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Freedom Wars Review—A Thorny Affair

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Freedom Wars is an action roleplaying game, developed by SCE Japan Studio exclusively for the PlayStation Vita. It’s pretty nice seeing some first-party love for the handheld. From what I understand, the game has been hyped quite a bit. Selling very well in Japan, it saw 80-100% of its initial shipment flying off the shelves in just the first week. But does Freedom Wars live up to its hype?

On first impression, Freedom Wars wowed me. The cut scenes and visuals are striking, and the particle effects that attacks make are cool and satisfying. The game is fully voice-acted in Japanese, which adds a lot more life and character to the experience. Throwing you right into the thick of battle from the very beginning is a nice touch, too. Similar games in this genre tend to have you killing small fry monsters before you work your way up to the big bads, which is a bit of an exhausting trope.

The protagonist lives in the year 102014. The Earth’s surface is unlivable, and the entire populace dwells in underground cities known as Panopticons. Each seperate Panopticon wages a war of necessity against the others, competing for resources, and kidnapping specialized citizenry from one another.

The story develops a kink right from the outset—your character is struck a heavy blow in battle, which results in them losing their memory.

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Unfortunately for you, your society’s draconian law system deems that losing your memory is a terrible crime, since you have lost all of the valuable knowledge contained in your noggin. Thusly, you’re given a one-million-year sentence, which must be worked off by contributing to society and supporting your Panopticon.

That’s the gist of the narrative for Freedom Wars, but it gets surprisingly deep. As you progress, you unravel more of the truth about the Earth’s dire situation. The story serves to drive the player forward, which is nice in a game type that is almost inherently grind-heavy. So, all in all, I have no complaints about the way the story is told.

The sound design is equally well-done, with satisfying gunshot assets, great voice acting, and a killer soundtrack. I found myself bobbing my head during loading screens, when that funky, bass-heavy tune kicks in. I also remember vocalizing a “Hell yeah!” when I got my first heavy rocket launcher, and my ears were treated to the blissful explosions that ensued. Kemmei Adachi, the composer, is mostly known for the soundtracks to Locoroco and Patapon, and he unquestionably proves his versatility in this title.

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Graphically, I have very few complaints about the game. The environments are colorful and well-designed. The texture work can be spotty in places, but mostly Freedom Wars looks crisp and stylish. The guns are awesome, the melee weapons are cool as hell, and the amount of customization you’re allowed with your main character is definitely the icing on the cake. I experienced a bit of framerate loss, mostly during navigation of the Warren, where, at times, my game would literally freeze up for a moment. Overall, however, Freedom Wars looks and feels smooth.

Now, let’s talk about the gameplay. I’ve had a lot of positive things to say thus far, so I’ll begin with what’s good about how Freedom Wars plays. You have a unique weapon you can utilize, which is referred to as your Thorn, of which there are three kinds—one focuses on pulling enemies down and trapping them, one focuses on healing, and one focused on shielding and general support. They all function as grappling hooks as well, adding some vertical action to the game. Additionally, you can use them to hook onto certain parts of larger enemies’ bodies, allowing you to saw off a missile launcher or shield generator they may have that’s giving you trouble. In typical fashion for games such as this, you can use the enemy parts you take off to upgrade and build weapons.

Another cool thing about the gameplay is the ability to set up custom loadouts for yourself and your robotic assistant. This ability to swap between weapon sets quickly between missions was pretty valuable to me, and I often found myself swapping between my Accessory’s weapons to make up for the deficiencies in my own. Also, teaming up with your allies to pull a large baddy off their feet is always satisfying, though I was regrettably unable to find an online lobby to test out the multiplayer as of this review.

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So, what sucks about Freedom Wars? Well, there’s unfortunately more to say to the game’s detriment than I’d like. For one, the controls are just bad. There are very abstruse button combos that the game expects you to pull off, the camera is hard to manipulate the way you would like, the lock-on feature seems to have a mind of its own … The list goes on. There were plenty of times where I was hit from off-screen, too, which wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t enemies with one-hit-kill moves.

The game suffers from a very hand-holdy tutorial, and a somewhat boring initial few hours. I’m not sure why a lot of Japanese titles have a tendency toward long-winded tutorial sessions, but it’s something that decidedly irritates me. Another annoyance, at least in my opinion, is the law-breaking system. At the beginning of the game, you aren’t permitted to do anything. Did you lie down to go to sleep? That’s against the law. Did you walk more than a few steps in your cell? That’s pacing, which is also illegal. You have to choose between spending your hard-earned entitlement points on better gear and facilities, or using them to get rid of the obnoxious restrictions the game places on mundane activities. I think it was trying to be cute and unique, but it’s frankly just aggravating.

Another issue is the difficulty. Later in the game, the big-ass monster bosses seem to be weaker than the normal enemies you encounter throughout the level. It also seems that the difficulty spikes all over the place, varying wildly from mission to mission, rather than following a satisfying upward slope. This is really jarring, and I imagine a player who’s new to the genre would be severely turned off by this.

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Unfortunately, Freedom Wars isn’t the Monster Hunter replacement I so desperately wanted it to be. It has its own merits over MH, but in the final evaluation it falls short with its obtuse controls, bad camera, and wonky difficulty spikes.

It is saved from complete mediocrity by great sound design, good graphics, and a surprisingly deep story. The fact that you can play with three of your buddies, either online via PSN or ad-hoc, is a nice touch, too. But even with hours of experience in the game, you’ll still be let down by the poor controls.

Freedom Wars was reviewed using a code provided by Sony Computer Entertainment America. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

Cody Long

About

I draw weenies for a living. Also, I write reviews and articles sometimes!