Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite

I’m not a proud man, so I’ll just come right out and say it – Monster Hunter kicked my ass. Seriously. It took one look at me and, seeing that I was a pasty-faced Westerner with an aversion to item micro-management and a low tolerance for grind quests, decided it was in the mood a bit of easy-kill. I would say that this game has a steep difficulty curve, but it doesn’t. It has a wall. A wall with the words “Tourists not welcome” painted on it. In your blood.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Monster Hunter: FU is necessarily a bad game. I just get the feeling it doesn’t like me. The previous instalment in the franchise was the best selling game in Japan last year on any console, shifting 2.45 million units and leaving even the mighty Pokémon Platinum with dust in its blinking, cutesy eyes. I know of people who have invested over 150 hours in this game and are still coming back for more. With a fanbase this rabid it’s clear that Capcom must have touched a nerve with this one.

Monster Hunter has all the trappings of a MMO, but minus the ‘O’ and with a focus on real time combat. Having been trampled unconscious by an angry Wyvern in the opening cut-scene you awake in Pokke Village with nothing but a headache and the shirt on your back. The village elder decides that you are to join the esteemed ranks of the village hunters and tasks you with honing your fighting skills through battle and improving your equipment through item collection and augmentation. There is a farm where you can harvest ingredients for potions and shops where weaponry and armour can be bought and upgraded. When you want to start questing you head to the Gathering Hall, pick a quest (kill monster, collect item, kill two monsters, collect two items etc.), pay a fee and head out into the wilderness to mercilessly slash your way through the local wildlife.

That’s pretty much it. It sounds deceptively simple, but there are three major complications to contend with: the combat, the inventory system and the camera. All hunting is carried out in third person using a combination of melee attacks, projectile weapons and traps. And it’s tough. I’ve never died so many times in the opening stages of a game before. You get a couple of quests in and suddenly find yourself on a snowy mountain getting your buttocks handed to you by a gang of velociraptors and their aggressively territorial mum. Creatures will rush you, often from offscreen, and even in the early encounters two solid hits from a big beastie can fell you like a Scots Pine at Christmas. You try to fight, but the creatures dance and prance and your combat animations are slow and over-reaching, leaving you at the mercy of their sharp claws and unsympathetic teeth.

You try to heal yourself with potions, but doing so involves disarming mid-combat and shuffling through your inventory. This means holding down L, using square and circle to choose the appropriate potion, releasing L to confirm selection and then pressing square to actually use your selected item. Cue lengthy animation of character downing said potion and waving his arms in the air like he’s just won the ‘Most Inappropriate Celebration” award at this year’s Festival of Untimely Death. Which he has, because he is now dead.

Then there’s the camera, which is – and there’s no other word for it – diabolical. PSP games have always had to contend with the absence of a right analogue stick, and never has there been a game in more dire need of an extra nub than Monster Hunter: FU. You can rotate the camera manually, but control has been assigned to the D-pad, and is unusable when fighting or performing any other action for the simple reason that human hands have only one thumb apiece. So you are at the mercy of the dim-witted AI camera which, as you are about to land your killing blow on a mighty Wyvern, decides that what you really need to see is an extreme close-up of a daisy next to a small rock. Aggravating really doesn’t cut it. For shame Capcom, for shame.

The multiplayer mode goes some way to slicing through the frustration. You can hook up ad hoc with three other hunters and perform quests together, employing tactics and teamwork to vanquish your foes. A little research yields some helpful information to stave off constant and agonising defeat: timing is paramount and the dodge button is your most powerful ally. Coordinating attacks makes things a great deal easier, and three rubbish cameras turn out to be better than one. The multiplayer community is huge in Japan and people come from far and wide to huddle in groups of four and slaughter the hours away.

So, with all these glaring issues, many of which are acknowledged by the hardcore fanbase, why is the Monster Hunter franchise so ludicrously popular? Firstly, I think it’s fair to say that the things that turn me off about the game (ridiculously complicated inventory, repetitive combat and quests) are the very things that others will adore. If you are into the MMORPG scene and need something to satisfy your lust for weapon customisation on the move, then this really is the game for you. Presentation is strong, and provided you choose the install option loading times are quick and painless. It can also be very satisfying. The severity of the difficulty curve means that when you manage to scrabble your way to the top and find yourself standing on the peak, hands on hips, head held high, bathing in the glow of victory, it is a beautiful moment. Getting there is such a struggle, however, that for some the glory of that moment may not be enough to justify the hours of toil invested in the journey.







One response to “Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite”

  1. Joule avatar

    Left index finger for the camera, fool. 😛 It hurts after a while, but it REALLY helps. Keep moving while selecting the item necessary, camera on the enemy (or at least the most anoyying one, like those damn boars the Bullfango), and then take the item when you have a gap.

    It doesn’t help if you fight the Tigrex (that monster from the intro) in the mission “That sinking feeling”. Because your weapons and armour won’t do shit to him. RUN.

    And I have to disagree with repetitive combat and quests. It’s real time, and not the…how to put this… crap you get in WoW, so grinding, although more time consuming, is more entertaining. And you need some strategy, somewhat.

    I’ll agree that it’s tricky to learn, but definitely fun to play.

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