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The Monster Hunter series is monstrous in Japan and the far east. So monstrous in fact, that its enormous claws are stretching over to western shores as Capcom tries to make the PSP release every bit as desirable to us uneducated gamers. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on PlayStation Portable includes Monster Hunter Freedom 2 and it's titular expansion pack. And is, as I found out, very tough to love.
I remember wishing there were more mark hunts - where you track and kill a particular quarry - in Final Fantasy XII. I loved Final Fantasy XII, but certainly not for the plot or character development. It was non-existant. I loved it for the mark hunts. There was an absolute King's ransom in side quests and eclectic monsters to kill. It made all the grinding worthwhile and gave the entre world depth and character.
The best way to sum up Monster Hunter PSP is that it's essentially a game comprising purely of mark hunts. You play a warrior who was knocked from a snowy mountaintop on a particularly tough hunt, losing all consciousness. Waking up in a small village, you have no choice but to become their hunter and start from the bottom all over again, relearning your trade. You get given basic tools and armour and are pointed toward the training section, should you so wish to use it. Being thorough, I decided to give training a go - and nearly fell unconscious myself!
Training takes a veritable age to complete and is unquestionably boring. Training stages always are in games, though. I find them unequivocally boring and patronising. It grinds on and on and is tough to love, but a niggle inside your stomach urges you to carry on because you just know that every single tip you can pick up will probably turn out to be valuable somewhere later on in the game.
The game is mercilessly tough. Imagine yourself as a child growing up in the 50s with a hard-line father who has served in both wars.
Oh, how true that last statement turns out to be. The game is mercilessly tough. Imagine yourself as a child growing up in the 50s with a hard-line father who has served in both wars. He turns his back on you time and again in acts of tough love and gives you no acknowledgement. You learn how to do everything yourself and, only when you crawl to him on your hands and knees scratched and bleeding after attempting something beyond you, does he give you a pat on the head and a 'well done' - before turning his back again. You have to have patience with Monster Hunter and give it the same measures of respect - usually with the same scant and miserable rewards.
But it's only when you turn around and see how much you've grown since you were fledgling and green do you really appreciate the eFinal Fantasyort you put in. It really does recreate the feeling of being a hunter. It's the gaming equivalent of sitting over a mass of hay with two rocks, smashing them together in the hope of creating a spark so a fire can start. The first few marks are near impossible. But where Monster Hunter gives you pleasure is in the fact that it gives you the tools, and you have to learn how to use them.
In actual hunts, you're constantly outnumbered and the dreadful camera is always a hindrance. You can't lock on to enemies. Your attacks are sluggish and often miss. Button mapping is awful and you usually accidentally use an item you didn't want to, triggering a convoluted animation sequenced that you can't stop and making you a sitting duck to your prey.
Monster Hunter demands your time and respect, and once you placate it, you'll be rewarded with a massive game that you'll be proud to have tamed.
But get it right after the sixth try - swing your horn club around your head and land a killer blow onto the skull of some dinosaur - and you feel like king of the world. You realise that these deficiencies are all part of the game and are like weights tied around your ankles. A true warrior will overcome any obstacle and hurdle placed before him, which is why Monster Hunter gets so many kudos in its direction.
Once you master it, item combination and weapon forging, will fashion the perfect armour and gain respect as you traverse the plains do you find it impossible to put down. You become King of this virtual world and feel the power seep from your person. If you were this skilled and incredible in real life, no doubt you would just walk into someone else's house and batter them pulp as you simply take the contents of the fridge. Monster Hunter demands your time and respect, and once you placate it, you'll be rewarded with a massive game that you'll be proud to have tamed.
The grappling and swinging is a strong aspect of the game - but remains unexpanded throughout.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: