The PS Vita hosts a slew of third-person action games in its library, including Dynasty Warriors, Ragnarok Odyssey and Toukiden: The Age of Demons. But while Freedom Wars attempts to set itself apart through a sleek, dystopian design and a heavy concentration on story, that’s not necessarily what makes Freedom Wars a great Vita title — it is the sheer attention to quality found in its genre-standard content. It’s not trying to be innovative or genre-breaking, but instead succeeds at delivering an extremely entertaining experience that’s great for both newcomers and veterans of the “hack-and-slash” genre.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
Story is the main concentration in Freedom Wars, but its actual execution has a major issue: pacing. As you go through protracted stretches of dialogue that delays gameplay, effectively dragging out the experience and dulling long portions of the game, the game’s plot seems to get lost in the humdrum of prison life. Yet even though the game’s plot is lackluster, the premise behind it is simply entertaining in how it applies to the player. You are dropped into one of the many authoritative Panopticons and must perform various services for the state and its citizens. All of this is for the goal of accumulating points, reducing your sentence and earning your “entitlements” or rights. These rights that you purchase lead to some bizarre but interesting scenarios which add a lot of entertainment to how you play the game and approach its world. For example, when you start the game, you do not have the right to recline. At the end of day one, if you attempt to sleep, you are slapped with an increased prison sentence for lying down, which is ridiculous but oddly satisfying in its comical aspect. There are numerous incidents like this that require some tact in moseying around the Panopticon but the risk of error is well worth it.
The graphics of Freedom Wars, especially the pre-rendered cutscenes, are frankly impressive for a handheld system. At no point in my Panopticon adventure did I experience any drops in framerate or any graphical glitches. It’s sharp, it’s fluid and it really delivers an aesthetic console experience, in terms of performance, on the Vita platform. However, in terms of art style, the environments are a bit too sterile, even though it fits with the game’s setting. Gray, run-down cities and flat deserts are a few of the landscapes you’ll encounter, but they exemplify the bareness of game’s stages as a whole, the lack of anything that grabs the player’s attention as awe-inspiring (especially since you’ll running these stages over and over again). Other than that, the game’s technical abilities and oppressive soundtrack combine into an enjoyable aesthetic.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
In terms of gameplay, Freedom Wars is your standard third-person “hack-and-slash” title: the game throws you into a stage, you encounter enemies/bosses, you combo and maneuver them to death, rinse and repeat. Vanilla is key word to describe it when set against its peers, but Freedom Wars does have its fair share of pros and problems by comparison. First off, the problems. The control scheme needs more buttons to successfully deliver a fluid fight. Many of the controls, such as giving orders or even dashing, are awkward and unwieldy while also trying to dodge and dismantle an enemy. A lot of ambitious mechanics are thrown into the mix, but the Vita’s few physical buttons offers a poor platform. Secondly, the variety in mission types is alarmingly slim. Freedom Wars displays a healthy amount of content but the means by which to obtain it is limited; grinding is the name of the game and there will be only a handful of objectives repeated to accomplish that content completion. Rinse and repeat.
But despite those flaws, Freedom Wars also offers a nice set of mechanics and quirks that make the repetition a little more bearable. The thorn equipment, which virtually turns you into Spiderman, gives the game a great sense of height and vertical strategy. Seeing comrades catapult around large, bio-mechanical monsters and towering obelisks is amusing and keeps the individual skirmishes interesting to a degree. Speaking of team play, the co-operative based gameplay helps drive the entertaining battle system. The game brings a bit of tactical flexibility with its co-operative command mechanics that allows the player to spice up the battles. But at its core, Freedom Wars gameplay is a solid action example, which leads to some interesting scenarios and some entertaining encounters.
Now for the meat and potatoes of Freedom Wars — the RPG elements, particularly the amount of customization options. There’s an overwhelming amount of content to collect in the game, whether it’s a stylish outfit or a new gun or sword, and most of it is unique. Each new piece of equipment has a distinct look and stats (which can be crafted and upgraded through a wonderful factory management system) and really gives the player a goal to strive for through the game’s progression, especially since most of it is found/purchased through grinding. It’s the greatest asset the game has to offer and the amount of time and effort put into it shows.
Freedom Wars is an entertaining, third-person “hack-and-slash” RPG that stands tall upon a foundation of premise and RPG elements — unfortunately, that foundation holds up a tedious gameplay. The story has some straining pacing issues and most of the characters are one-dimensional archetypes, but the world of Panopticons and its interesting system of “entitlements” produces some intriguing and even comical results. On the battlefield, the thorn attachments add a nice level of verticality to each level and the fast-paced, AI (or Player) co-operative mechanics instill a sense of a visceral skirmish with each encounter. However, the limited number mission types and the importance of grinding drives Freedom Wars into a repetitive rut fairly quickly. The game’s strongest aspect though is the sheer amount of character customization; from aesthetic skins to equipment improvements, there’s a lot to collect and a lot to experiment with. I’d recommend this game to anyone who owns a Vita, RPG “hack-and-slash” fan or not. In its genre and on its platform, it stands above all others and is truly entertaining, gaming experience.
Final Score: 8 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood