More than one way to skin a monster – Toukiden: The Age of Demons review

I’ve never understood the appeal of monster hunting. Generally I prefer my RPG’s with deep plots and rich characters rather than a focus on battles and collecting, which is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I found that I actually enjoyed playing Toukiden: The Age of Demons.

CharactersDeveloped by Omega Force and Tecmo Koei, Toukiden is the latest addition to a growing sub-genre of RPG’s that is loosely called “action-hunters” or, as it’s more commonly known, “games that are like Monster Hunter.” As with all action-hunter RPG’s, Toukiden centers on battling various monsters/demons in order to gain upgrades that enable you to defeat increasingly more powerful demons. Besides the thrill of taking down these massive beasts, the main draw comes from seeking out and collecting the items that drop from defeated enemies or are hidden across the battlefield. These items can either be sold or taken to the blacksmith, who will use them to craft increasingly effective weapons and armor.

 Toukiden’s gameplay is fast-paced and exciting, even though it’s admittedly mindless and repetitive. Fans of Omega Forces’ Dynasty Warriors series will feel right at home with Toukiden’s seemingly endless string of battles interspersed with vaguely connected storied cinemas.

The presentation is pleasant enough, with interesting character designs and music that isn’t too irritating. It looks good, though nobody would consider this an exceptional showcase in graphics or design. The environments feel flat and generally uninteresting, and there isn’t much difference from one stage to the next. Most of the attention seems to have gone into the monsters, which vary greatly and look impressively menacing.Monsters

There’s some nice use of the PS Vita’s touch screen, which can intuitively initiate attacks or enlarge the navigation map with the optional use of some customized rear touch-pad commands. The camera and targeting system are fidgety and it can become a source of annoyance during some of the more chaotic battles, but most of this can be cleared up through personal tweaks in the settings and through practice.

Unfortunately Toukiden isn’t being released on the PS3 or PS4, so the possibility of a Cross-Play/Save on a couch co-op doesn’t exist. It would have been fun to play a character at a friend’s house simply by accessing the save on the network. At least Omega Force  provides ad hoc and online multiplayer for up to four player team-ups, which is better than nothing. Team-ups are not only encouraged, but they also may be downright necessary in taking out the more difficult bosses. Fortunately, the online feature is readily available at all times, and team-ups are relatively easy to access.

Gameplay1Defeating one of these massive bosses is hugely satisfying. Toukiden uses an interesting battle system that requires you to systematically hack off the limbs of boss demons in order to expose their weak point underneath. If that challenge wasn’t enough, you also have to perform a meditative ritual over the severed limb – mid-battle – or else the limb will grow back and the demon will regenerate. It’s a grueling endurance challenge that may test your patience. Some of the more lengthy battles can easily take upwards of thirty minutes, but it all feels worth it once you defeat the demon and collect your booty.

Other interesting collectables include the Mitama ghosts that are randomly released from killing demons. The Mitama are the spirits of dead warriors who pledge to help you in your quest. Each of the over 200 Mitama has its own backstory and a unique set of upgradable spells and attributes that can be linked to slotted weapons. Proper use of the Mitama becomes absolutely essential in defeating larger enemies and knowing which spirit to equip before battle requires strategic planning.

buildCharacterThe best thing about Toukiden is its level of customization. There are seemingly endless combinations of play styles to upgrade and explore. You start by selecting the gender, look and name of your character, followed by the selection of your starter weapon. Each of the six different weapon types offers an entirely different attack pattern, from the powerful slashing of the sword, to the precision stabbing of the spear, or the long distance attacks of the bow.

Weapon selection and customization adds a good deal of variety to the battles while also opening up different strategy options. If the chain and sickle isn’t cutting it against the boss, then you can always switch to the knives or gauntlets between battles. While I would have preferred quick access to alternate weapons mid-battle (similar to how it’s handled Dynasty Warriors 7) simply having the option to change weapons rather than being stuck to a single class is still a welcome feature.

The high level of customization possibilities and the hook of finding rare items provides a solid replay incentive, but the gameplay and level design tends to be repetitive and boring. After the third or fourth time clearing out the same enemies in the same map on missions ranging from uninspired tasks like “clear out three red zones,” to “defeat two man-eaters,” it all starts to feel like you’re just going through the motions till the next big upgrade.CGI

To help spruce things up and motivate players, Omega Force and Tecmo Koei saw fit to provide a CG-enhanced storyline. It’s extremely basic, and anyone who’s played similar games like God Eater Burst or watched animes like Attack on Titan will probably be struck with déjà vu. You control the newest member of a warrior class of demon fighters called “Slayers.” Your first station of assignment is the frontline outpost in Utakata Village, which is constantly under attack by other worldly demons. Right off the bat, it’s evident that that your side is fighting a losing battle, and most of the villagers believe it’s just a matter of time before the town is overrun and the human race is destroyed. But that’s all about to change now that you’re here. Right?

Gameplay5It’s not the worst storyline I’ve ever experienced, and I appreciate the fact that there is one at all (something lacking in Monster Hunter), but it feels limited in scope and depth. Instead of being able to explore a vast world overrun by demons, you’re mostly limited to the same confined space of the village while outside representatives of that vast world are brought inside to visit you. And even though the characters are unique from each other, they rarely impact the story or exhibit any range of emotion. Anyone who’s played a Dynasty Warriors game will pretty much know what to expect. There’s a lot of talk and exciting looking things going on, but it never really connects to what you’re doing or carries any real weight.

GameplayPerhaps this lack of substance is why I’ve always been reluctant when approaching action-hunter RPG’s. Toukiden is more focused on the battles than the reasoning behind them. It’s a game style for those who like the hunter/gather system of Monster Hunter and the fast paced action of Dynasty Warriors. You’re not going to get sweeping, Final Fantasy epic storytelling or the colorful character expression found in the Tales series, but Toukiden still has a lot to offer and it’s good at what it does.

By seamlessly blending the action style of Dynasty Warriors with a battle/collection system similar to Monster Hunter, Toukiden offers a uniquely engaging RPG experience that's exciting enough for pick up and play sessions, yet expansive enough for countless hours of replay value.

Stefan started gaming the day his dad brought home a shiny, brand new commodore 64. He's been hooked ever since. Whether he's leveling up his ninja in Final Fantasy Tactics, cruising the streets of San Andreas or working on his Terran build order, videogames are never far from his mind. He is currently on the lookout for an appropriate 12 step program to address his electronic addiction.
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