Dystopian fiction is a genre that seems to do well in almost any form, from books to games, but very seldom does it take a turn for the extreme. Issues such as limited resources, class systems, severe punishments, constant monitoring and enslavement are touched in Freedom Wars, and offers you a glimpsse into a world that’s very similar to George Orwell’s 1984, a book that coined the term “Big Brother”. Can this action JRPG take the lead and make one epic sci-fi dystopian game, or will it crumble beneath its own potential?
I usually like to mention something nice about a game before I start with my critiquing, but I feel it’s necessary to mention this now so that you don’t get excited about the game from the start. Drum roll please, the entire game is in Japanese with English subtitles. If this is something that you can’t live with, then I suggest you click the review button on top of the page and read some of our other reviews. If you, like me, happen to be comfortable with reading subtitles (thank you, anime) then you should be fine.
It starts off with quite a bang, a massive and beautiful cut-scene comes into play giving you a brief understanding of the world you live in. You’re a sinner, a person that’s become a drain on society and managed to waste invaluable resources, who’s now expected to work for a Panopticon (fancy word for republic) to pay off your crime. Unfortunately, you commit one of the worst crimes imaginable: you lose your memory, meaning all the resources your Panopticon used on you were wasted. As penance, your sentence is reset and all privileges you once held are immediately removed from you. Now you have to work as a low-class Sinner, battling enemy Panopticons for vital resources and rescuing kidnapped citizens (who are also seen as resources).
From the get go you realise the severity of the situation you’re in. You can’t lie on your bed in your cell, you can’t pace more than five steps, you can’t sleep lying down, you can’t stand idle for too long, you can’t leave your cell and when you do, you can’t run around or speak to people – until you’ve earned the right to do so. Refusing to abide the law will result in an increase in your sentence – yip, it’s that rough. In order to reduce your sentence, you need to sign up to various missions in the world, where you’ll be tasked with rescuing citizens, destroying abductors or eliminating another Panopticon threat. If you’re successful, you’ll receive entitlement points, which you use to purchase items and the rights to do things, like pace and run around. Any materials you harvest in the field can be kept or given to the Panopticon to reduce your sentence and earn GPP points – a point system that ups your ranking in the MP leaderboard.
The crème dela crème of the game is the fighting. It’s fast-paced and loaded with action. You’re equipped with 2 weapons (a third if you pick one up in the mission), consumable items and a thorn. The thorn is like a whip that can be used to attach yourself to a wall, or to help you traverse through the terrain. You can also use it latch onto the giant robot abductors and use whatever melee weapon you have to sever their limbs. Aiming is sluggish and some melee moves are too slow to be efficient, but if you find a fast enough weapon, the battles will be a breeze. In most battles you get the option to take companions with you. Your team can consist of four people (including you) and their accessories, an android that acts as your leash.
The game is separated into two sections the battlefield, where most of the fighting happens, and in your Panopticon, where most of the story and interactions occur. The fighting itself is very simple. It all takes place on a specific map where you need to fulfill a specific objective. I find eliminating other Panopticon troops and rescuing citizens to be relatively easy and a break from the normal “kill all abductor missions”. In most cases, you’ll be pitted against these behemoth robotic enemies that take forever to kill. To give you an idea, each mission has a timer, and that timer is usually about 45 minutes. It shouldn’t take you the full time, but it will take about 10-15 minutes per battle and that’s mostly just you (and your team ) shooting and sawing the abductor. It truly feels like every abductor is a boss, even though there are specific bosses in the game. Not only can they take a beating, but they can dish it out as well. While it is mostly manageable in the early stages of the game, it gets so much tougher the closer you are to the end.
From start to end the game is visually appealing. The character designs are brilliant and not too “flashy” though there are some pointless features in some of the outfits. The main story becomes a little loco but you’ll enjoy the environment and the world more than you will in the story anyway. And if your eyes don’t fall for it, your ears will. The soundtrack is amazing – there’s not a massive variety of tracks, but what is on offer is great.
There are a few things that just didn’t do it for me. First off, the game doesn’t do a terrific job explaining everything in the world. A lot of it is touch and go with some guesswork. Secondly, when latching onto abductors with your thorn, the camera tends to move into the most ridiculous position, blocking what you can see. Third, when the abductors become more powerful, you tend to button mash and sever more than anything, so, depending on how often you play, you might get really bored with its repetitive nature. There’s also not a great variety of maps available, so you will notice quite a few similar buildings now and again.
There is an online portion in the game, but I haven’t been able to play much as there are not a whole lot of other players. The good news is, if you finish any mission online, and you haven’t tackled that level in your playthrough yet, you can automatically skip it when you do – nifty.
Japanese voice acting aside, Freedom Wars is a pretty solid action game. It’s fast paced, a little chaotic and entertaining. The lore and world you live in is so interesting that it’ll make you want to play more.