Buy Toukiden: The Age of Demons: PS Vita
For more than a decade, if Omega Force was the developer of a game, chances are that you were playing a Warriors title, whether it was Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Warriors Orochi, or any of the licensed spin-offs. You were guaranteed an experience of a one-man army against a vast army of enemies. Even those loosely related — Bladestorm, Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage and One Piece: Pirate Warriors — followed a similar formula. It was a surprise, then, to see the developer go for a new IP with Toukiden: The Age of Demons, which follows the Monster Hunter formula instead of the tried-and-true Warriors recipe.
Eight years ago, a portal opened up in Japan that released hordes of Oni through the land. Their numbers grew, and despite the number of warriors sent in to fight the menace, the Oni was winning, decimating villages and driving humans closer to extinction. You play the role of a slayer fresh from the academy and sent to a village that is a major hotspot for Oni activity. With companions at your side, you hope to continue to hold the defenses and push back the Oni forces.
Any twists the story may deliver are predictable, and the narrative seems to drag for as long as possible before finally getting to a resolution. The setting presents a nice change of pace, but the inclusion of time travel feels unnecessary. The characters actually make it worthwhile. Almost every significant ally follows a trope, from the overprotective sister to the womanizer to the gruff man with a score to settle, but the personalities provide the only emotions in the tale. Anytime a character gets the spotlight, you'll want to check it out. It doesn't make the tale a masterpiece, but you'll appreciate the effort.
For those who haven't played Monster Hunter or its clones, you create a character, go to the command center, and select a mission. Depending on the mission, you can either go solo or take up to three allies with you, and the missions range from clearing Oni from areas, hunting for a specific number of smaller Oni, or tackling a larger Oni. Completing the mission nets you cash and items, which can be used to craft newer items or fulfill villager requests. Outside of combat, you reside in a village where you can ask the blacksmith to craft new items or fortify existing items. You can shop for items with the local merchant, and you can also go to the healing baths or donate money to wells to get stat buffs for your next mission.
The core of the game is similar to others in the genre, but the developers added a few flourishes, specifically in combat. Though you can't switch weapons while in combat, you can always select from six different weapon types that include a chain and sickle combination, a crossbow, dual knives, gauntlets, longswords and spears. As expected, each behaves differently in terms of damage and max distance of attack. To get any loot from enemies on the field, you must stand near them and hold down a button to transform them into items — a process called purification. Bosses also go through this process if you want to loot them, but you can also dismember them to get even more items. Dismemberment gives you a temporary advantage, since you can get in a number of free hits while they're down, but they regenerate the missing limb in ethereal form. Combined with their ever-changing attack patterns as they lose more limbs and the lack of an evident weak spot, boss fights are the most exciting part of the game.
Mitamas also give the combat some depth. The Mitama are the souls of fallen warriors who have been trapped inside of Oni. Representing famous historical Japanese warriors, the Mitama act as enhancers that you can attach to weapons. The passive benefits range from health boosts to increased attack or defense, and any Mitama you take into combat can be leveled up, much like a traditional RPG character. Mitama also give your character temporary abilities that can be activated in combat. All give you the ability to heal, but some provide specific attack buffs, area-of-effect healing or faster energy recovery.
The combat is the focus of the game. Fighting is rather simple, but the monster AI means the combat is a little smarter than expected in a typical hack-and-slash title. Your AI companions make the combat worthwhile, as these are some of the smarter allies in the genre. They gang up on enemies in the vicinity and loot them without being told. They do the same in boss fights but remain very aware of the party's status. They rarely fall in combat and know the right time to heal or use an ability. Should you fall, they immediately resurrect you, and some even make it a point to toss up a healing field if your energy gets low enough. Your AI allies are extremely competent, leaving you as an extra hand to expedite the mission.
