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Freedom Wars Review: Slave to the Grind
With PlayStation Vita sales becoming more and more of an afterthought for Sony these days, first-party support for the handheld has become frighteningly scarce. Vita owners have been clamoring for a new title to get excited about. With the release of the Slim model and Borderlands 2 in May, we were given a tiny ray of hope that the Vita’s place in the AAA game space may not be done just yet. That optimism didn’t last long, as Borderlands 2 was met with near-unanimous disappointment and the Slim model failed to give the Vita any kind of alarming sales spike. Thus begun the wait for Freedom Wars. Following the enormous sales in Japan, excitement grew for this quirky action RPG and Freedom Wars was tagged (albeit unfairly) with the label as being the Vita’s savior. Now that it’s here we must simply ask, “Is it?”
Freedom Wars is the post-apocalyptic tale of a prisoner with a heart of innocence. In the year 102014 (yes, you read that right) you take control of a young man or woman (your choice) who is serving a million-year sentence. To go along with this absolute bummer news, your character has also been reduced to what could only be described as military slavery. In this world, your character is imprisoned in an underground city known as a Panopticon. Depending on what Panopticon you choose to inhabit at the beginning of the game, you are thrust into battle against other Panopticons for the good of the state. The bad news: when you make your way up to the surface, you are met by enemies in the form of humans and giant monsters known as abductors. The good news: for every mission you finish successfully, a small portion of your million-year sentence is reduced.
Since its development we’ve heard a lot of buzzwords thrown around in relation to this game, none more so than Monster Hunter. The comparison is understandable being that it is an action RPG with high emphasis on grinding and customization, but it’s a little off base. In Monster Hunter there is always a proverbial carrot dangling in front of you in the form of an intimidating death-beast. The abductors do change in form while your strategy and approach are slightly altered, but they all lack the uniqueness that should be expected in a game like this. In Freedom Wars your inspiration to progress just isn’t the same as missions are presented to you in more of a cookie-cutter approach. The mission approach in this game is alarmingly uninspired and the mission variety is sorely lacking. That is a real problem for Freedom Wars, so much so that even within a few hours things start feeling very repetitive. For a campaign that took me around 30 hours to beat, this is absolutely unacceptable.
The story is presented stylishly from the beginning with a beautiful cut-scene. The amnesia storyline which follows is nothing new, but the prison sentence and civil war angle is a nice touch to set up a pretty cool world altogether. The game does well to use a bit of humor in creative ways by lengthening your sentence behind some pretty asinine reasoning. The story and characters do well to supplement the overall experience of your playthrough, but the text-heaviness is just awful. Once again we see ourselves playing a JRPG , waging war with the X button, stuck in a tornado of expositional nonsense and/or tutorial hell. The tutorial section of this game seems like a chapter in itself, and when a new concept is presented, you end up more confused than you were before.
I know I’ve spent most of this review picking this game apart so far, but that’s because these shortcomings take away from what an absolute gem this game is when it comes to actual gameplay. Fighting against abductors is absolutely exhilarating and working with your team, online or offline, is just plain fun. Don’t expect just because this game is on the Vita that the controls will be a nightmare, either. There is a learning curve, but after a bit your fingers start to fly around the Vita effortlessly and you’re an abductor-slaying badass in no time. Getting together just the right strategy as you proceed to slash and shoot away at your enemies is incredibly satisfying. The tension that builds while trying to disable an abductor is as exciting as it is terrifying. These are the shining moments of Freedom Wars that kept me coming back for more as I chugged my way through the story.
At the end of every mission you’re given loot which you can claim for your own inventory or sacrifice to the Panopticon in hopes of subtracting from your sentence. The whole looting and crafting system in this game is as convoluted as it is confusing. With a game so dead-set on forcing you to grind, crafting gear shouldn’t be as dependent on chance as it is, and it’s baffling to me that anyone in their right mind would think of that as a good idea. Also frustrating is the randomness of loot drops. At times it seems that farming trash mobs is just as easy, sometimes easier, than farming abductors for materials, and the incentive to better your character dwindles as the repetition becomes more and more apparent.
With all this said, Freedom Wars was an okay but bittersweet experience. You can finish the campaign once you minimize your sentence by 100,000 years and the endgame looks to be all but infinite for those who wish to embark on that journey. As the experience went on and the hours started to pile up, I found myself experiencing small moments of euphoric joy paired with far too many moments of needless aggravation. Crafting guns and receiving loot shouldn’t be as much of a chore as it is in a game like this. Seemingly every time I allowed myself to get immersed in the fun this game had to offer, it was broken up by some form of unnecessary monotony. There is definitely franchise potential within Freedom Wars. I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked or disappointed to see a sequel in hopes that the developers learn from their mistakes, and build upon what they did right. There’s a great game in here somewhere. I just wish they did a better job of allowing that greatness to take over.