosted by the deadly Tigrex, a large flightless wyvern, and tumbles from a high cliff. Then the real adventure begins.
You awaken to find yourself in a home within Pokke village. One of the residents watched your fall, and managed not only to dig you out of the snow, but also return you to the village and nurse you back to help. This is where the game truly begins. You start by introducing yourself to the various non-player characters around town. Almost everyone you meet will somehow play a pivotal role in the coming adventures. The true persons of interest initially are the village elder and the training school instructor. If you imported character data from a previous save, you will be free to immediately start tackling the quests the elder is so eager to give you. If you’ve started fresh, you are required to head to the training school and engage in some tutorial missions to get you started.
The real meat of the game now begins, as you head off on your first series of quests. Depending on the quest itself, your character is placed in a different climate or area. Each area is made up of its own unique set of “zones,” each separated by loading zones, quite similar to Everquest, but without the heinous load times. Most areas are comprised of 10-12 zones, which appear number if you have a map for ease of multiplayer tactics (more on that later). Each zone is populated with all sorts of different critters, ranging from herbivores such as the deer-like Kelbi or saurial Apceros, to carnivorous predators like the dung-flinging simian Congas, giant boar Bullfangos, and even more sinister wildlife.
Depending on your personal play style, you will find your hunter locked and loaded for bear in one of two ways. If you are wielding a melee weapon, you are considered a blademaster, and can use any gear blademasters have access to. Similarly, if you find yourself hefting a gun or bow and quiver, you are considered a gunner, and have all their abilities and restrictions. Not only does your weapon end up determining your class, but it also determines your controls. Each and every melee weapon class (8 total) has its own unique set of combos and controls, giving them a completely individual feel. Want to deal massive damage, no matter the speed? The Greatsword or Hammer is the way to go. Do you like to be highly mobile, dealing many quick hits to your opponent? Pick up a set of Dual Blades and you’ve got it made. Want some added protection? Lances, Sword and Shield, and Gunlances all allow you the ability to block attacks. These differences allow for a wide range of play styles. This, however, only covers the melee weapons.
If you use bows, the controls and gameplay will resemble a third-person shooter, with aiming and firing done in an over-the-shoulder manner. With bows, arrows are unlimited, and you can even whip one out to deliver a quick slash to any foe that comes into close proximity. Bows also allow you to coat arrows with different extracts, adding poison or increased damage, or even allowing you to paralyze your target or put it to sleep.
Guns add yet another control aspect. With guns, the player can zoom into a first person mode for aiming, allowing those FPS players out there a whole new way to play. Guns also allow the player to load different ammo types, from cluster shots that hit multiple times, to shots that deal elemental damage. Even stranger are the healing shots that allow a hunter to fire upon his multiplayer cohorts, healing damage rather than dealing it.
With a somewhat quick lesson on weapons out of the way, we can discuss the actual focus of the game: the hunt. Having learned how to use weapons, either from the training school instructor, or from (gasp!) me, players will want to head off on their first hunt. Each hunt will take place in one climate or area, as previously discussed. Hunters are given a specific task to accomplish. These goals range from collecting mushrooms or barbecuing steaks from raw meat, to slaying dangerous monsters, to collecting valuable treasure in the field. When a goal is completed, the hunter will be given 1 minute to continue collecting items from the field, to take home for his own personal use. Hunters will also be given a cash reward, as well as item rewards that are specific to the hunt itself.
This brings us to a critical portion of the game: item collection. In Monster Hunter Freedom 2, players are charged with crafting many of their own items, armors, and weapons. While certain things can be purchased in town, the majority of high-grade items must be built using items found on your various hunts. These items can be obtained in a number of ways. The most common way to find items is to search an area by pressing the O (circle) button. If done in the proper area, this will cause the hunter to look around on the ground, often times revealing anything from medicinal herbs and mushrooms, to insect husks, berries, or honey. The item received often is related to where you are searching. For instance, if you search near a beehive, you will likely find honey, insect husks, or snakeabee larvae. Search near a fern, and you usually get herbs or flowers. Looking in riverbeds often produces polished stones, while searching dead trees will usually yield mushrooms. Visual clues in the environment not only add depth to the graphics and realism to the surrounding area, but also provide a strategic advantage to any hunter who is aware of his surroundings.
The most common method for obtaining items comes from “carving” the monsters you kill in the field. Each and every enemy you defeat leaves a carcass behind to be “carved.” Hunters can expect 1 to 2 carves from normal prey animals, while carnivorous beasts of a gargantuan nature can produce upwards of 9 carves! The standard number of carves for a predatory or “boss” monster is 3. To carve a kill, the hunter need only sheathe his weapon if it is drawn (by pressing square), and then press circle near the carcass. Each carve produces 1 item, determined by the creature it is carved from.
