Freedom Wars Review – Unfinished Business (Vita Import)
With all the promise in the world and an exciting demo to lead the way, Freedom Wars was looking stellar. The end product is good, but leaves quite a few things unfinished.
No doubt this game’s strongest aspect is its battle system. Make no mistake, this is why you play Freedom Wars. Despite all the other crap I’ll describe later, let it be known that Freedom Wars packs fantastic, exhilarating combat. I disagree with reports that the game was too difficult; challenge is just about at the perfect level. The game could benefit from a re-balancing of human enemies (flamethrowers are broken as hell), but overall I loved the way it rewarded real strategy and proper use of tactics. There’s a difficulty spike midway through the game that will force players to take an honest self evaluation. Those who can’t figure out a good team setup and get the right equipment could be setting themselves up for heaven or hell.
Players take to the field alongside AI companions and a personal robotic assistant called an Accessory. In order to work towards freedom, characters in this game perform odd jobs for the people in power, most commonly involving the slaughter of giant monsters known as Abductors. Freedom Wars features a dragdown system that gave fights a great team feeling. One can shoot a fuggin’ Batman grappling hook (“Thorn” if you wanna use the less cool, real word) at an Abductor, then work to drag it down. If the Abductor can’t thwart the move in time, you and your buddies get an opening to wail on it.
I also loved the different dimensions brought to each battle by the different weapons, particularly the chainsaw. I’d use my grappling hook to launch up onto Abductors and cut off whatever parts of their arsenal were giving me the most crap. Laser beam killing my allies? Bye-bye, beam. Is his shield blocking your friends’ attacks? Slicey-slicey! You can actually shoot on up there Shadow of the Colossus-style and start cutting things off. If that sounds cool as shit, it’s because it is. Chainsaw. Win.
It would have been nice to have more medium enemies at times. Freedom Wars features giant Abductors that take great teamwork to kill, plus tiny enemies that die in only a hit or three, but no middle ground. Some enemies with medium resistance and/or size could have been great. Late in the game, the small enemies (mostly humans) take a huge ramp up in appearances and strength. They’re far better at sniping than any human could be and will take full advantage of their superior numbers. The players, not having much experience dealing with human enemies, could be left scratching their heads for a while.
Treasure hunters may be lured in by the prospect of crafting, but the system in Freedom Wars is inefficient at best, a migraine at worst. While its staff has gone to great lengths to distance Freedom Wars from “hunting” games, it’s inevitable that some gamers will have been through such games and will have experience with well-done, complete, rewarding crafting systems and will therefore be miffed by the silliness found here. The crafted weapons offer boosts, but require way too much time and tedium to track down the parts and wait, wait, wait for the factory to finish making them.
The AI with which fellow citizens help the player is commendable. I’ve seen online complaints by people who feel the opposite about ally AI, but I had no problems with it. (It could be that I understood the Japanese menu for ally commands whereas they didn’t, but that’s only a guess.) When in a pinch, they usually know to heal; when there’s a fighter down, someone will often revive him/her. When my character hit the hurt, my robot would usually run right to me for revival. If need be, the player can issue specific commands or blanket strategies to the squad. Online modes are not yet available for this game, and ad-hoc multiplayer could not be tested in this review, so I can’t speak for the difference.
Enemies also feature impressive AI. Throughout the game, large Abductors work hard to shake off humans who climb them, they’re very smart with their targeting, and seem to always pick appropriate attacks. When faced with only one nearby attacker, they won’t do big sweeping moves; with a huge group before them, they will. They also try to stay unpredictable by not falling into easy attack patterns very often. It really made fights all the more exciting.
Good as its regular combat is, Freedom Wars could have used fewer Defeat-x-Enemies missions and more of the other creative types…except stealth missions, which were a joke. Guards have no peripheral vision, can’t see up or down, and walk in nonsensical routes, making these missions painfully easy. They feel like a waste of time. It’s just one more thing that feels half-finished in Freedom Wars.
Many more interesting types of missions await, but they’re criminally underused. The main two missions types — defeating all enemies and rescuing civilians from giant Abductors — make up too big a portion of Freedom Wars‘s mission list. My favorite type, which featured a competitive civilian rescue effort against another team, only showed up like twice. There are missions where teams race to rescue a specific number of civilians, missions to take more ground from the other team, missions to direct and protect your team’s own Abductor from the other team, and missions to reach a certain point on the map. There were only a few taking ground missions and Abductor protection missions, which wasn’t nearly enough. Why create such a mode to only use it once or twice? Having plenty of combat missions is plenty understandable, given the strength of FW‘s combat, but why so few of these other, interesting mission types?
Players begin Freedom Wars in prison for the crime of birth. In a world so over-populated and low on resources, being born is illegal and punishable with absurd prison sentences. Faced with a million years in a cell, the player joins other characters to kill fight giant monsters, the killing of which can lighten the prison sentence. Many other prisoners have been taking part in this for a long time and will assist the protagonist along the way.
Director Takashi Tsukamoto and designer Toshiyuki Yasui deserve particular credit for using intentionally frustrating gameplay limitations to strengthen a narrative. Simple actions that any player would take can and will result in more years being tacked onto the end of the prison sentence. While it can be a pain in the butt to not be allowed to run, not be allowed to use “I” in a sentence, and so on, the process of working to purchase these quality of life upgrades goes a long way in helping drive home this game’s futuristic prisoner scenario.
But that feeling of rewarding progress dies within about 10 hours, after which time I hardly received a single fine. The system sounded so awesome at first. Take on missions to reduce your penalty, but watch out for violations, which can add time! Use money to buy personal liberties and make missions easier. At first it sounds like people have to be very careful about choosing which laws to break and when. If I break a law that adds 700 years to my sentence, that’s OK, so long as it enables me to complete a mission that knocks 1,200 years off, right? Sure.
And that’s how I played for the first 10 hours or so, when I was actually getting fined and penalized. Fines were an afterthought only a partway through the game, and worse, the sentence reduction actually has no impact on the story or…anything at all. Go on, reduce it to zero if you like. It has no impact on the game, apart from unlocking a few token throw-in rewards like a plant and a swimsuit — things that have no real impact on the game proper. You’re not actually fighting a “freedom war” at all; it’s like no one could actually think of an ending to this scenario. That’s not a story spoiler, because it’s not the story that takes away the expected reward. In fact, the story basically forgets all about your prison sentence after a time. It feels like the staff must have forgotten, too.
This becomes all the more evident when getting to the actual ending. It doesn’t reach a Lightning Returns caliber facepalm, but it brings enough stupid to go around. Even in a game that you aren’t really playing for the story, to have a story be this offensively horrible despite all the potential of the setting and atmosphere feels about as satisfying as getting hit by a Buick. There’s not even a bunch of post-story content to justify its suck level.
Though the story and its ending completely fail, the characters are enjoyable. They’re not particularly complex or deep, but their personalities mixed well and made the group seem believable as a whole. Responsible and empathetic Elfriede earns particular bonus points as a child character who actually adds to the cast rather than drag it down and annoy. NPC chatter is mostly the usual fluff, and keeping track of which NPCs will trade which items to you is more trouble than it’s worth.
Town wandering and exploration are other aspects that end differently than they begin. Perhaps justifiably, most of the prison wings just look the same. FW‘s base town is small and boring, but still has huge frame rate stutters and pop-ins.
Whether in town or battle, it was tough to find a perfect control scheme, and I would’ve preferred to customize my own. There are fives types of controls, so everyone will probably be able to find their own Least Bad Option, but I found all to have some kind of conflict, usually involving the same thumb being used to do too many things at once. For example, one scheme might expect your right thumb to simultaneously dash, fire, and rotate the camera. If five pre-made layouts could be offered, why then couldn’t players design a layout for themselves?
Nearly every aspect of Freedom Wars is at odds with itself. Battles are fantastic, yet the mission variety is poor, enemy variety and stage variety are very low, and the control schemes are odd. The atmosphere starts out amazing, but the story goes nowhere with it and slaps on a laughable ending. Players set out to drop that prison sentence and win their liberation, but the countdown is hardly even addressed and your prison sentence is actually meaningless. What felt like it would be half of the ultimate, underlying goal turns out to be nothing, and not with a story twist like “Haha! It’s a conspiracy!” or anything, just, meh, as if a developer forgot to finish that up. (Strange in a game called “Freedom Wars,” no?) Combat music is great, the rest is so-so. The prisoner situation holds promise, but FW only uses it for less than half its length. The graphics and art are lovely, but the main hub is bland and frame rate drops practically every time new enemies arrive and every time players enter the town’s main plaza. Weapon variety is good, but the crafting system is terrible.
For every thing Freedom Wars does right, there’s some part of it that feels incomplete or another aspect that interferes with how good it could have been. It’s overall a good game, but not a strong recommendation.
Review copy obtained via Play-Asia.com.
(Post-review notes for importers. Read the PSLS guide to importing here.)
I wouldn’t recommend this to beginners, as the story talks about complicated issues and uses obscure vocabulary that your textbooks definitely won’t have. All menus, most miscellaneous text, and all conversations are in pure Japanese, so expect a lot of things to go over your head if your comprehension level is low.
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