Toukiden: The Age of Demons PS Vita
Run. Run, run, run really fast away.
Before you condemn me, running away is a strategy that’s kept me alive in games from Dark Souls to Monster Hunter, so it’s appropriate that Toukiden: The Age of Demons attempts to recreate that same sense of overwhelming dread and terror by introducing some of the best looking monsters we’ve seen on the PS Vita. These monsters are much bigger and stronger than you, so it’s up to you – and possibly three more players cooperating online – to reduce the baddies to the supplies and parts that you knew they always were meant to be. While it’s a great idea and always a welcome addition to the Vita’s lineup, the problem with this formula is that the game doesn’t create a unique niche or add a new experience within the monster-hunting genre. Though it has some moments that terrify and delight, Toukiden‘s frustrations and failures obstruct it from moving beyond the inspirations it so desperately wants to copy.
As far as influences go, Toukiden is right on point – you can tell the creators spent considerable amounts of time attempting to balance combat and other facets of the gameplay, but the game’s difficulty level never encourages a strong connection or investment. You begin the game as a “Slayer” and are quickly joined with a group of other slayers primarily tasked with the responsibility of eliminating demonic “Oni.” The game’s setting – a replica of historical Japan – lends itself to the serviceable story, in which you journey with the slayers to defeat progressively more impressive Oni through the game.
Unfortunately, you’ll encounter the same enemies multiple times through the story; within the first three hours of play, I’d come across the same big “Oni” two or three times, and the same minor enemies had been defeated more times than I care to count. For a game on a system that promotes shorter sessions, the lack of variety for each playthrough hinders what should be unique experiences. It’s frustrating, because many of the enemy types have a style that should be explored further; there’s obvious Western influences in some of the spiders and chimeras (harkening to Dragon’s Dogma), and some of the more Eastern influenced demons look like they were well-designed villains from a Shin Megami game (lofty praise coming from this writer). Without a doubt, the first time you see some of these monsters, you’ll smile and enjoy every minute; sadly, that feeling doesn’t always occur since the game recycles enemies through the game (like different colors of a wolf – here’s looking at you, Final Fantasy X).
Fortunately, the best part of Toukiden is undoubtedly its combat, which introduces just enough variety to make it worthwhile. Many of the weapon types – bow, dual blades, longsword – are familiar, but options like a chain and sickle offer some fun, albeit brief, distractions from the repetition. Even so, I quickly learned to switch weapons between fights to extend the game’s sense of challenge, and the additional Mitama system (where you equip a dead warrior’s soul to a weapon) allows some customization to each of your weapons. Though you won’t spend much time mastering attack patterns (as in Monster Hunter), Toukiden forces you to approach the fights strategically, encouraging targeted attacks over frantic button pressing. This is perhaps the game’s greatest strength – you have to approach each foe with the intent to target a weak area, even if that strategy becomes repetitive due to the limited enemy types.
With that said, it’s unfortunate that the game never actually challenges you – you’ll encounter nearly every enemy with different AI or online partners, and the level of expertise and skill they bring ensures that you’ll nearly always conquer your foes the first time. While they make the fight easy, the partners also support you through healing and reviving you during battle; add your own healing spells and a three-attempt rule for each encounter before failing a mission, and you have an experience that feels extremely unbalanced. Even exploration – typically a highlight in the Monster Hunting genre – underwhelms in Toukiden; the game suggests that you have always have an area left to explore, yet many of the environments look similar and you’ll distinguish between them only through glances at the color-code used on the map. Like the inspirations it draws from, the map reflects a game that nearly comes together as the sum of its parts, but slightly misses the mark.
What’s frustrating is there are some elements that the game does well – your player moves with a weight that not many games on the Vita can match, and the story – while a bit ridiculous and cliche-ridden – still manages to be fun without too many groan-induced moments. But that’s a hard price to pay in exchange for the game’s other, poorer elements; there is a gem of a game hidden in Toukiden, and the universe of the game is one I’d like to revisit one day. I just hope that next time the journey doesn’t remind me of other, better places I’ve already roamed.