So, you’ve learned about the types of weapons that are used by hunters, what hunters do, and how to gather items. But what do you do with all these items you are getting? Why, turn them into weapons and armor of course! Players can take the majority of items they receive from carving their kills, and use them to craft armor and weapons with the help of the local smith. Items such as hides, scales, shells and heads are usually required to make armor, while weapons routinely need claws, bones, spines, poison sacs, and the like. Each time your hunter returns to the smith with a new item, any armors or weapons he can craft with the item show up in his wares. You can then look at these formulas to determine what else you need to make the equipment in question. Once you provide the smith with the materials and cash needed to make the item, you can add it to your box at home, or immediately equip it for use.
Creating weapons from your fallen foes will often grant you some of their abilities as well. For instance, if you make a sword from the parts of an Iodrome, a venomous raptor, the sword will be infused with poison. If you craft a bow using electro-sacs from the electrically charged Khezu, your shots will deal thunder damage. Armor also retains traits from the creature it is modeled after. If you are sporting an armor suit comprised primarily of Plesioth, a water wyvern, your resistance to water will be much stronger. Create a suit out of the giant boar Bulldrome, and you’ll experience a health increase as you channel its strength. This deep crafting system ensures that players are rewarded directly for their efforts, and will give players a feeling of accomplishment that cannot be scoffed at.
Each completed mission will not only garner the hunter more items to use in his personal crafting, but will also serve to further his renown and legend. Quests are rated on difficulty using a “star” system. The more stars next to a quest title, the more difficult the quest and the better the rewards. Completing all the quests of a given star level will grant access to an “urgent” quest of the next level. This quest must be completed in order to progress to the next set of missions. Missions can be completed over and over again, for the purposes of gaining experience against different monsters, getting more items, or simply getting paid. Completing certain sets of quests will also raise your “HR” or hunter rank, which allows you to use higher-level weapons and armor, as well as granting you the ability to start higher-level quests. These quests are traditionally epic in scale, and often pit the hunter against legendary dragons who are lords over their chosen element.
Multiplayer is where this game really shines. It may be my personal bias here, but out of all the games I’ve played on the PSP, Monster Hunter Freedom 2 has the best multiplayer. Period. I work in a game store, and routinely try most of the new releases that come out for Sony’s handheld, and nothing really comes close as far as multiplayer is concerned. Monster Hunter Freedom 2 allows up to 4 hunters to come together to work on a single quest. Multiplayer quests run the same gamut that single player ones do, although they are usually much tougher than their solo counterparts. Monster Hunter Freedom 2 has even improved its multiplayer experience by adding more items that are beneficial to the group, rather than the lone hunter. An example of this would be one of the new weapon types: the hunting horn. While this weapon attacks like a hammer, it can also be used to play “recitals.” Playing a recital, which is a two to four note streak, will allow the player to boost their own stats, as well as the stats of other hunters in the area. This extra emphasis on multiplayer gaming adds more depth to a game that, while simple in concept, is incredibly deep as far as gameplay is concerned.
As great a game as it is, however, Monster Hunter Freedom 2 is not without its own set of problems. The first thing most gamers notice is that this game is extremely difficult for a large majority of players. The learning curve is quite steep, leading to many frustrations similar in many respects to the first outing in the series. Indeed, although it has gotten better in its sequel, many new players are still likely to be turned off by the difficulty.
Another problem stems from the new focus on multiplayer. Don’t misunderstand; quality multiplayer-oriented games on the PSP are certainly few and far between, and have become something of a rare commodity. Having said that, Monster Hunter Freedom 2 has gone a little overboard with its focus. There are a few times in during the course of the game that will be difficult to impossible to complete if you do not have some friends who play this game. And with the lack of infrastructure play, you are stuck playing with hunters you can meet face to face (unless you have a WiFi Max and manage to get xlink kai set up). This situation can stop a player cold in his tracks, bar progress and removing a solid amount of the entertainment this game should provide.
The last real issue has to do with the way smaller monsters are displayed across an ad-hoc game. While each and every player sees the same “boss monsters” in the same locations, each player’s game is populated with its own minion critters. What does this mean, exactly? Well, should the player see a velociprey (a small, raptor-esque monster) in the northern part of the area they are in with a fellow hunter, he may very well see the exact same velociprey in the southern or eastern area. Furthermore, if the player decides to attack and slay the raptor, their comrade would simply see the other attacking air, but would also witness the critter taking damage and dying, although to their eyes, his partner never landed a blow. There’s no explanation as to the reason for this odd mechanism (I’ve theorized that it came about to synthesize a pack-hunting feeling, but have no confirmation of this), but it does remove many players from the depth of the game and is often quite frustrating.
In closing, PSU would like to challenge everyone out there to further investigate this game. While it isn’t perfect and by no means suited for everyone, we stand by our assertion that it offers the best multiplayer gaming on the PSP thus far. If you have friends who are avid players, do not hesitate for a moment to pick this title up. The depth and scope of this title will get you more bang for your buck than most other games out there, regardless of system.
This game can be played endlessly. Having said that, it is not for the meek; if games that are difficult to master frustrate you, we advise you to steer clear – You’ll just end up spiking your PSP, and no one wants that. And if you don’t know anyone who plays this game, you may get less value out of it than someone who plays with his or her friends.