I’m a pretty big Monster Hunter fan. I also happen to own a Vita. As such, I’ve come across a couple problems. For one, I’ve pretty much played Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate into the ground, and it seems I’m going to have to wait a while before I can get into the next installment of the series. For two, there just aren’t that many Vita games lately that interest me (with a couple of exceptions), and the device has largely been gathering dust on my shelf. After hearing about Toukiden: The Age of Demons, however, it seemed that I might be able to kill two birds with one stone. After watching a few videos, it seemed like the game borrowed heavily from the Monster Hunter series, and it certainly looked like it would be able to help with the itch I sorely needed to scratch. Of course, watching videos is one thing, getting to try it yourself is something else entirely. Fortunately, Sony released a demo for the game back on January 21, and I was finally able to give it a go. I have to say, gamers who also happen to fall into the same unfortunate categories that I mentioned earlier owe it to themselves to give this game a try.
Toukiden tells the story of a team of Slayers in Utakata Village, one of the last bastions of humanity in a world where Oni ravage the landscape. Also known as “demons who slay demons,” it is the job of Slayers to rout out the evil beings wherever they may be to keep their homes safe. Taking on the role of a new recruit who has just arrived in the village, you craft the appearance of your Slayer when starting a new game – choosing his or her face, hair style, voice and other features. You also pick which weapon you want to start out with. There are six types from which to choose: Sword, Knives, Chain & Sickle, Gauntlets, Spear and Bow. This decision is not a huge deal, however, as you have a starter weapon of each type in the box at your house. After giving them all a try, I decided on the Gauntlets, continuing my Monster Hunter tradition of using slow, hard-hitting weapons. Plus, I looked pretty cool using them. You will also meet most of the other members of your team throughout the demo.
This is one of the key differences between Toukiden and the Monster Hunter games. The story and characters are more prevalent, making it much less of a solitary experience. Before going out on a mission, you can choose up to three teammates to accompany you, meaning you don’t have to go it alone in single player if you don’t want to. Each character of the team represents one of the six weapon types: Ōka uses the Sword, Hatsuho has the Sickle, Ibuki wields the Spear, Fugaku has the Gauntlets and Nagi uses the Bow. Each of them has a unique, if not predictable personality – you can probably guess how each of them acts just by looking at them. There is also a character who represents the Daggers, but they were not shown in the demo. While it’s nice to have regular teammates with whom to fight, it bothered me a little that there was a character for each weapon type. It made me feel a little less unique, knowing that there was a stronger, better-equipped character no matter which weapon I chose. I suppose you could just not use the character who uses your weapon, but it still made me feel kind of unnecessary. You can also talk to the Slayer captain, Yamato, in the mission hub area. He will give you tutorials on basic game mechanics, and more in-depth lessons on how to use each weapon.
There is also a mechanic in Toukiden wherein you can take on quests and other tasks to improve your relationships with not only your teammates, but also shopkeepers and other important characters around the village. This isn’t explored very much in the demo, but apparently “all kinds of good things can happen” if you nurture these relationships. It sounds like an interesting feature, and I look forward to going more in-depth in the full game.
From a gameplay standpoint, Toukiden feels very much like a Monster Hunter game. Players have a health bar, as well as a stamina bar at the top of the screen. Characters lose some health when they are hit, but a red portion of the health bar will slowly regenerate as long as the player doesn’t take additional hits. The stamina bar steadily decreases when characters run or use other special skills, but will quickly regenerate when not doing such actions. Attacks are performed with the Square and Triangle buttons, which vary based on the weapon you’re using. You dodge with the X button, and the O button activates a weapon-specific special attack. Pushing the Select button activates your Eye of Truth, which can be used to see enemy health bars and hidden objects, though this will also drain your stamina.
The areas that make up the game’s maps are littered with lesser Oni that can be defeated with minimal effort. After they fall, players can hold the R button to “purify” the demon, at which point the player will receive a random material from the beast. These materials can then be used to create new weapons and pieces of armor at the blacksmith. This is very much like carving carcasses in the Monster Hunter games, though with a few differences. For one thing, purifying an Oni yields only a single material, no matter its size. Multiple team members can also purify the same objects to expedite the process. Purifying also has the added benefit of reviving fallen teammates – saving the time of having to run back from the starting area.
You also get a taste of combat against one of the larger Oni. Much like the large beasts you come across in Monster Hunter, the key to success here is quick reflexes and pattern recognition. It’s important to know when a given attack is coming, and what must be done to avoid damage. There are many different areas of the body that Slayers can attack, and, after they have taken enough damage, appendages will start to come off. Players will need to scramble to purify these body parts, because the demon will eventually absorb them again. Purifying these large body parts takes much longer than it does standard enemies, so you’ll almost have to concentrate solely on this task once it starts happening. Again, teammates can speed things along here, but they’re generally more interested in fighting the Oni than purifying body parts, so it’s better not to depend on them too much for this task. This would likely be easier playing with real people, but you’re pretty much locked into single player for the demo.
Killing large Oni and special variations of the standard enemies usually frees the souls of fallen warriors known as Mitama. These spirits can then be attached to your weapons to give you special abilities. These skills are activated by holding the R button to start your purification, then hitting one of the four face buttons. Concentrating on offense, I chose the Mitama named Minamoto no Yorimitsu who let me temporarily increase my attack power, steal health, deal only critical hits and heal myself. Each of these abilities has a limited number of uses, but they can be refreshed at prayer stones found throughout the map. You find a few other Mitama in the demo with different offensive or defensive skills, so it seems as though there’s a lot of variety in developing a character and skill set that best suits your play style. All I have to do is find one that lets me poison enemies, and I’ll be golden.
While it certainly borrows a little from Monster Hunter, there are enough unique gameplay elements that I would hesitate to call Toukiden a rip-off. With a deeper story and a larger, more involved cast, the game becomes more than just killing monsters for the fun of it. Experimenting with mixing and matching different Mitama promises to be an interesting mechanic, especially once multi-socketed weapons begin to allow for multiple attachments. I’m also looking forward to trying out the social aspect of the game, as well as finding out what’s going on with a little fox called Tenko that is introduced near the end. If you’re set on making Toukiden out to be a rip-off, however, all you’re really doing is accusing it of capturing some of the best elements of the monster-hunting genre, and giving it a better single player experience. I can only hope the game will also deliver in the multiplayer department, but that’s something we can explore after its release on February 11.