I haven’t had too much experience with the ‘hunter’ type of action games which pit the player against large monsters to kill in a certain amount of time. I dabbled briefly with Monster Hunter Freedom‘s PSP demo some years back and also enjoyed God(s) Eater Burst, but that’s about the extent of my involvement with such games. While twiddling my thumbs impatiently for news of a God Eater 2 Vita localization, I was gifted the game Freedom Wars by Francisco Fuentes for Christmas. I had some vague interest in the game beforehand, especially when I found out the God Eater team was involved in the production. But how does the game hold up in the end? Let’s take a look.
Freedom Wars was developed by SCE Japan Studio, who have produced a variety of PlayStation games over the years including Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Gravity Rush. The game was also co-developed by studio Dimps (who worked on the Sonic Advance and Dragon Ball Z Budokai games) and Shift (who worked on the God Eater franchise).
Freedom Wars takes place in a dystopian future where much of the world’s resources are extremely scarce and people live in underground city-states called Panopticons. Being born into a Panopticon in itself is considered a crime, and said “criminals” are known as Sinners. Sinners are slapped with a steep prison sentence, stripped of their rights and have their every action watched over by their Panopticon; however, Sinners can work off their prison sentence and gain certain rights by contributing in various ops against rival Panopticons. These missions primarily focus on reclaiming Citizens, individuals sought out for their skills in helping a Panopticon flourish, and destroying Abductors, massive mechanical creatures built by rival Panopticons for the purpose of kidnapping Citizens. To assist with ops, Sinners are assigned an Accessory, a customizable android that also doubles as a spy camera to report Sinners’ crimes back to the home Panopticon.
At the beginning of the game, the protagonist Sinner is taking part in a Citizen reclamation op that quickly goes awry, and ends with them getting punched square in the face by an Abductor. While unconscious, they end up in a strange netherworld and briefly meet with a blonde twin-tailed girl named Aries M., who speaks cryptically of events to come. The protagonist regains consciousness and recovers quickly from the attack, but find they have lost their memory and their Accessory was destroyed during the op. It turns out that losing one’s memory is an extremely serious crime, and the protagonist is immediately hit with a 1,000,000 year prison sentence and reduced to the lowest of the low Code 1 clearance, wherein they don’t even have the right to recline on the bed in their prison cell without getting in trouble. With a new Accessory at their side, the protagonist has no choice but to work their way back up by gradually getting their prison sentence down and continuing to contribute.
Freedom Wars has a very interesting mix of a dystopian sci-fi story with elements of a hunter-esque action game. By far, the most interesting mechanic the game offers is its Thorn mechanic. The Thorn is a sort of grappling hook attached to a Sinner’s left arm that resembles a sort of thorny vine, hence the name. The Thorn’s primary function is to provide maneuverability (think the 3D Maneuver Gear from Attack on Titan), allowing you to swing over walls, cling to Abductors to sever their parts, or grapple to smaller enemies to rush them down. Additionally the Thorn can be used to drag Abductors down to temporarily incapacitate them, instantly revive downed allies, or grab ammo/supply boxes from a distance. The Thorn also comes in three different flavors: a red binding Thorn that can trap abductors, a green healing Thorn that can heal multiple allies at once, and a white shield Thorn that can create a wall to defend against enemy fire. Combined with the game’s surprisingly wide variety of usable weaponry, Freedom Wars gives its players a good amount of free reign to be creative with fights and experiment to find what works with their playstyles.
Freedom Wars also touts a rather in-depth appearance customization feature. Not only can you tinker with the appearance of your Sinner, but their Accessory as well. You can even fine-tune details like the lengths and widths of individual limbs and even set specific colors for hair highlights as well as belts and chains on outfits. Want to make your Sinner a petite pastel-haired girl in a trench coat with a frumpy older gentleman Accessory decked in military fatigues? You can do that. Prefer to have a mysterious Sinner cloaked in a hood and motorcycle helmet accompanied by a sexy female Accessory donning a spy cat suit? Completely doable, with plenty of other options in between. While your Sinner is ultimately still a silent protagonist in the grand vein of the story, I was still pleased with the surprisingly flexible options available for customization.
Freedom Wars is definitely not a game without its faults, however. Probably the biggest issue I had with this game would be the A.I.-controlled characters who can accompany you on ops. Now, the game actually goes as far as giving certain characters distinctive behaviors based on their personalities. For example, your happy-go-lucky friend/rival Mattias has high initiative to heal and revive allies, strict Investigation captain Natalia likes to trap Abductors and drag them down, and the mysterious but sweet maiden Beatrice is quick to evacuate Citizens. Unfortunately, the A.I. seems to have stupidity issues that plague everybody regardless of their individual skills. Computer-controlled allies will attempt to melee-rush Abductors who are in the middle of stomping attacks, or stand right in front of Abductors that are warming up a sweeping laser attack that K.O.’s multiple characters at once. As the game progressed and the Abductors got more beefed up, I found myself getting more and more exasperated with the A.I., as their incompetence would frequently drag out missions needlessly and at times even make them harder.
The game also touts a weapon modding mechanic that is considered separate from standard weaponry upgrading. Weapon mods can add nice buffs to your arsenal, such as giving you increased clip size for your assault rifle or upping the critical hit rate for the polearm you frequent. The actual process of adding mods to weapons is an exceedingly frustrating process, however. You mod weapons by combining them with another weapon and a resource that you can obtain from destroying abductors. Mods from other weapons may carry over to your main weapon in the process, and the resource you use can also add specific mods as well. Unfortunately, things are still a heavy gamble; you could end up with a mod that ups your sword’s fire element damage, or you could end up with a debuff mod that actively decreases your sword’s damage altogether. There’s no surefire way to ensure you always end up with good, useful mods on a weapon outside of abusing the Vita’s data backups, which lead me to stop bothering at all with weapon modding after a certain point.
Pros: The game has an interesting story and general world-building concepts surrounding itself. The soundtrack is catchy and boasts some nice variety in battle themes. Appearance customization aspects offer a surprising amount of depth and fine-tuning. The available weaponry is nicely varied and encourages experimentation to find weapons attuned to your playstyle. The Thorn mechanics offer a really neat and creative layer to the overall gameplay. The game in general is really fun to co-op with people regardless of skill level and fills the void in my soul that desperately yearns for a God Eater 2 localization.
Cons: The main story capsizes on itself by the endgame and leaves a lot of things unresolved. The A.I. controlled characters are frustrating as hell to work with due to their idiotic behaviors, and at times will make certain later-end missions harder. Has random stealth/platforming segments for story purposes that feel arbitrary and out of place. The camera’s lock-on feature during combat is finicky. Weapon modding is an absolute pain in the ass due to the randomness aspect of it. The game’s difficulty noticeably spikes around the Code 6 missions, and the special ops missions effectively force you to work with people online due to their sheer difficulty.
Freedom Wars is published directly by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PS Vita. I have to give Freedom Wars a good deal of credit for being a pretty solid Vita game that isn’t a) a port of an existing game, b) an indie game already available on PC, or c) an overly otaku-centric RPG. While Freedom Wars has its own bothersome share of kinks to work out, I still found the game very enjoyable, and had a good deal of fun co-oping the game with friends online. If you’re looking for a solid Vita action title on the cheaper end, I highly recommend Freedom Wars.