Outside In: Freedom Wars User Reviews Edition

In which we try to broaden our horizons beyond Famitsu.

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Outside In is a new feature we’re experimenting with here on Gematsu. Rather than focus so much on breaking news in the Japanese industry as is the main focus for the rest of the site, Outside In is an attempt to provide a little insight into the critical reception that major releases get over there. Sure, there are Famitsu reviews, which we cover every week, but a small paragraph with a number attached to it a nuanced critique doesn’t make and that’s before you get into the long history of conflict of interest issues associated with the magazine between its reviews and the developers and publishers behind the games themselves. Put simply, Famitsu is not the collective sum of Japanese reception towards any given game by itself and I feel that outsiders’ understandings of Japanese player tastes and habits are woefully lacking in many instances.

This feature, then, is my way of trying to rectify those issues and shed some light on how some of the people who actually buy and play games in Japan view them. To do that, I’ll be turning to sources such as Amazon Japan user reviews, where games are given a much more democratic shake, and attempt to piece together the general concensus about a given game, as well as the salient good and bad points that are being floated about them. As with reviews in general, my findings shouldn’t be taken as gospel for how all of Japan views a given game, but hopefully it still provides some new insight into things, especially for games with pending localizations. While today’s post is for a game that’s a few months old at this point, Outside In is set to run more or less every weekday this week as a trial run while I hash out how to best format this feature, with more recent games therefore mostly appearing later in the week. After that, new installments will appear as notable games make it to market.

As always, feel free to leave feedback of any sort in the comments, especially in terms of what you like and feel are lacking with this article, as well what games you’d like to see covered in future posts! I have a pretty solid list of what will likely make the cut this week, but if there’s demand for something I haven’t thought of yet, I’ll definitely hear it out!

With that said, let’s get to work and take a look-see at how people have taken to Freedom Wars in Japan in this inaugural post!

Freedom Wars

Freedom Wars (Screenshots)
PS Vita
Developed by Shift and Dimps, published by Sony Computer Entertainment
Released in Japan June 26, 2014

Review Scores

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Famitsu Score: 35/40 (8/9/9/9)
Average Amazon User Review Score (as of August 18, 2014): 2.5/5 stars, 638 reviews total
Amazon Review Score Breakdown:

  • 5 Stars: 67 reviews
  • 4 Stars: 95 reviews
  • 3 Stars: 89 reviews
  • 2 Stars: 149 reviews
  • 1 Star: 238 reviews

It’s bound to be at least somewhat of a semi-recurring phenomenon in this article series, but suffice is to say that opinions on Freedom Wars are pretty thoroughly divided, with the majority of user reviews giving it a low score and the average score overall not being particularly flattering. Indeed, this is one of those games where even the reviews that speak highly of the game tend to list what are arguably pretty damning demerits for a game of its genre. Reception has improved a little here and there in the wake of patches that have been pushed out in the wake of the game’s release, but Japanese players are otherwise largely cool towards the game.

The big negatives that tend to be lodged at Freedom Wars relate to its difficulty curve and overall balancing. Different players have trouble at different points in the game, with some players reportedly feeling stressed even at the very start of the game, but the concensus points to missions at the end of the game being especially problematic. The most highly-rated negative reviewer, Kouhiko, specifically calls out things such as one-hit kill moves from enemies off screen and major enemies being disproportionately weak in comparison to absurdly strong normal enemies as being big problems during the last parts of the story mode, among other things. Kouhiko, a self-described FPS and TPS fan, also writes about having trouble grappling with the controls initially, as the right hand is often switching between aiming with the right stick and doing auxiliary actions with the face buttons such as evasive moves. These issues are further compounded with some obtuse button combinations like X and Triangle that are used to perform actions. Beyond that, multiple reviewers also note general pacing issues and ambiguity in terms of the nuances of certain systems, especially with respect to advanced combat moves and weapon upgrading. In terms of weapons specifically, much ado has also been made over the grinding that has to be done to gather the materials necessary to strengthen them.

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Not all is necessary lost with Freedom Wars, though. Reviewers did generally derive enjoyment out of at least some aspects of the combat, which, despite having resemblances to games like Monster Hunter, is said to feel like its own thing thanks to the shooting mechanics. The thorn powers are routinely highlighted in reviews as bringing some appreciated diversity and verticality to how fighting in the game can be approached and the ability to cut off specific parts of an enemy is said to be satisfying. Meanwhile, the narrative, while not universally liked, does have its fans, with those enjoying it finding its setting and tone to be distinctive and engrossing. Artistically, the visuals are routinely praised as being good for the platform and the music is mentioned by multiple people as being effective in keeping them engaged with the game.

To paraphrase a sentiment echoed by many reviewers on Amazon Japan, overall, Freedom Wars is thought by a lot of people to be a game that could have used more development time. Although patches have come out since the game’s release that have added some features here and there and changed up some variables, many of the problems are believed to be too fundamental to be solved through them alone. When there’s a gap in releases between a Japanese version and an international one for a game, it’s normal for developers to take feedback from their native territory into consideration and make those more nitty gritty changes to the game before releasing it overseas. With Freedom Wars currently lacking a release date for other territories, it’s possible that the development team is working on implementing major revisions in additional to implementing localizations in general, but obviously at this point that can’t be said for certain. As the numbers indicate, Freedom Wars isn’t without its fans out in Japan, but even some of those people don’t find it to be everything the marketing cracked it up to be.

That’s all for today’s issue of Outside In! Come back tomorrow to take a look at how Japanese players received the much-anticipated Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth on the 3DS!

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