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.

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Cody Long


I draw degenerate smut for a living. Also, I write articles and reviews. You're not Alexander!

  1. Phelan
    October 28, 2014 at 4:49 am

    You bloody bastards! You are playing before me!?!
    (nah I’m fine with it… maybe bit sad that I have to wait for my another week…)

    I had to oder from UK and they are releasing game on Friday… so if they will send it first day… than maybe maybe I will get it soon after weekend :/

    I want to play!

  2. sanic
    October 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    I remember a dev telling people complaining about difficulty to get better at the game, at that point I knew I needed it.

  3. Some furf
    Some furf
    October 28, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I definitely can’t disagree with Japanese games going overboard on tutorials. I was playing Mind=0 recently and it felt the need to give me a detailed tutorial on how to use the item menu in a very ordinary RPG.

  4. nonscpo
    October 28, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Forget Monster Hunter what Id like to know is how does freedom wars compare to God Eater?

  5. Firion Hope
    Firion Hope
    October 28, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    Yeah I thought it was a nice fair review and nothing personal but I dislike every monster hunting game getting compared to Monster Hunter. It’s like needing every platformer to be compared to Mario

  6. chero666
    October 28, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    “Bad controls.” Is this just a case for the Vita, because I have plans of playing this on my PSTV.

  7. nonscpo
    October 28, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Well its just that this game should be compared with GE, since this game follows in GE footsteps more. Think about it: cell shaded animation, a greater emphasis on storyline, dystopian future setting, monsters that are hybrid mechanical, etc, etc; all of it just like God Eater!

  8. Cody Long
    Cody Long
    October 28, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    I can imagine it playing a little nicer on a dualshock 3 or 4. But there are some inherent control flaws, even with a nicer controller.

  9. Leon_Tekashi
    October 28, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    2 questions regarding this review:

    1. Have you played it with the patch or without it? The patch fixes up the difficulty a little.

    2. Have you been upgrading your gear and leveling up your team mates? Cooperation is the key to victory in this game after all.

  10. bf313
    October 29, 2014 at 12:06 am

    Only got a chance to play the very beginning of the game due to being very busy but $30 for a major first party Vita game like this was something I couldn’t pass up.

  11. Delcast
    October 29, 2014 at 9:45 am

    I played only for a few hours, but I agree 100%, this is a GODS EATER – like game, more than a Monster hunter game. You can swap from melee to Ranged attacks on the fly, the dodge, dash and combo mechanics feel almost identical, and the overall style just feels remarkably like Gods Eater burst.

    Like in gods eater, the controls are rather hard to get used to (theres a particular combination of buttons used for sidestepping that is ridiculous, requires you to hold X, be running, and press triangle without releasing X), I wish the game allowed for more control customization, but again, similar to GE, it only gives you specific variants… but I’m not too fussed tbh. I’m very much enjoying it.

  12. Tyrannikos
    October 31, 2014 at 4:17 am

    This was a game I was VERY much looking forward to, but I was forced to sell my Vita and games for rent money in July. I was heartbroken.

    I got to play a friend’s copy and now I feel relieved. Aesthetically, the game is interesting and the Thorn is awesome. I couldn’t stand the gameplay itself though and it’s for every reason listed in “The Bad” in this review. It just wasn’t a fun game.

  13. Fenrir007
    November 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    “exclusively for the PlayStation Vita” – Do they hate money or something? Gonna sell a whooping 1000 copies at most.

  14. 715
    November 7, 2014 at 6:42 am

    Form what I’ve hear Vita users buy a shit ton of games and Hunter games always sell well
    plus the new PS TV so you can not get a Vita

  15. Fenrir007
    November 7, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    The problem is that there aren’t many Vita users, so their mass purchasing ends up not helping that much.

    The Vita TV sounds interesting and I may get one, but only if it accepts standard memory cards. The proprietary pants-on-head-retarded mem cards Sony decided to go with are the reason I skipped on the Vita entirely and bought 2 3DSs instead.

  16. VirtualBoyColor
    November 21, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    I got this game shortly after getting a Vita, loking forward to some other stuff to play aside from SKSV. I must say I got quickly hooked with it.
    Your combat options greatly expand as you advance through each Code clearance, fortunately the game gives you some ways to quickly change your equipment according to the missions you take.

    Player customization is fairly decent, it seems that new clothing options are going to come through DLC. The OST is also very well made and nice to listen to.

    I indeed noticed the wonky spikes in difficulty for certain missions, this gets more notorious around Code 7 where your AI companions tend to not be very useful and the abductors focus their attacks on you most of the time. However if the missions get too frustrating because of this, you can make an online session and get some people to help you out (completing missions on MP gives you a certificate that lets you automatically mark the mission as “completed” in SP). So far I haven’t had any trouble finding people willing to cooperate and with a pretty stable connection.

    I must say I have little to no experience with MH so I can’t really compare the strengths and shortcomings of FW compared to it, however one of my friends plays both, and he affirms that FW is not by any means inferior to MH, mostly because of faster combat and the crafting options, and that FW seems to be more intuitive when farming items and materials for upgrading or modding weapons. So I’m not really sure if “not being MH” should really be a deterrent to play this.

    Shame it’s a Vita exclusive, but on the other side it’s worth looking forward to it if you already have one or if you plan to get it along with other games.