If you’ve been following the Monster Hunter series then you might already know that Monster Hunter Freedom Unite has been out in Japan for quite some time as Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G, which was reportedly the must-have game of last year.

Its success has prompted Capcom to release it to the rest of the world.

Monster Hunter’s origins are based in the hack & slash genre, and that’s evident in Unite. But it also has one big fat bloodied foot planted firmly in the RPG camp.

The actual hunting and killing of beasts, while essentially the name of the game, is almost an aside to the gathering, farming, crafting, talking, exploring, buying, selling and upskilling. Unite is certainly not a game for those with short attention spans, this is one you need to invest a lot of time in either solo or with friends to get the most out of.

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is essentially Monster Hunter Freedom 2 but with several brand new monsters and far more interesting and varied quests. If you have favourite characters saved from Freedom 2 then you can import them readily into Unite or alternatively use the character creation feature to make a new one.

The single player campaign is long and extremely difficult, in fact the world is so large and the monsters so fierce later in the game that I would hesitate to say that it’s almost impossible to beat solo, even utilising the available help. It will take you a day or two of constant game time to really feel like you’re getting somewhere in the game. You have the ability to hire, train and level up Felynes (catlike creatures) to fight alongside you. While they won’t do your dirty work for you, they do serve a purpose and can compliment your efforts with some solid attacks. As always, you can still use Felynes to cook you up special meals in your kitchen.

But as with the other games in the Monster Hunter series, Unite really hits its straps when played with other people. The multiplayer aspect has become so huge in Japan that there are gaming cafés dedicated to gatherings where Monster Hunters can join together and embark on group raids, not too dissimilar to Phantasy Star Online. It’s quite a satisfying feeling to embark on a quest with several others of varying skill levels, as unlike some MMORPG games, higher level characters can help out the lower ranked because the main element to success is the quality of your equipment. If you need a hand slaying a certain monster then get one of your levelled-up friends to dish out the damage. All members of the group receive the same amount of reward money, so it pays to work as a team whenever possible.

Graphically the game is decent enough, especially in the cut scenes and in battles with the larger monsters. It’s by no means up to God of War’s standards on the PSP, but where Unite shows its graphical flaws and collision problems doesn’t really matter or affect gameplay or the enjoyment of the game in any way. For example, you can walk straight through the carcasses of slain beasts before you harvest meat from them - there’s no collision detection whatsoever. But it just doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things.

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite is an enormous game for a handheld console. It’s a game where you will get well rewarded for putting a lot of effort in. It’s easily the best release so far in the Monster Hunter franchise and bodes well for the eventual release of Monster Hunter 3.