Monster Hunter Freedom

It's no secret that the PSP is currently at the losing end of the handheld gaming war being waged in Japan. Every week there's new sales reports to debate upon, and new arguments to experience on your favorite videogame message board. But in spite of all of the poor sales reports coming out of the east, there's been one title with legs strong enough to buck the trend of lagging PSP software sales. That game is none other than Monster Hunter Portable - a beauty of a handheld title that's being released as Monster Hunter Freedom, for its stateside debut later this month.

Due to the underwhelming nature of the PSP's software sales in Japan, any game that's able to hang with the likes of some of Nintendo's bigger DS releases is sure to catch the attention of anyone with interests in the gaming industry. But attention from strong sales probably isn't the only reason that Capcom's latest may sound curiously familiar to you. If you can remember about a year and a half ago, a game by the name of Monster Hunter was released on the PS2 as well. Monster Hunter Freedom is a portable sequel of sorts to that game, and it looks to improve upon some of the flaws present in the home console version.

Those of you familiar with the PS2 adventures will feel right at home with Monster Hunter Freedom. For folks not in the know, the game is set up in the same vein as other action RPGs like Phantasy Star and Everquest. Players start out as a lowly villager who must venture out on various quests in order to boost armor ratings, find new equipment, and ultimately take down every monster daring to face the test of your mighty sword. In a release of this nature, customization is the name of the game, as you'll most likely learn during the initial character creation process.

As if the game's title didn't provide you with enough clues, the majority of game play revolves around hunting, what else? Monsters! Like practically every title that comes to Sony's handheld, control scheme questions are abundant due to button placement and/or lack of buttons. Actions that may have required a second analog stick in the past have been mapped intuitively to the portable's face buttons, and it appears to work well. Fortunately, Capcom has done a great job to ensure that the control scheme is suitable for the small screen, making weapon manipulation, navigating inventory, and managing health and stamina in the heat of battle, a relative breeze.

Multiplayer aspects are always integral pieces to action-RPGs of this type. In fact, the original game was more or less a pain in the butt without multiple members in your party. Sadly, Freedom retains no hint of the online play we oh-so-thoroughly enjoyed on the PS2, but a revamped single player mode more than makes up for the omission. In other words, no longer will quests seem next to impossible to tackle by your lonesome. Of course, like the majority of PSP titles out there, there's still support for 2-4 players via ad-hoc mode, which eases some of the sting stemming from the lack of online play.

In just a few short weeks, Monster Hunter Freedom will makes its way to US shores in all of its visual glory. If visuals alone were enough to warrant a purchase, then this title is without a doubt a first day grab. Thankfully, over 500,000 Japanese gamers have already given their stamp of approval, so obviously, there something much more satisfying about the title than just drooling over gorgeous graphics. Now that E3 is right around the corner, we look forward to providing you with additional hands-on impressions from the show room floor next week in Los Angeles.