And with that, I was sentenced to hard labor. Turns out awful puns that are so bad they should be considered a crime are now actually considered a crime. Who knew? I was also charged with laughing like an idiot. When you start up Freedom Wars, you too get sentenced to a million years in the slammer! Hooray! Turns out that it’s not as bad as it sounds. Trust me. If I lie, they’re going to throw me into solitary.
So you’ve lost your memory and gotten slapped with a million-year sentence as a result. Do you think “that’s unfair?” Your memory is the property of the Panopticon, the dystopian megalopolis/super-max prison that you call home. When you lost your memory, you squandered an invaluable resource, and in the extremely lean times of the distant future nothing can stand to be wasted, so it’s off to jail with you. If it makes you feel any better, being born is also an agonizing drain on the Panopticon’s resources, so all newborns are slapped with a million years as well! Freedom Wars is the feel-good story of the decade, in other words. Time to sit and wait until you make parole. Maybe you’ll get a couple years off for good behavior, huh?
Well, maybe there’s another way, assuming you want to taste freedom sometime before the heat death of the universe. Your Panopticon isn’t the only one out there, after all, and the others are just as hungry for resources as your own. Since skilled workers are an irreplaceable human resource, they’re a prime target for capture…and how does that capture go about, you ask? Well, rival Panopticons send in Abductors, horrific skeletal death machines designed to snatch citizens up and run off with them so they can be put to work elsewhere. If you want to cut that million-year sentence down, you need to get out there and stop them in a series of “voluntary contribution operations” that allow you to prove your worth to the Panopticon and trim the years off. I said they snatch “citizens” and that’s true; but you’re not a citizen, you’re just a worthless Sinner, and the Abductors won’t hesitate to stomp you flat.
Since, uh, pretty much everyone is in jail in the future on account of that “being born is a crime” thing, you can earn your way up to a little more freedom than the average contemporary jailbird. Early on you’re kept under strict lock and key – even walking around too much in your cell is just asking for a sentence extension – but you’re rapidly offered more and more responsibility as you participate in contribution operations. One of your privileges is the right to arm yourself with a Thorn, an energy-based grappling hook, and a variety of projectile and melee weapons. This is how you’re going to stop the Abductors and rival Sinners from doing your Panopticon wrong.
You’ve got a vast selection of weaponry to choose from, ranging from short blades to heavy clubs to rocket launchers. These differ pretty significantly; a heavy melee weapon does significantly more damage than something lighter, but is much slower to swing and can’t be used quite as effectively when it comes to dismembering the Abductors. Because you can totally do that, you see. The best way to deal with these three-story-high menaces is to use your Thorn to grapple up onto them and bust out your melee weapon or a portable chainsaw and start hacking those weapons and limbs off. In terms of gameplay, grappling feels very much like the Lost Planet series, and once you get the hang of it you can get around and on top of foes with grace and speed. The battlefield is usually strewn with chunks of Abductor that were hacked off after any given large-scale engagement. It’s pretty impressive.
While Freedom Wars lacks the variety of armor options found in many other hunting-style games like Monster Hunter, it does allow you to heavily customize your weapons. Like most hunting-action games you’ll craft your gear and consumables using resources you find from defeated foes and gathering points in the field. One quirk that opinions were divided on in my group is that the stats of any given weapon are randomized within a range for that weapon type; in other words, one Aftershadow great katana might be strictly better than another, similar to the systems found in the Pokemon games. What this means is that you’ll need to sift through copies of the same weapon in search of the “best” option in order to achieve peak performance.
While I thought this was a cute idea that would add to the longevity of the game in the same vein as Diablo, especially combined with the many customizable modifications you can add to your armaments, others thought it would lead to pointless grinding. To each their own on this, in other words. It also merits mention that crafting uses a system similar to some casual games where you have to wait real time for projects to finish before you can claim the results, but you’re able to use citizens you’ve rescued from Abductors to drastically speed this process up so it’s not a huge issue.
Along with your weapons you’re also able to customize your Thorn, selecting from a model offering offensive, healing and shielding abilities, as well as design and customize your Accessory, which is basically an automated android warden that accompanies you throughout the game. Your Accessory is a key part of your battle strategy since it’s designed to watch your back and revive you as necessary. Other NPCs and their own Accessories are generally too focused on themselves to worry about you, so while they’ll help if it’s convenient it’s not something to count on. Be careful with your Accessory, though. If it’s taken down in combat and you neglect to revive it for long enough, it’s entirely possible that an Abductor will steal it and run off. You’ll then need to mount a rescue operation to get it back while you’re stuck with a crappy spare Accessory. Better to keep them close and safe.
Freedom Wars boasts a campaign that lasts for over fifteen hours and you’ll need to play through it to unlock more missions and gear. The story is pretty standard anime-style stuff and I didn’t feel like it really capitalized on the unique and intriguing world that’s been built around the game until toward the end. Fortunately, any missions you complete in the online cooperative mode can be skipped in single-player, allowing you to essentially play the entire game with friends. Like with any hunting-action game this is absolutely the way to go. Teaming up to drag an Abductor down to earth or coordinating strategies with friends is an absolute blast. There are also PVP modes available; they end up feeling like a multiplayer, portable Lost Planet due to the extreme bias toward gunplay and Thorn-based quick movement when you’re fighting against other Sinners.
Visually, Freedom Wars is a treat. The Abductor designs are the highlight of the game’s visual style; since they’re technically mechanical creations, they boast an industrialized sci-fi look that stands out in the genre. Interestingly, the game focuses heavily on the use of a pair of “All-Purpose” Abductors which you fight multiple times and are kitted out with a variety of different weapons and protective equipment each time. Some might find this repetitive, but I thought it was an interesting way of mixing things up by sending in different versions of the same “mini-boss.” Naturally, there’s also some unique Abductor models such as the winged lion Ramosa and the mechanical spider Paradoxa. These are the game’s “bosses” and make for a memorable battle each time you go up against them, just like you’d expect from a hunting-action game. It also needs to be said that Freedom Wars’ electronic soundtrack is one of the best to come from a game period. This is good stuff.
Freedom Wars is a fantastic value with loads of content and one of the best battle systems in the genre thanks to the high degree of mobility offered to players. While the setting is fascinating, the story is a bit of a drag but you’re given carte blanche to skip the majority of it, so these elements aren’t nearly as bad as they sound. Vita owners and Monster Hunter fans are bound to love chopping years off their sentences and limbs off of Abductors. Just don’t steal the game. You’ll regret it in a few thousand years. Trust me.