Over in Japan handheld systems and the Monster Hunter series are extremely popular. Capcom’s creature killing franchise has however been exclusive to Nintendo machines, in recent years, which has left Sony players craving for something to quell their hunting appetites. With that in mind Tecmo Koei have entered the arena to exploit the untapped market, which is the PlayStation Vita, with their take on the monster hunting genre – Toukiden: The Age of Demons.
The game is set during feudal Japan at a time when the nation was being plagued by demonic entities known as Oni (evidently Asian history is much more colourful than Europe’s dreary past.) Players take control of a demon hunter who has been employed by a village to repel any creatures that attack the settlement. It’s a dangerous job, but at least the pay is better than an equally perilous career at McDonalds (which often gets assaulted by mentally unstable patrons demanding ice cream and nuggets, if recent Youtube videos are to be believed.)
Toukiden’s structure should be familiar to anyone versed in the ways of Monster Hunter. To commence a stage you visit the guild counter and select one of the available missions, which can range from eliminating a certain number of monsters to defeating a powerful guardian. Once you have chosen your objective it is time to set off either with a group of AI companions or flesh and blood adventures courtesy of the title’s online multiplayer. Upon successful completion of your task it is time to return home where you can use the loot collected from vanquished foes to upgrade your equipment.
Much like in Diablo, the appeal of constantly improving your gear is what drives the game forward. Hunters can craft a broad range of weapons, each of which handles very differently. The beefy gauntlets for example pack a nasty punch (no pun intended) but are very slow. The bow on the other hand is weedier, but allows the budding archer to attack safely from distance. Other armaments of note include swords, spears and sickles. My weapon of choice is the knife, as nimbly wielding duel daggers looks badass. What a shame that I am not as proficient with said item in real life, as my inability to evenly slice carrots will attest to.
In terms of customisation players are able to tailor their characters via the use of spirits known as Mitamas. These ghosts of ancient heroes can be bound to weapons to confer the player with various abilities. I’m not sure I feel comfortable about carrying around haunted items, but the benefits they bestow are well worth it. The Mitamas can boost a player’s stats and give them access to spells that leech the life of enemies, grant you temporary immunity and raise the speed of your attacks. Mitamas can be acquired by defeating certain enemies and with enough use will level up, which unlocks even more new powers. Gee it’s just like playing Pokemon with oriental apparitions.
My final score for Toukiden: The Age of Demons is four stars. I think I prefer it to the Monster Hunter games as the item crafting is much more forgiving and streamlined. Gameplay wise the controls remind me a lot of Phantasy Star Online, although the emphasis of the game is on beating giant guardians as opposed to fighting your way through a level. The only thing that dissuades me from awarding the game a higher score is how frustratingly long it can take to defeat the aforementioned guardians. Prepare yourself to pound on a beastie for fifteen minutes if your gear is not up to snuff or even longer if you have the misfortune of wielding a weapon the boss is resistant to.
I also feel that the multiplayer would benefit from being a more social experience. For the most part you’ll team up with silent strangers, as it is impossible to communicate via microphone or even typing out text. Then again the limited dialogue options may be a blessing in disguise. It spares us from the verbal diarrhoea some online gamers spout… which is often more vile than anything a wicked Oni can hurl at you.