It has been a while since I had a good game to play on my Vita, and have used it mostly for the Remote Play functionality and old PSone games (finally trying to beat FFIX), but it hasn't been receiving the love it was used to. I poured hours into Person 4, as well as Ninja Gaiden Sigma 1 and 2, plus the countless other titles I have for it, but it was worried about getting tossed aside for it's shinier young brother PS4. Well, that all changed last week when Sony decided to release the surprising nugget of joy that is Freedom Wars.
While my title is a joke about the perceived concept behind Freedom Wars being nothing more than a clone, and in some respects it isn't false. The game does rely on you attacking giant monsters, battling groups of enemies, and ultimately getting better gear much like Phantasy Star Portable, Lords of Arcana\Apocalypse, God Eater BURST, and Monster Hunter Freedom. Is that a bad thing? No. It takes the best (and worst) aspects of those games and puts it into a nicely wrapped product. It has Wi-Fi cooperative and competitive gameplay that people want in a title like this, as well as item creation, character customization, and gaining loot. All in all, it is a really fun title.
While I will not divulge into too much spoiler territory, the basic gist of the title is this; it is the year 102014 and the surface of the world has been ravaged of it's resources, resulting in humans to live in underground societies called Panopticons. These societies act as independent nations trying to research ways to once again return to the surface and kick start the planet once again. These nations, however, are in combat with each other to try and sustain their own resources and livelihood, and rely of "Sinners", or convicts, to fight these battles. Since fear of overpopulation, Sinners, or anyone found guilty of any crime (even if they did not do the crime) are sentenced to serve the Panopticon no matter what. With that being said, newborns are found guilty upon entry to the world, and must serve a 1,000,000 year sentence. The only way to chip away at your sentence is to fight and protect your Panopticon.
Is the story good? Somewhat, and lies between forgettable but not painful. You begin the game as a Sinner already fighting against an Abductor, which other Panopticons use to steal citizens, with the group of characters you will work with in the game. It is an entire first person FMV, which works well with the notion that it could be any race, build, or gender, and makes it truly your character. After the battle, you come down with a case of amnesia from being knocked back too hard by the Abductor, and find yourself in your cell. Confused of your surroundings, you are knocked back to a newly sentenced Sinner, and must restart your 1,000,000 year sentence.
The character creation is surprisingly good, as it offers a variety of faces, eyes, skin tones, hairstyles, etc. You start out with only one uniform to choose from, but the ability to change the colors give you some variety from other players. To rank up, you must complete a series of prerequisites to advance, plus take on story based missions to get to the next CODE exam. With each advancement you make, you are able to purchase new Entitlements, or rights basically. This is how you purchase factories to build and upgrade your weapons and items, as well as new clothes/accessories for your character.
The game plays very smooth for being a handheld title, and utilizes the lack of buttons very well. You switch between your two weapons by pressing Up or Down on the D-pad, and switch between you items by Left and Right. The Thorn, which is the amazing grappling hook, is used by the Right shoulder button when you are not aiming down the sights of your gun. Square and Triangle act as fast and heavy attacks for melee, or shoot and reload for guns when you are firing from the hip. It works incredibly well, and is very easy to pick up. The Thorn, as stated above, acts as a grappling hook. You can use it to clime up walls, grapple onto the large Abductors, or even use them to propel you forward across the map. You begin with the attack style Thorn, which can be used to stagger the abductors and pull them to the ground temporarily, and is the best in my opinion. You have the option to choose between that, healing, and shielding Thorns, which are better for cooperation and PvP modes.
In most cases, the standard controls work well enough for taking down the Abductors, but can be a pain for fighting against other sinners. As I stated above, the Square button is used for firing your guns while not aiming down the sites, and thus uses your thumb... which makes the right thumbstick nearly impossible to use. You can change the controls to your liking (Right shoulder for shooting, Square for reload, and Triangle for Thorn was the best option), but for me, my brain was already trained to use the basic controls. You can get by it with a lot of strafing, but get ready to stop firing to fine tune your aims.
I haven't played much PvP, but I found it enjoyable from what I have tried. Standard TDM with capturing of citizens to score points is the most fun I had on the Vita next to Killzone: Liberation in terms of multiplayer, but it wasn't what sold me on the title. The 4 player co-op is definitely the bread and butter of the game, and the most satisfying. While you do need to unlock missions in the singleplayer campaign beforehand, it isn't that big of a pain. I found myself mostly jumping online and helping other, and in return lowered my sentence a few thousand years as well as a few new weapons. Not a bad trade off.
Now I don't normally listen to the in game music while I play (I normally chat through the Party app), but from what I did hear was some epic battle music for the Abductors. I have a track here for your listening pleasure:
Not too shabby in my opinion. While it doesn't have any tracks to write home about, it isn't bad for keeping in low volumes while you mash your Circle button. The soundtrack has some great music on it, and you should give it a listen to, but nothing that jumps out as much as Monster Hunter in my opinion.
Now this aspect of the game is, in my opinion, one of the best parts. Not only can you decrease your sentence by completing missions or donating items to your Panopticon, but you can increase it. Run for too long? 20 years. Want that rare gun? 80 years. Ignore a question from a citizen? Yep, add some years onto your sentence brother! The amount of thought they put into the mechanic is genius and aggravating, that it had me laughing and yelling "WTF?" at my Vita. Now these restrictions aren't permanent, as you can unlock abilities with each CODE level such as; sleep lying down, run for more than 5 seconds, or my favorite, talk to a Sinner of another gender. These entitlements get absurd later on, but still a good reminder that you are indeed a prisoner. One of my friends became so furious the first few times that he put the game down for three days, only to shrug it off and continue on. It is a bit of a stretch for some gamers, as they find it a way to be "cheated" in the game, but it is a brilliant tactic for immersion.
Buy it. I can't stress this enough. If you enjoyed Monster Hunter, God Eater, or any other title in the same genre, I think it is a perfect title for your Vita. The online component, as well as the addition of Special Operations that you can download for more of a challenge is something that will be good for quick bursts at work, or long sessions at home. I have put about 35 hours into the game and still enjoy it before I go to bed at night. If you are hesitant about purchasing it, you should at least look up videos for it on YouTube, and watch the insanity in some of the battles.
If it isn't your cup of tea, then you always have Tales of Hearts R, which releases this week.