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Toukiden: The Age of Demons (Vita) artwork

Toukiden: The Age of Demons (Vita) review

"Toukiden's boss battles are the reason you play video games."

Toukiden: The Age of Demons (Vita) image

Toukiden: The Age of Demons is an unabashed Monster Hunter clone, and I have it on good authority that it holds up to direct comparison remarkably well. That, however, is not a perspective that I can adequately provide. What I can tell you is why Toukiden succeeds both on its own terms and as an excellent entry point to the subgenre for those of us who have always been just a bit too overwhelmed by Monster Hunter to give it the time that it deserves.

On the surface, it's a flat-out mimicry. Same hack-and-slash combat, same fetch quests given to you by a girl behind a desk, same environments divided into walled-in areas, same gathering of resources, same fashioning of equipment from said resources. It doesn't match Monster Hunter for depth, and it probably doesn't match it for length, either – you'll see the credits in just under 30 hours, if you're focused. Where Toukiden makes up for it, though, is in accessibility. It's a more context-driven and more adeptly-explained experience, and it's drawn me into the subgenre so effectively that I've already started checking prices for Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.

To start with, Toukiden is considerably heavier on story than its inspiration. Your enemy, the Oni, do little more than provide you with ugly, snarling foes for you to cut down without bias, but the human side of Toukiden's plot is remarkably fleshed out. Each of the Slayers with whom you rid the world of demons has, if you'll forgive me, a few demons of their own to deal with, and there's an enticing shroud of mystery surrounding each of these people. Why does Hatsuho, a young girl, claim that she's older than everyone else? Why does Fugaku seek revenge on a particular flying Oni, and will we ever get to fight it? Every character exposes weaknesses, bonds with the player and is afforded an opportunity at redemption. Toukiden is unconcerned with theatricality – most of the story is told via dialog bubbles and static cutscenes – but the power's in the writing.

Monster-hunting games are a grind by nature, but Toukiden demonstrates that they needn't feel like a grind if they have context, if there's a sense of progress taken with every step. I wouldn't call Toukiden's story a masterwork by any means, but the pull of an interesting new plot or character development at nearly every turn is an important one. The confidence of developer Omega Force's audiovisual presentation helps, too. As with many other Tecmo Koei games, this one embraces traditional Japanese culture to a degree that lends its samurai-themed world a layer of authenticity, even going so far as to make Japanese the only spoken language.

Toukiden: The Age of Demons (Vita) image

What makes Toukiden even more welcoming, though, is how unintimidating it is. The game's six weapon types differ drastically in terms of range, speed and overall handling, but they're given extensive tutorials that comprehensively explain the pros, cons and special abilities of each. I highly recommend that players complete these training exercises as a taste test of sorts. Most of the weapons, as it turns out, weren't to my liking – swords and spears were too slow, and the Kratos-esque chain and sickle demanded a bit too much precision. That didn't matter, though, because I settled on a weapon type that I meshed with perfectly – the dual knives, which favor quick, close-range strikes – and spent the remainder of the game getting to know the ins and the outs of it, mounting enemies and circling them while spamming the class-specific running attack. There's something for everyone here, really.

Omega Force's unique flourish is the Mitama system. The Mitama are the souls of long-dead Slayers collected on the battlefield. You can potentially equip several of them at once and gain the status upgrades of two or three simultaneously (depending on how many slots your weapon has), but your primary Mitama is the most important, since that's the one providing the four special powers – usually buffs or healing spells – that can drastically affect the outcome of a battle and how teammates coordinate with one another. Between the weapon types and the Mitama, you're encouraged to develop a play style unique to you, and it gives you an awful lot to master in preparation for the bosses.

Toukiden's boss battles are the reason you play video games. They are many, and they are all spectacular – enormous flying creatures, tusked monstrosities that can knock your health down by a third with a single footstep, and everything in between. The central mechanic driving the boss battles is that their body parts, some of which either move quickly or are in high and difficult-to-reach places, can be individually severed, limiting their attacks and exposing them to more damage. Between that and the fact that each boss undergoes at least one major transformation midway through battle – like the Terragrinder deciding to burrow through the sand with its fin above the ground, like some sort of land-based shark – your encounters with the game's biggest Oni feel like sprawling events. Each one takes long enough to kill that your Vita's battery meter will likely be down by another pixel at the conclusion of every battle, but there's such a strong sense of progress, growing to understand the bosses' attacks and literally chipping away at their bodies, that the process never feels strained or overlong.

Toukiden: The Age of Demons (Vita) image

Good thing, too, given how much Omega Force repeats them throughout the campaign, particularly when Toukiden goes into full-on boss rush mode during its final chapter. Very few games could get away with that, but each of Toukiden's bosses is so multifaceted that you'll relish every opportunity to more adequately read its attack patterns and bring it down in a more efficient manner. They're a joy and mercifully free of unneeded pomp or spectacle, a celebration of pure gameplay.

In fact, if there's an issue with Toukiden, it's that the game is so focused on making its bosses exciting that hunting the various imps and batlike creatures that otherwise populate its world feels a bit like busy work in comparison. It would've been nice if Omega Force had mined a bit more middle ground here between Oni that pose no threat whatsoever and Oni that take 10 to 20 minutes to kill. Most of the materials needed to fabricate the game's best equipment are acquired from bosses, anyway (or the severed limbs of said bosses), and any other items can easily be found by sending your pet tenko to scavenge during quests, which makes the routine monster-hunting feel even more pointless. The bosses are the best thing about Toukiden, and they quickly take center stage, but any time not spent battling them feels underwhelming in comparison.

Also disappointing is the cooperative multiplayer mode, or rather the way that it's structured. Having to work through a separate set of quests just to reach the same content that I've already cleared in the single-player campaign (with the same character, no less) feels like a waste of time. Fighting the Harrowhalf solo makes me want to take it on with other players, but no – I need to backtrack and kill three Drumbles and ten Blazing Souls again before I'm allowed to venture into the exciting stuff with friends. I'm told that this is how Monster Hunter handles co-op, as well, and if so, it's a missed opportunity on Omega Force's part. Smoother integration of co-op into the campaign would've been appreciated.

That doesn't make Toukiden any less effective as a story-driven single-player experience, though, nor does it make the game any less appealing to people like me, who have always wanted to sink their teeth into Monster Hunter but have never quite been able to give it the commitment necessary. It may be a clone, but it's a welcoming one that rewarded me with some of the most invigorating battles I've fought in any game in years. We're on the eve of a very busy release schedule and Toukiden very nearly slipped under my radar. If you're interested in this sort of thing, don't let it slip under yours.

Suskie's avatar
Freelance review by Mike Suskie (February 14, 2014)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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zigfried posted February 15, 2014:

Well then. I'm getting this.
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Suskie posted February 15, 2014:

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zigfried posted February 15, 2014:


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