Baby steps. Usually you get faster at playing a game, but with Monster Hunter Freedom 2 I’ve constantly been moving slower. You need to, or it kills you, time and time again. By the four-hour mark I was getting to grips with the somewhat cumbersome controls, but my enemies were just too tough. I was ready to give up. But veterans of the game instructed me to keep re-doing the lowest level hunts before moving on, at least making some better weapons and armor. Doing this, I realized what the game is all about. You can’t rush it. Baby steps.
In Monster Hunter Freedom 2 you’re a hunter-gatherer in an exotic fantasy land of considerable beauty. Your task is to hunt ever bigger monsters. You do this by acquiring better equipment – your character does not get better, only your gear and yourself do. There is no plot to speak of, you’re free to concentrate on your life as a hunter. Indeed, the game is almost simulationist in its approach. You need to keep yourself warm and fed, watch your stamina and sharpen your weapons while out on the hunt.
But really, the hunts are not the focus of the game. You need a passion for gathering resources. You’re going to fish, catch bugs, dig up plants, mine for ores, just generally dig holes in the ground and see what comes up – and of course carve your prey for bones, teeth, furs, organs and the like. By combining resources you can get more valuable stuff and by combining those, you can get new gear. It’s very complicated and something you either love or hate. You also have a farm and a kitchen (with cat staff!) to make you even more resources. Even the hunts are centered around the concept of gathering raw materials: if you want teeth, you need to strike your prey’s teeth. If you want the tail, go for the tail – in realtime. If you want a hard shell, you need a blunt weapon to crack it, and you can only carry one weapon at a time.
It took me several nights of frustration to realize how the game is supposed to be played, because you can easily progress to unbeatable hunts if you should wish to, and there are no real indicators to warn you to stay away. In this sense, too, the game is about really absorbing yourself into the hunter life and knowing you prey. You’re given a choice of weapons and I picked the largest one, with a huge damage factor compared to a basic blade. Bad mistake! You’re free to partake of the heavy weapons from the get-go, but they’re incredibly tough to use, leaving you wide open for a counter-attack once you’ve missed. You will miss, too, the large weapons requiring precise timing, a single attack taking many seconds to complete. Mark my words and just take the sword and shield to get started.
Now that I have a handle on how the game plays, I can see why it has such a following in Japan. I was initially turned off by the perceivedly high difficulty level, but that’s really a skewed perception. Taken slowly, the game becomes just deep, not difficult. Recommended, if you have the time and patience to learn it.