Genre: Role-Playing Game
Release Date: August 28, 2007
The Monster Hunter series is wildly successful in Japan, and now it's available to RPG fans everywhere. In Monster Hunter 2: Freedom, you're tasked with hunting the numerous monsters that thrive in the mountainous areas surrounding your village. Additionally, you can do some gathering, farming, mining and even fishing to help acquire new inventory items for creating weapons, armor and upgrades. If you haven't already surmised, Monster Hunter 2: Freedom is a game of considerable depth, which is surprisingly rare for a PSP title. Although learning how to play Monster Hunter 2: Freedom can be accomplished by jumping right into the game, you'll find that the learning curve will be significantly reduced if you read through the included reference manual prior to beginning your adventures.
After you superficially customize your monster hunter character (hair color, sex), s/he is quickly enrolled in the hunter training academy, which serves as a game tutorial and introduces you to lots of information, items and weapons. Once you finish training, you return to the village with a wad of cash, and the actual game begins. Your hunter selects a quest, completes it in one of six fields, comes back and tends to the garden, talks to your cat chef, see about new weapons and then start the entire process over again.
The Village is the central hub of activity in Monster Hunter 2. In it is your Home, the Hunter's Guild, the Training School and several stores where you can purchase, sell and upgrade inventory items. Home consists of your bedroom, which contains a storage chest (inventory storage), bed (game saving and exit) and bookcase (reference information and tips). Your abode is also the only place where you can change weapons and armor. While roaming the village, you'll meet several people with whom you can chat for information, items or trade.
Monster Hunter 2 includes some interesting and odd elements. Talking cats are prevalent in the village and are available for you to hire for culinary work (in shifts, if you hire more than one). This situation is not totally without purpose, as you can gain useful upgrades by sitting down and enjoying one of their better prepared meals. On another note, early on in the game, you can obtain a pig as a houseguest. Not only will this pig hang out in your bedroom, but you can also dress it up in a striped shirt. I have yet to figure out the true purpose of the pig.
It's often difficult to please a majority of gamers when it comes to inventory systems. Some players want simplified, bottomless inventories, while others want complex, restricted-sized inventories with increased complexity, like combining items to create new ones. Monster Hunter 2 definitely falls into this latter variety, as the game sports a remarkably detailed inventory system that requires a fair amount of maintenance in order to be reasonably functional.
Although most inventory items can be purchased outright, some desired items and upgrades will require you to maintain what seems to be an endless supply of component elements. There is some guidance when it comes to working out the formulas for the combination of inventory items (reference menu), but you'll find that a large amount of trial and error is involved in the process. Unfortunately, the process of handling this aspect of the inventory system is extremely tedious due to the fact that you can only combine items that you're carrying, which is limited to around 30. You'll find yourself shifting items back and forth between your storage chest and personal inventory quite frequently.
A significant amount of time will be spent in the Hunter's Guild building, where most quests are assigned and tabulated. There are well over 100 quests available in Monster Hunter 2, which is at least a 50 percent increase over the first title. Quests are classified by difficulty level, with advanced levels only being unlocked after successfully completing lesser ones. Quests generally fall into one of three categories: gathering, monster hunting or treasure hunting. After your initial training period, you'll climb up the ladder by completing quests offered by the village chief and the Hunter's Guild, with the latter variety requiring a contract fee to be paid by the hunter. In a multiplayer game, this contract fee is paid only by the lead hunter who accepted the quest.
You will always start your quest at your base camp, which is a good spot for making the necessary preparations, as you can remain safe from attack. The base camp includes a supply box, a delivery box and a bed in a tent; the bed has healing properties. You return items collected on gathering quests to the red delivery box located back at your base camp. All quest maps are laid out in zones, and when moving from zone to zone, you will be waiting momentarily for the next zone to load. The loading time gets to be a bit excessive when you're moving quickly through several zones to reach a distant destination. If you have collected the quest map from the quest supply chest, you'll have an HUD map outlining your location. Since some of the monsters will also move from zone to zone (especially if they're hurt from an attack), you can "tag" them with a paintball if you have any in your inventory and then they too can be tracked on your map. As you move around the zones, you'll find yourself doing some climbing — and falling — between several elevations. You won't have to worry too much about getting hurt by falling off of a mountain cliff because you'll always end up landing safely on your feet.
I found the combat system reasonably easy to work with, until I progressed further and the monsters started to conspire against me. In most games, it is generally not a problem to have to take on more than one monster at a time. However, in Monster Hunter 2, you have to spend at least half of your time in combat adjusting your camera controls just to see what's going on around you. While you are making camera adjustments and attacking a monster, you may have another one run up and start attacking your backside. I would be a bit more forgiving of this situation if it weren't for the fact that you cannot save your game during your quest. If you happen to get knocked unconscious by a monster, you'll be penalized and returned to your base camp. If you do not have inventory items to assist with quickly regaining your health, your health will slowly increase as long as you're not engaged in combat.
As an additional means of obtaining new inventory items for sale and combining, you can spend some time working on the village farm. Cleverly, the game does not allow you to circumvent completing quests by spending all of your time at the farm. Only after completing a quest will you be able to go to the farm and recover a limited quantity of items through farming, fishing, mining and bug collecting. The farm is upgradeable, which allows for an increase to the amount of items that you can collect during each cycle.
The environments in Monster Hunter 2 are quite impressive, from lakes with reflections to distant snow-covered mountain peaks and even treacherous ice caves. The environments include weather effects, such as snowstorms, which can dramatically affect your character's stamina. The imagery really helps to convince you of the harshness of the areas you must explore. This exceptional visual quality does, however, come at a price: All of your quest adventures will take place on a relatively small number of maps. Even on the PSP's large widescreen display, making out some of the detailed objects was a bit of a chore. On the auditory side, the background music and sound effects are appropriate for the in-game action, although they certainly don't match the quality level of the graphics.
Monster Hunter 2's multiplayer experience is certainly one of its strongest selling points. Multiplayer gameplay is available in Ad-Hoc mode for up to four players, with players working together to complete quests. It also has a downloading option that allows you to obtain new quests and other content from the developer, as long as you have wireless Internet connectivity.
Monster Hunter 2: Freedom is a remarkably detailed game with a level of depth that is usually reserved for full game consoles and PCs. If you can deal with the frustration of battling with the horrible camera control system and the often mind-numbing inventory management, Monster Hunter 2 has a lot to offer, especially to fans of role-playing adventures. If you have a group of friends, the multiplayer mode will provide countless hours of fun.
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