FREEDOM FROM SINS
Freedom Wars, the latest offering from Sony Computer Entertainment Japan (with the collaborative efforts of Japanese developers Shift and Dimps) stands out as one of the most highly anticipated Vita titles of the year. However, does it live up to expectations?
Freedom Wars has a fantastic premise, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world where the Earth’s resources have been largely depleted and the last bastions of humanity have formed totalitarian states (known as Panopticons) to wage war with each other over the remaining resources. Freedom Wars’ world is a brutal place and throughout the game, players are continually immersed in its world and its bleak reality. This is achieved through the entitlement system. Want to leave your prison cell? You must ‘request an exit permit.’ Want to lie down when you sleep? You must be ‘entitled’ to do just that. This immersion fleshes out Freedom Wars’ dystopian setting, where Sinners (Freedom Wars’ equivalent for prisoners) are deemed as disposable resources who are barely treated as human beings.
The game’s story revolves around our Sinner protagonist who, after suffering amnesia, must work off a lofty 1,000,000 year sentence as punishment for being deemed counter-productive to society. This sentence can only be worked off by serving the Panopticons and its free citizens by completing missions or donating resources and goods for what the government deems as ‘The Greater Good.’
While the premise sounds highly intriguing, the actual story itself is fairly underwhelming, as it fails to fully capitalize on the game’s setting. As players progress further in the storyline, the intrigue slowly vanishes as the story descends into a generic tale. This is compounded by the characters who are unfortunately not distinctly memorable and fall under generic anime stereotypes; if you played any JRPG, then don’t expect the cast of Freedom Wars to amaze you. As such, Freedom Wars’ exciting and interesting premise feels wasted due to its plain storyline.
Thankfully, it is in the gameplay where Freedom Wars shines for the most part.
Freedom Wars is focused around obtaining resources and materials used to acquire better gear and weapons upon the completion of missions. There is a fair variety of missions ranging from citizen rescues to escort missions, however, the missions themselves aren’t entirely original and unique. This also applies to the game’s handful of mission environments which is unfortunately lacking in diversity. As such, players will find themselves completing missions on the same maps multiple times. These missions can be played with either an AI controlled party or a party made up of other players.
However, players will derive most of their fun from the game’s excellent combat system and mechanics.
Battles are daunting and combat is viscerally fast-paced and frantic. For the most part, players will be battling giant mechanical-like monsters known as ‘Abductors.’These Abductors are difficult to take down as they can withstand a lot of punishment as well as dealing out devastating attacks of their own. This difficulty perfectly reflects Freedom Wars’ world in which every mission may be your last, and it is incredibly satisfying to survive these life or death battles. While combating Abductors is incredibly fun, it is unfortunate that fighting human opponents is just not as satisfying in comparison. It feels like the game’s combat mechanics were primarily designed for fighting Abductors seeing that they don’t translate well into Sinner vs Sinner combat.
In combat, players can switch between two weapons — ranged or melee — at any given time. From assault rifles to grenade launchers, players will find themselves carrying a large variety of options to choose from when attacking from a distance. This extends to the game’s melee weapons. Each weapons feels distinct, coming with its own set of special moves, strengths and weaknesses. In addition to these weapons, players are also able to equip and use support items ranging from first aid kits to stimulants as well as a good variety of different traps and explosives.
Freedom Wars’ combat revolves around three concepts: maneuverability, team coordination and constant adaptation to changes in battle.
All Sinners come equipped with a special tool known as ‘Thorns.’ These Thorns allows players to travel quickly across short distances,as well as latching onto surfaces and enemies. The thorns also come in three different classes, each one serving a different contributing role to the team. This gives the game’s combat a sense of verticality and speed where players feel that they must quickly maneuver and make full use of the environment to both dodge incoming enemy attacks as well as exploit opportunities to deliver devastating amounts of damage.
During combat, players are also able to issue commands to both their personal mechanical team mate overseer (known as Accessories) and their fellow Sinners. There is a good variety of orders to choose from and players will be able to customize these orders as they progress further in-game. Surprisingly, not only is the AI highly competent, easily holding their own against enemies in combat, but they are also very responsive to player commands. This really makes it feel that players are not fighting lone battles and encourages the use of the game’s command system which is easily accessible at the simple press of the Vita touch screen.
When fighting against Abductors, players are able to sever and destroy certain limbs and mechanical parts. This results in weakening the offensive capabilities of enemy Abductors; in turn, however, the enemy AI’s behavior reflectively changes and adapts to its new conditions. As such, Abductors feel smart, adapting and changing their attack patterns to reflect their current condition. This makes battles feel dynamic and enemies feel more challenging; thus, it becomes more satisfying to bring them down as you slowly tear them to pieces.
The customization in Freedom Wars is highly extensive. Besides the good variety of weapons available, players are also able to customize and modify these weapons, increasing both their stats as well as applying elemental effects to them. Customization isn’t just limited to weapons and equipment. Freedom Wars’ character customization is staggeringly deep with extensive options ranging from physical appearance to attire and equipment. As such it is thankfully relieving for players who want to return to the character creator to update or even fully change their character’s appearance. This gives players the ability to adaptively change their physical appearance to suit their new available customisation options and preferences. Although it is strangely unusual from a story context as the game’s characters don’t respond at all to your new look in any form or way.
While the game’s learning curve is significant, not only is the tutorial readily available upon returning to your prison cell, but the game’s excellent pacing is highly accommodating and eases players to new aspects of the game. However, as missions in-game become longer as the story progresses, the game’s portability is somewhat lost as it requires players to open up fairly long amounts of time to complete missions. Freedom Wars’ pacing also suffers from a fair amount of backtracking, but this is rectified by the game’s quick travel and notification systems.
The game also has a trading system, however, this aspect of the game is implemented poorly. Throughout the game players can engage in conversations with other NPCs unfortunately they constantly repeat the same dialogue. Players can trade with some of these NPCs, but the problem is that the game provides no information as to what players will receive for their goods. It is incredibly frustrating to travel around the entire Panopticon to find that one NPC who has the item you want because the game provides no way to direct you to them. This makes the trading system feel completely reliant on players remembering where they got their trade goods from amongst the game’s many NPCs.
In addition to the lengthy single-player campaign, Freedom Wars’ multiplayer extends beyond cooperative missions, featuring a PvP mode. However, as previously mentioned, the game’s combat mechanics don’t feel suited to Sinner vs Sinner combat.
Freedom Wars has some highly appealing visuals, featuring an anime inspired aesthetic which is crisp and detailed with very minor degradation during combat but this is mainly a result of the game’s frantic battles and solid frame rate which rarely dips. The game’s soundtrack is solid and diverse ranging from upbeat tracks to stark, deep bass. Unfortunately the game has no English dubbing, however, the Japanese voice-overs are done well and the game’s English subtitles are well- translated.
The Verdict: 8.0 out of 10
There is no doubt that Freedom Wars is an excellent game and a great action RPG. The combat is great and every fight feels challenging leading to plenty of satisfaction upon completing a successful mission. The game’s customization is extensive and provides players a large magnitude of options to tailor their character and the combat to suit their ideal playstyle. It is just unfortunate that the game’s interesting premise is held back by the game’s average story and that the combat doesn’t translate well when battling the game’s non-primary enemies.
Andrew Lee is an Associate Writer for MONG. Currently he is suffering frame-rate drops in the French Revolution. You can follow him on Facebook.