America - Front
America - Back
By Signalstar 12th Mar 2014 | 4,137 views
Toukiden: The Age of Demons is a hunter game with a strong focus on co-op multiplayer. It's steeped in Japanese lore and uncompromisingly Japanese in everything from its presentation to its gameplay design. It is not the type of game that has wide appeal, but for the patient gamer accustomed to hacking and slashing with oversized swords it can be a real treat.
The game takes place in a world on the brink of destruction. War with malevolent monsters called Oni have pushed humanity to its breaking point. You join a group of warriors, known as slayers, dedicated to protecting one of the few remaining villages in the land. The village exists in constant fear from an Oni attack so you must go out on various missions to stop their advance and shift the tide of battle.
You create and customize your own slayer at the start. The creations options are limited from the start and don’t become much deeper as you progress through the game. However, through upgrading your armor to boost your defense you will inadvertently adorn your slayer with outlandish apparel that makes him or her look truly unique.
The controls are manageable but take some getting used to at first. Square and triangle are used for light and heavy attacks, respectively. X performs a dodge maneuver and circle unleashes a special attack. The two analog sticks are used for both movement and camera control. By defeating Oni you gain new abilities, in the form of souls belonging to fallen warriors, called Mitama. The left shoulder button locks on to an enemy while the right shoulder button brings up commands for your Mitama. Pressing select activates your special sight ability, allowing you to gauge an enemy’s health and spot hidden items on the battlefield. Combat is based on stringing together combos to overwhelm your enemies.
You have a number of different weapons to choose from including a sword, bow and arrow, and a ball and sickle. Choosing a different weapon drastically alters your style of play. Advancing in strength and progressing through the game is best accomplished by sticking by your first weapon of choice until you max out your compatibility with it. Returning later to experiment with the other equipment such as the gauntlets or staff adds incentive to keep playing after completing the main missions.
Taking down large Oni is a multi-step process. You have to target specific limbs and appendages until they are damaged enough to be lopped off from their host. Once you render the Oni nearly limbless you must continue your assault until the monster is finally vanquished. Small Oni and large Oni limbs must be absorbed by standing over them and holding the R button. This will grant you items and prevent the large Oni from reattaching their lost body parts. If you have enough energy stored, a perfectly timed strike - which is performed by pressing the triangle and circle buttons at the same time - will instantly cut off the targeted limb, saving you time and hundreds of smaller strikes. Executing this move is truly one of the most satisfying experiences I have had in a game in a while.
For most of the main missions you are accompanied by 1-3 AI controlled slayers. When you get the chance, it is nice to choose partners that complement your play style. The other slayers will attack on their own and provide aid such as healing and reviving downed companions. Charging into battle with other warriors at your side increases the epic scope of your undertaking. They also manage to mitigate the difficulty level to the point where you breeze through the later missions with little struggle. Subsequent tasks that you have to tackle solo feel more daunting in comparison.
Repetition is the game’s biggest drawback. The mission structure varies very little. The game tries to come up with different scenarios and reasons for what you are doing but basically all of the objectives boil down to defeating a certain amount of enemies within a time limit. The first encounter with each large Oni feels like a boss battle of sorts, but the sense of accomplishment from vanquishing these large foes is diminished when the game forces you to fight them again and again with little in the way of variation.
The environments feel very constrained and generally lack imagination. When dispatched on a mission, the levels are laid out as a series of partitioned areas divided by short load times. At times the map will highlight just which areas have to be cleared of a threat but at others you will have to roam around randomly until you stumble upon the objective. Unfortunately, through all of this the game does nothing to reward exploration. The story gives you the sense that there is a much larger world out there to discover, but you never get a chance to experience it. The lone village serves as the hub of your world. There you can purchase new items, fortify weapons and armor, and level up your Mitama.
The main story is comprised of 72 missions with extra chapters unlocked afterwards. There are over 200 Mitama to collect, which adds layers of strategy and incentive to keep playing. Toukiden features over 150 missions to complete in total. The main story took me around 20 hours to compete. You can earn extra money and items by completing quests for the villagers but these are merely fetch quests that require you to bring back items that you find littered throughout the battlefield, so they don't necessitate extra effort on your behalf . Another way to gather items is by sending your tenko, a furry and loyal fox-like creature, to gather items for you while you are out on a mission.
Toukiden’s multiplayer offerings are a big plus and surprisingly easy to use. You can hop online and tackle missions with strangers or friends in both public and private lobbies. All your skills, weapons, and experience carry over seamlessly between the main adventure and multiplayer. Some latency is to be expected but the for most part playing with others is a smooth, enjoyable experience that feels much more dynamic than playing with AI. The one downside is that communication is restricted to quick pre-set messages that are easier to ignore than to use. You can also play locally via an ad-hoc connection for a more intimate and smoother co-op experience.
Toukiden presents some moments of great visual beauty during combat but in other areas it is average at best. The animations of the larger creatures stand out for being detailed and imaginatively designed. You face off against menacing giant spiders, horrifying winged beasts, and many other unique creations, with gory dismemberment animations punctuate the battles exquisitely. FMV cutscenes are interspersed throughout the game to help relate important story events, but these feel inorganic and can be really distracting considering the lengths they go to in order to not show your silent and unseen custom character.
The dialogue is partially recorded in Japanese, accompanied by full English subtitles. Your character is a silent protagonist who says nothing throughout the game but in battle you can choose his or her battle cry. The musical score is grand and sweeping; a nice accompaniment to your heroics as a Slayer.
Gamers still decrying the lack of a Monster Hunter game on the Vita should know that Toukiden is much more satisfying and far less frustrating than the similar hunter-style PlayStation Vita exclusive, Soul Sacrifice. I just hope that moving forward the series expands its universe and allows for more player freedom. Toukiden shares more than a few similarities with Tecmo Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series. As with that series, the incessant hack, slash, repeat formula of Toukiden’s gameplay may turn off some players but I ended up enjoying it far more than I anticipated - it really grew on me and I keep finding new reasons to come back for more.