Taking place 10,000 years into the future where people live in massive walled cities and force others to fight for them, Freedom Wars wastes no time painting a bleak picture. As one of the “Sinners” expected to fight for his or her “Panopticon,” you’re basically a slave with a 1,000,000 year sentence that he needs to work off in order to be free. Along the way they also became involved in a weird plan to start something called “The Great Awakening”. There’s wars between cities, governmental conspiracies, and copious amounts of ice cream also involved.
At the best of times Freedom Wars’ plot is just confusing, and at the worst it’s interrupting gameplay for long drawn out “go here then go there then go somewhere else” scenes. While each chapter (or Codes, as they’re called) of the game probably would take me about two hours if all I did was the missions, the sheer amount of conversation the game feels is necessary to drop after ever level could easily double that time. Worse, a lot of these conversations are about nothing. If you ever wanted to learn the favorite ice cream flavors of several of your allies, then that’s great and Freedom Wars’ story should be up your alley. The few times the plot does get going there’s not really much that could get me to care.
Freedom Wars is probably one of the better looking games on the Vita. There are times where the game could be easily mistaken for a PlayStation 3 title. The game also has some interesting art design with some really cool looking enemies, though the costumes are probably some of the easiest mocking material I’ve ever seen. One character wears three ties, another has permanently unbuttoned pants, while a third has zippers on her shirt that do nothing but expose her breasts. The game has a surprisingly catchy soundtrack that I enjoyed listening to, though I was disappointed to discover that all the voice acting is still in Japanese. I also couldn’t help but notice that all the tutorial screenshots are also still in Japanese, so the tutorial’s impact is noticeably lessened as I had to discover things myself.
The real meat of Freedom Wars comes from its gameplay. In Freedom Wars I had to set out on missions, the majority of which required bringing down large robotic enemies known as Abductors. In a really neat feature I was able to cut these Abductors apart piece by piece. Doing damage to various parts of them allowed me to knock out their weapons, defenses, bits of armor, and even do things like cut off their arms and heads. To assist me with this was the Thorn, a whip attached to each character that allowed them to scale heights or pull items over. I could also use it on abductors to latch onto specific parts to cut off, or pull them to the ground. The Thorn is a super valuable tool that really changed how I approached combat.
Yet as fun as the Thorn is, getting used to Freedom Wars’ controls did require some finger gymnastics. Each of the game’s control schemes has some weird quirks that make it strange to use. I had trouble with the default scheme as it maps shooting to square when I found it much better on the right shoulder button. But a shooting based scheme then put the thorn on triangle, and trying to aim a fully changed thorn (which required holding triangle and using both analogue sticks) was a nightmare. There’s no perfect scheme, and with how much Freedom Wars requires I would believe that the Vita simply doesn’t have enough buttons for the game. Yet I don’t as the game oddly chooses to not use the touchscreen for much and completely forgets about the rear touchpad. Things like switching weapons or items could easily have been done with the touch screen to free up the D-Pad. After a bit of time I was able to get used to the controls, but it doesn’t make them any less annoying sometimes.
The game tries to vary objectives and I can appreciate that. Most missions involve killing specific Abductors, but there was also a good amount that required me to save Citizens. Citizens were captured inside Abductors and I could either cut open their pods to break them out early, or kill the Abductor to release them. Then I simply had to get them to an escape point, protecting them from threats along the way. Sometimes I would have to fight other Sinners which was a nice change of pace as they would often use the same tactics I did. Throw in occasional missions that required me to capture points, an occasional stealth mission, and even a few neat ones where I had to escort a friendly Abductor and capture Citizens for myself. The game does enough to not feel incredibly repetitive, though I still recommend it in shorter bursts.
There’s quite a bit to do outside of missions as well. Like I mentioned before I could tear apart the Abductors, but I could also collect their pieces and use them to craft various items and weapons to use in battle. Crafting happens in real time, even when the Vita is off, so it’s a great thing to have going on in the background between sessions. I could also go around and talk to other members of my Panopticon to learn information or get rewards, and I could also enter the Cell Gardens to deal with mazes that have nice rewards in them.
When I got tired of playing alone Freedom Wars allowed me to get up to three friends to join me for missions. One thing I really appreciated is that the game never felt like it had to be played co-op, but the fact that it’s there was a great bonus. There was also a versus 4v4 mode, though I’ll admit I didn’t want to spend much time there as it required me to grind out some better items in the single player. Still, I appreciate the extra longevity that co-op and competitive multiplayer add to Freedom Wars.
Is Freedom Wars worth buying a Vita for? Eh. Is Freedom Wars worth owning if you already have a Vita? Totally. While it doesn’t hit everything right, that story is a mess and those controls need some adjusting to, Freedom Wars shows that the Vita has the ability to produce some fantastic games.