In most Western releases for games of this ilk, there's a noticeable lack of online play. Ad-hoc play is fine in Japan, where handhelds are more common, but that kind of culture is not so prevalent here, so online gaming is needed. Thankfully, Toukiden has online play that's quite good. Unless you have a terrible connection, lag is practically nonexistent, and the game plays much like it does offline. Host transferring is smooth, so dropped games aren't an issue, and users can create public lobbies as well as password-protected ones. There's even an option to have AI characters fill in for humans who leave or those who'll join later. The game doesn't support invites, though, so you'll have to use some other method to let other players know that your game is up. Although the game shares your progress in terms of Mitamas and items, the online game isn't tied to the campaign, so be prepared to play the same game twice if you decide to go online after mastering the offline game.
To that end, some of the other mechanics players may be used to seeing in this type of game have been removed or significantly reduced. Crafting items is a more straightforward experience, as you'll always be able to see what specific items produce. You can only make new weapons and armor pieces with the help of the blacksmith, as potions don't exist. There's also no chance to experiment and create something new, and you can't fail to create something. The town is quite small, giving you access to everything you need in a short amount of time, but there are no other side activities. If you wanted to do something like cooking or fishing, that isn't available. You can try to improve the relationships with your fellow allies, but the system is so invisible that you'd be forgiven for thinking that it doesn't exist. The way the game is structured, fighting is not only the most important thing; it really is the only thing.
The emphasis on combat is good, especially since the story-based missions alone can easily go into the double digits as far as playtime is concerned, but there are some elements that dampen the enjoyment. Secondary quests are nothing more than item fetch quests, and the only rewards you get range from cash to extra room in your item storage chest. This wouldn't be so bad if the item store weren't somewhat useless. It boasts a decent supply of items, but the armor and weapons sections are pitifully small and don't get updated nearly as much as the blacksmith's items.
Perhaps the game's biggest flaw is that it becomes repetitive. The ages may be different and have different layouts, but stepping foot in the same age means contending with the same level layout as the previous visit, plus or minus a few blocked-off areas. The bestiary isn't as large as you'd expect it to be, so seeing the same monsters in combat over and over again is expected. That goes double for the larger Oni. Their introductions might be spectacular, and the first fights are memorable, but when subsequent missions ask you to hunt down the same bosses again, their novelty wears off, and fighting them for a third or fourth time is met with sighs instead of delight.
As far as sound is concerned, this is something of a surprise from Omega Force. The vocal track is only in Japanese, with no option to change to an English dub, but when you consider the quality of the English dubs in the past, this is a good thing. The musical score is perhaps the most surprising, as it sticks to a more traditional and epic Japanese motif as opposed to the hard rock score the developers used for the Warriors series. It's akin to an anime in that you have a nice medley of fight music, incidental tracks, and lighthearted tunes, but it uses a heavy dose of strings and wind instruments. The music is pretty limited, so you'll hear the same tracks over and over, and while each new time period offers a new song, it is the only song.
Graphically, the game looks quite good. Though the environments still sport some stretched-out and blurry textures, most of it is well done, and the presence of particles — cherry blossom petals, fireflies, etc. — is a nice touch. They lack reflections in watery surfaces, but the steady frame rate when lots of particles and persistent shadows are on-screen makes up for that. The characters, both primary and incidental, have lots of nice, ornate details, and the enemies sport that as well. Historically, the developer would sacrifice enemy detail for sheer numbers. Textures on some of the enemies are excellent, and everyone's animations are quite smooth. While not exactly showcase material for the system, the title provides a good middle ground for the kind of power the system can accomplish.
Though it has lots of similarities with Capcom's big series, Toukiden: The Age of Demons can stand on its own. The simpler approach to the overall mechanics makes this more accessible, as some of the minutiae is swept aside in favor of pure combat. While the online performance is good, the presence of good AI companions means you'll be able to get the intended experience while offline. It does get repetitive, and the length of the game works against that, as monsters and environments are recycled far too often. Anyone looking for a fun, loot-based action RPG will enjoy Toukiden.
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