When you start a new game you want to explore and check out all your options, trying things out of the ordinary can yield rewards. In Freedom Wars you are punished for this curiosity and thats what makes it interesting. Set in a future where a world divided into cities known as Panopticons fight for scarce resources, you are a sinner charged with the crime of being a drain on your Panopticon’s supplies.
Freedom Wars is a Japanese action role playing game out now for the PlayStation Vita that begins with your character getting hurt in battle and losing all their memories. You have no recollection of the rules to be followed and nobody is going to tell you about them until you need to be punished for breaking them. For the crime of losing your memories you are given a one million year sentence which can be worked off by completing special operations given to you. Completing these operations can cut hundreds of years at a time from your sentence but breaking the rules can have them added back on. If you sleep lying down before you earn the right to, thats a crime, if you speak to someone of the opposite sex without the right to, thats a crime. When given the punishment of an extended sentence you can put your thumb on the Vita’s screen where the sentence has appeared to accept it, you cannot continue until you have accepted your punishment. An android known as your Accessory follows you at all times to monitor your behaviour.
This unique setting is what caught my interest to begin with, I haven’t played a game like this where you feel as though you’ve stepped into some bizarre world influenced by George Orwell’s 1984. A Big Brother style eye takes up an entire wall of your cell and you are constantly told that your purpose is to donate to the greater good of your Panopticon. All of what you’re doing shouldn’t be viewed as a punishment, you should want to contribute.
Its a shame then that these aspects of the setting and plot soon become ignored. The main story doesn’t involve your character trying to find out about their past or meeting anyone they once knew, the amnesia appears to be just there for a reason to give you a one million year prison sentence. This doesn’t really make sense either as all the other sinners around you happen to have roughly the same prison sentence which doesn’t add up since they weren’t punished for amnesia. The story doesn’t even involve you fighting for your freedom as the title suggests, I completed the main plot with over 800,000 years on my sentence. The sentence has very little to do with progressing the story and apparently even if you do work off your sentence you aren’t rewarded with freedom. The main plot is about a vague villain who is stronger than any other sinner and wants to bring the world to ruin for no good reason. When the credits rolled I was actually surprised at how abrupt and unresolved everything was, as if the story that had started to be written was just given up on which was disappointing. All dialogue within the game is in Japanese with English subtitles, to begin with I found it hard to pay attention to the text that appeared on screen in the middle of hectic battles but found I did get used to this.
Before you begin you first get to customise your character and your Accessory. There is a lot of variation here and when playing online with other players I never saw two characters that looked alike. You can choose their gender, skin tone, hair style as well as other features such as their build and eye shape. The more entitlements you get the more clothes and colours you have to choose from. You begin as a Code 1 Sinner and by completing operations you can work your way up to the top Code 8, gaining new entitlements along the way.
Weapons can also be customised, from their strengths to their colours and there is a wide variety to choose from. Its not so much fun customising the weapons though, collecting supplies from different operations and leaving them in a factory to manufacture takes a long time. The manufacturing happens in real time so you may have to wait twenty minutes after gathering your supplies in order for your weapon to be ready.
Your Accessory can carry one weapon into battle while you get the option of two, these can be guns or a variety of close range weapons like swords. Each sinner also gets a Thorn, the main weapon in Freedom Wars. It acts like a grappling hook, letting you latch on to enemies and walls swinging you quickly towards them. If you latch on to larger enemies you are able to pull on your Thorn to drag them to the ground and temporarily disable them during operations.
Operations are basically missions that can involve you fighting other sinners, rescuing citizens from your Panopticon or taking down Abductors. Abductors are the most entertaining enemies, they are massive, monster-like robots. You can latch onto them and begin to saw off parts of their body while other team members drag them to the ground with their thorns, attack from a safe distance with their guns or strike them head on with their short range weapons. The controls can be frustrating at times when it comes to the layout of the buttons, the camera and locking on to enemies. It wasn’t constant but at times the lock on system didn’t appear to be allowing me to lock on to parts of the Abductor while the camera left me unable to see what was happening on the battlefield. You can select a variety of control layouts but cannot map the actions to particular buttons yourself.
Most operations allow you to work with a team of AI characters or you can play them online with other players. To begin with I had no issues with my AI team until I started playing online and saw how well teams could really work. Operations are a lot more enjoyable when a real team is properly working together rather than just giving instructions for how everyone else should attack. If you complete an operation online that you haven’t yet finished in your solo play then you are given a pass that can be used to skip the operation when playing alone. This is very useful if you are having trouble with a particular operation as you can get help online. Freedom Wars encourages you to help other players which is another incentive to stay playing after you finish the operations yourself. When playing online and letting other players pick the mission I ended up facing one of the last bosses very early on and had a great time trying to take it down with my team.
This leads on to what I found an unusual design choice for the last bosses. There are a couple of them which you face one after another with no option to save so if you die playing solo then you have to start them again from the beginning. However if you have your pass from playing online you are allowed skip ones you have already defeated. Because of this I wonder why they added the extra level of difficulty for the solo mode just for the last boss when it can easily be avoided by playing online, which is where you’re likely to spend most of your time playing anyway.
If you were buying this game just to play offline I don’t think I could recommend it. You would miss out on half the fun of seeing other player’s character designs and mixing up the game by working as a team in some operations and then competing against other players in the versus operations. Online is where the game really shines. I saw many players online who were finished the main story and were still getting great enjoyment out of defeating abductors while collecting parts for better weapons and grinding away at their sentence.