It may not sound like it, but Monster Hunter Freedom 2 is perfectly named. Like its title, the game is a hodgepodge of elements crammed together without a trace of grace, elegance, or even coherence. Half the game is hunting monsters. The other half is haplessly fiddling with a bazillion random craft items, ordering cats to cook barbeque, and dressing a pig. You'll never be at a loss for things to do, though you may be at a loss in general.
That is, unless you've played Monster Hunter Freedom or Monster Hunter G, which are basically the same game as Freedom 2. Like the previous PSP entry, the latest lacks a lock-on system, is afflicted with a terrible camera, and misses the Internet play that made Monster Hunter G so amenable. It also struggles under the weight of its content; the quests, rewards, weapons, and crafts are all out of sync, so you'll find yourself with a million items you don't need, and be forced to grind earlier quests for the few things that you do. It isn't all bad--the cooperative play returns, the environments look incredible, and there is a ton of content. But the overall game is unbelievably obtuse and frustrating.
At times, it gets so irritating it'll make you want to throw it off a cliff, which, fittingly, is how the game begins. Your character is in a snowy mountain pass, when a big dragon lunges down and triumphantly knocks him or her into oblivion. What a great start! You're rescued by suspiciously kind villagers, who nurse you back to health, train you, offer lots of advice, and even give you your own house. But there's nothing creepy going on, it's just a shabbily constructed excuse to get you hunting monsters, especially in light of the fact that falling is the one thing in the game that can never, ever hurt you.
Before you get kicked off the cliff, you make a lightly customized character (you decide on sex, hair color, and battle shouts). After the cliff, you wake up in your house. This contains a chest for item storage, a closet where you can change your hair, a bookshelf, and eventually a piglet you can dress. After checking out your new digs, you'll head into the village to meet people, who will politely direct you to the hunter training academy without so much as a word about your embarrassing defeat.
Hunter training, it turns out, is like a small version of the entire game. You run quests to learn the basics, as well as one for each weapon, and a few more on top of that. But in spite of the long list of training missions, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. The game throws 11 completely different weapons at you, as well as about a dozen different items, plus a phone book's worth of information on how to use it all.
Once you finish training, you return to the village with some cash, and the normal game begins. The basis is this: You select a quest, complete it in one of six fields, then come back and tend to your garden, talk to your cat chef, see about new weapons, and then start over. Selecting a quest is simple: There is a huge list broken into difficulty ratings. Once you've completed all the quests at a certain level you'll gain access to an urgent quest which, upon completing, will make the next level available to you.
Quests come in three types: gathering, hunting, and slaying. In gathering quests, you're after things like herbs, mushrooms, or hides that can be collected from the flora and fauna of a given environment. In hunting quests, you're after one particular beastie--typically the biggest, nastiest one in the area. Slaying quests, on the other hand, ask you to kill a large number of relatively weaker enemies. For the most part, slaying and gathering quests are no-brainers, but the hunting quests are a fanged horse of a different color.
The objectives of these quests are also the stars of the series, including huge, frilled dinosaurs that fly and spit fire, big-assed baboon scorpion monsters, and the tyrannosaurus tiger bat creature that knocks you off the cliff in the beginning. All are impressive chimeras with tons of hit points and devastating attacks, but most have one weakness in common--getting stabbed in the posterior. By constantly circling your foes and hacking away at their behinds, you can avoid their devastating attacks while causing plenty of damage.
This leads to some truly horrifying battles, as it can literally take you a half an hour of butt-stabbing a monster to finally kill it. You should know, though, that this stratagem doesn't universally apply to all weapons in the game. If you wield the gunbow, for instance, you'll mostly run around taking potshots for an hour until the beast is felled by the 6,000th bullet. Or if you go with the giant hammer, you'll deal stunning blows to the head, and then hammer away.