In Freedom Wars, you are a prisoner living in a dystopian future where simply existing is a crime worth a million-year sentence. The game is basically another mission-based multiplayer hunting game, a la Monster Hunter, but it's got enough originality going for it that it still managed to catch my heart despite some issues.
A lot of games want to have you as the protagonist saving the world. It's always about you taking part in something bigger than yourself, working for the greater good. But in Freedom Wars, the objective is very personal – you have a clear-cut goal of cutting down your million-year sentence and becoming free.
Yes, as far as the scenario goes, there is an evil plot and nefarious baddies doing bad things that you eventually must stop, but at the end of the day, after the mission is done, you're back in your confined little cell with a number over your head telling you just how many years you have left. That sort of personal objective managed to pull me into the game, made the plot secondary, and kept me wanting to play it.
Right off the bat, the game does a good job of selling the sentence. Taking more than 5 steps will earn you a penalty. Talking with someone you aren't supposed to will earn you a penalty. Lying down to rest will earn you a penalty. The game lets you know you're a prisoner and if you want your freedoms, you're going to have to serve and fight for them, and let me tell you, it was a relief when I earned enough contribution points to walk about freely. Of course, I couldn't run for more than 5 seconds without another penalty...
One thing that often frustrates me about action games is when there's no jump button. In Freedom Wars, there's no jump, but there is the Ibara, or "thorn" system. Thorns are these multi-purpose spiky vines wrapped around your hand that you can use like the hook-shot from Zelda to zoom about, or drag down enemies or latch on and cut off weapons or limbs off of bosses.
The thorn system can take a bit of getting used to, but once I got the hang of it, I didn't miss having a jump button at all.
One of the features of the game are the "Accessories" – support AI characters that help you in battle. Not only can you customize your and your Accessory's appearance, but you can also customize their dialog in battle. Depending on how you utilize this system, it can make things extremely fun. At present, I've made my Accessory into a tsundere character that will voice discontent towards my commands – but still carry them out – and will thank me in an embarrassed manner whenever I resurrect it. It actually makes the game even more entertaining on a whole different level.
At best, you could say Freedom Wars is ambitious in the implementation of ideas. At worst you could call it schizophrenic. The main game is the hunting missions, but the game also has some rather arbitrary RPG elements, like running from area to area in the rather large prison like an errand boy to move the campaign scenario along. However, this element is pretty much rendered pointless when you earn the right to fast-travel from place to place in the prison.
There are areas within the prison where you can enter for a limited amount of time to gather resources in a rather simplistic platforming mini-game, there are a few plot stages that are pretty much half-baked sneaking missions, and the weapon and item upgrade/development feature is something out of a free-to-play browser game. They're not necessarily bad features and are somewhat fun in their own way, but it does feel like a whole lot of ideas were crammed into the game, but not enough time was spent trimming off the fat.
While the thorn system is a decent addition to the action mix, in terms of the basic action, Freedom Wars falls short. The game's responsiveness is a little clunky, ally AI can be frustrating, minute aiming of guns can be a nightmare. Everything takes a little getting used to, which can be crippling for a game of the action genre.
Someone once said about making movies, "if you can't be good, be loud." With Freedom Wars, it's like someone said, "if you can't be good, be hard." The difficulty balance definitely still needs polish. I pretty much found myself breezing through the first two thirds of the game. And then I hit rank 6 and things turned for the worse as mission after mission was filled with wave after wave of enemies. At some of the higher ranks, the game pretty much goes for brute force and spamming to quite frustrating levels. One mission had me constantly dying because I kept getting surrounded by swarms of enemy prisoners who would keep repeatedly hitting me, killing me before I could do anything to respond.
The final mission is a 3-part mission with a last boss who pretty much spams you with enemy drones and wide-range attacks. It wouldn't be so bad if I could have saved at some point between the missions and just focused on the final battle, but no such luck. I had to go through the same tedious missions again and again to fight against a boss that would repeatedly slaughter the map, taking me back to square one.
Note: The developers have addressed the rather punishing difficulty and are planning an update to tweak some of the more problematic missions.
Put plainly, Freedom Wars has some great ideas, but needs refinement. However, even though I have problems with the action responsiveness and late-game difficulty, I still find the game rather engrossing. I've finished the story campaign, but still have over 930,000 years to work off of my sentence. Apparently there are a few people out there who have managed to earn their way to freedom, and whatever problems I have with the game, I still want to be one of them.
Freedom Wars was released for the PS Vita on June 26th, 2014 and is slated for release in North America sometime this year.
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