I’ve been playing Monster Hunter for almost five years now. I had logged in close to three hundred hours (yes, 300) on the original PlayStation 2 version, and only stopped playing it once the first Monster Hunter Freedom was released on the PSP. Since then, counting my transferred save data from Freedom to Freedom 2 and now Unite, I’ve spent close to six hundred hours total with my main character. With all that said, I’m certain predicting my opinion of Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is easy. However, it’s not the fact that I love this series that’s important; it’s the “why” that really matters.
There’s no real story in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. You, a fledgling Hunter, are attacked by a vicious creature during your hike through the mountains and knocked unconscious. You wake up in a place called Pokke Village with the clothes on your back, a little spending money, and a chest containing the most basic form of each of the game’s eleven weapon types. The story pretty much ends here, as there’s really no narrative to follow. Actually, most MMORPGs have more story than any Monster Hunter game.
From this point on, it’s questing time. This is the first major hurdle for any newcomer to the series. In short, the starter quests can be incredibly boring. Some have you gathering mushrooms, others want you to hunt the local fauna for meat, and still others task you with cooking that meat, until you finally get to hunt something that fights back. It sounds excruciating, but this tedium has a purpose. These early quests are meant to teach players the most basic of survival skills; gathering your own materials and creating supplies to use when hunting. They’re also a way for new players to try out the game’s different weapon types.
Each weapon plays differently, and finding the one that you’re most comfortable with is vital to your progress. Bows allow for decent movement speed when drawn, and can be coated with poison and the like for added status effects. It’s meant to pepper the target repeatedly, constantly dealing damage in small quantities. The Greatsword is incredibly powerful, can be charged up briefly to do more damage, and can block most attacks without knocking the player back. However, it’s as slow as dirt, leaving players open to attacks if they aren’t careful.
Once those beginner quests are out of the way, it’s on to the larger game. This is the second major hurdle.
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (like every other game in the series) doesn’t coddle new players or pull any punches. You can’t “level up” and the encounters only get harder as you get further into the game. The first “boss” will most likely kill you. A lot. In fact, the only real break new players receive comes in the form of the Training School. This allows them to fight the different monsters with a variety of pre-determined equipment in order to practice without losing their own money and items. While this will undoubtedly deter some players, the satisfaction one gets when they finally capture or kill their first large monster is second to none.
Successful hunts yield various parts (scales, claws, webbing, etc…) that can be used to craft new weapons or armor, as well as upgrading existing weapons into more powerful ones. Better equipment means better attack and defense power, along with other perks such as slower stamina loss, faster sword sharpening or the ability to inflict status effects. However, all of this never guarantees success. All of the armor and special abilities in the world won’t help if you leave yourself open or if you dodge at the wrong time or in the wrong direction.
This is Monster Hunter Freedom Unite‘s biggest strength and debatably its greatest weakness. Since your character never gets stronger in the traditional sense, the game forces you to either get better or die. It can be incredibly frustrating to fail a quest for the eighth time in a row due to cheap hits or running out of time, but it’s also incredibly satisfying to finally get past the creature that’s given you hours of trouble. It’s even more satisfying to hunt enough of said creature to create a full set of armor.
The biggest addition to the series in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is the Felyne Companion. Felynes have long been a part of the Monster Hunter universe, but always in the background. Now, for the first time, players can train and pair up with their own Felyne and bring them along on most single player quests. While this won’t make the game any easier, having a partner does come in handy. Your companion can distract monsters, fight, use bombs, and even (depending on the skills you’ve taught them) use traps or steal items from other creatures.
Anyone curious to know what all the fuss is about would do well to give Monster Hunter Freedom Unite a try. It’s a little daunting at first, but most players that stick with it will be hooked when they down their first wyvern. Long time fans of the series will also enjoy the new weapons and armor sets, as well as the handful of new creatures. However, keep in mind Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is not a sequel. It’s an enhanced update of Monster Hunter Freedom 2 that allows direct transfer of your character, Hunter status, equipment and items.
Things We Liked: Thousands of weapons and armor sets to choose from. Perfectly balanced weapon classes with something for every play style. Hundreds of hours of gameplay. The sense of pride and satisfaction one feels when they successfully hunt their first wyvern.
Things We Disliked: Slow to start. Incredibly steep learning curve for beginners. More than occasional cheap shots from minor creatures while hunting big ones. Camera can be finicky in tight spaces. No built-in infrastructure play after how many games in the series now?
Target Audience: People who love killing giant beasts for hours on end to complete an awesome looking armor set or build a giant sword made from the wings of said creature. Fans of the Monster Hunter series (obviously).