Monster Hunter Freedom 2

Twice The Freedom

Capcom is prepping the fastest million-selling Japanese PSP game for US shores. We go hands-on.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: April 13, 2007
Curious about just how popular the Monster Hunter franchise is in Japan? The first PSP game moved an impressive half million copies, but the sequel completely blew everyone's expectations away, shunting over 700,000 copies out the door in just a few days. A few later and the game was already at a million copies sold. To put that in perspective, it's the fastest-selling 3rd party portable release ever in Japan, the land where everyone owns 86 DSes and buys DS games like they cure cancer. Hell, it caused a spike in PSP system sales that were the best in over a year.

Here in the States, however, the series hasn't made nearly as big an impact. Not that it matters to Capcom, who will be wisely pushing the game across the Pacific to our little neck o' the woods later this year. At their Spring Gamer's Day event yesterday, we sat down with the title and took a couple of semi-drunken runs with three friends to go put the spank on a couple of monsters.

Though the game sports an absolutely stupid number of armor and weapon combinations (much of which is actually crafted by the player) -- there are something like 2,100-plus weapons and armor pieces -- we were spared the task of actually having to forage around for bits to start a-craftin'. Instead, we could choose from almost a dozen pre-built characters custom tailored to the different weapons in the game. There were bowmen, two-bladed lithe little assassins, a guy with a huge rocket launcher, some burly tanks with impossibly big swords hewn from what looked like dino jawbones, and, well, just about everything in-between.

Structured in the same way as the previous Monster Hunter games, everyone started off in a central village (this time around it's the snowy, picturesque Pokke) and then threaded out into the open to start kicking some ass. The controls were surprisingly adept. The L Button could be tapped to re-center the camera, but just using the d-pad would allow you to look around. R sprinted if you didn't have your weapons out or kicked off a super attack that quickly drained stamina and introduced new combos if you did, Triangle unsheathed the weapon (or, if you were on the run, turned into a lunging attack), Square let you use the currently equipped item (the full menu for which was available by holding L), X kicked off a dash and Circle attacked.

We know that sounds like a lot to take in, but without any instruction, we'd figured things out in a matter of seconds, despite not having played the first PSP game (again, not terribly popular here). The task at hand, then, was to weave through the various connected areas which now pre-load as you run through them for minimal load time once you sit through the agonizing initial load. With our first main quest prey in sight (in this case a huge dragon), we started unloading shots from our cannon, using the R Button to zip into a first-person mode.

It was anything but a passive, long-range sequence, however. While the tougher guys charged in and attacked with their melee weapons, we stood back and took our shots to whittle the big lizard down, but eventually it was catch on and charge us, which is where the X Button roll came in very handy indeed (doubly so for avoiding the brutal fireballs the dragon shot out). After nearly five minutes (our time limit for the quest), we finally felled the beast and went on to try something a little tougher: giant baboon-looking things.

This time, we wanted a scrapper, so after plugging through the 11 different enemy types, we finally settled on a dual-bladed female (we think) ass kicker. A nice little touch is that while waiting for other folks to finish their choices, you can actually see them switching in real-time. Handy for crafting a well-balanced party, no? After speeding toward our enemy a little faster than the first time around, we finally encountered our target at the bottom of a huuuge drop (we took the express and suffered no damage). After thumping on him as his little friends for a while, he actually took off and ran all the way up into the mountains a few sections of the map away. Though we tried valiantly to fell the beast, a handful of crippling attacks that left us slow and completely unable to use weapons or items eventually saw the whole party nearly wiped out... and then our 10 minute time limit was up. Fission Mailed...

These are but two of the more than 250 possible missions -- and better still Capcom has promised Infrastructure-enabled post-release downloadable content to push that number even higher. We didn't get the chance to dabble in the game's famed cooking or crafting sections at all, unfortunately, but the multiplayer was a nice touch. It's important to note that right now only Ad-Hoc multiplayer is an option, but Capcom is planning on rolling out "Hunting Parties," events designed to get MHF2 players together to bond while stabbing huge monkeys.

And here's the thing: it might just work. Playing with other people immediately gave us the feeling of a small-scale raid in an MMO, and when we weren't impressed by how smooth that experience was, we were geeking out on all the technical aspects of the (yes, like that level pre-caching stuff). In fact, it's safe to say that people may actually get together just to see some of the different areas in the game, as it's abso-freakin'-lutely gorgeous -- easily one of the best looking games on the PSP.

Bear in mind, too, that this was just a streamlined multiplayer demo. We still haven't experienced the single-player game (though, admittedly, it is all about the multiplayer), but if it's anywhere near as good in bigger doses as the stuff we spent time with, we might just see a million-seller on the PSP here in the US too.