With the absence of a Monster Hunter title in the PlayStation Vita's library (though soon to be rectified), there have been a few titles that have attempted to snatch away the time Vita owners have spent waiting for Capcom's long-running series to come to Sony's handheld. Soul Sacrifice, Valhalla Knights 3, and now Toukiden: The Age of Demons from Tecmo Koei will be the latest attempt to draw in Vita owners in on some monster hunting action.
Utakata Village stands as one of the last pieces of land that hasn't been overrun by the Oni who suddenly attacked humanity around eight years ago. You'll fill the shoes of a Slayer, one who is tasked with cutting down the hordes of Oni that are running rampant and attempting to snuff out humanity's flame. After the requisite character creator, you're dumped into Utakata Village where you'll meet some of the other Slayers, and see where your base of operations is. In the town you'll accept missions, build bigger and better weapons from the items you collect, and power up the souls of the dead warriors who will assist you, after having fallen to the Oni.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case, it seems more like parts were lifted wholesale from the original incarnation of what has turned into a massive craze in Japan, but never really hit it off here in the States. Omega Force is known for having a solid pedigree of beat-em-up titles out there with their stamp all over the Dynasty Warriors series. With Toukiden, it looks like Tecmo Koei nudged them a bit in the direction of Monster Hunter, with role-playing game and item-hunting elements that aren't that much different than Capcom's portable beast. It's not to say that they've done a bad job, but it definitely has that "me too" feel that plagues a lot of these games. But to be fair, the things they try to do to stand out and are pretty slick.
When you're out there fighting the Oni, you'll find that you have access to a few different weapons. These all play rather differently, even though they boil down to hurting the enemy in their own particular way. But it's the Battle Styles that make each one play more to your specific style. There are eight different Battle Styles, and they range from the simple Attack Style that is focused on dealing heavy damage, and leeching health from your enemies, to the Deceit style that is meant to allow you to maneuver behind your enemies and deal damage in unconventional ways. There's also a Luck style that has a random skill trigger and relies on random numbers to boost your attack and defense stats. Each of the companions in the game has their own specific Attack Style, but you get to be the wild card. You're able to wield the Attack Style of the Mitama, the souls of the fallen. This gives you plenty of options in terms of how you play the game, which also encourages you to play with each type of weapon until you find one that fits your preference. I started the game off with the massive Gauntlet weapons, which do incredible damage but are so slow that I couldn't keep up with some of the game's faster enemies, making my short-range punches difficult to land. Eventually I switched to the sword and found myself having a much better time. Also it would behoove you to read the game's manual, because there are a lot of attacks that aren't explicitly explained through gameplay, and they vary from weapon to weapon. You'll also want to make sure you try out each weapon if you're looking to farm body parts that can be removed from the game's various bosses.
You'll be trudging through a few different zones across the game's seven chapters (and beyond), which will take nearly 20 hours to complete. There are also a large number of side quests that will require you to farm items from enemies and from the field in order to complete them to receive items and Haku, the game's currency. A lot of missions come down to mowing down a large number of lesser Oni until a massive boss creature shows up, which you've got to take down. These missions never really show that much variety, which is kind of a bummer and makes the game feel like a bit of a slog during the middle portion. At the very least the development team was smart enough to make movement a priority and included a run in this game. If I had to slowly trudge from place to place, I'd be a lot less kind to this game. Each level is also timed, making it feel like an instance in a massively multiplayer online game, but I don't quite understand why they needed to time each mission, because I was never in danger of running out of time.
The visuals of Toukiden are impressive for Sony's handheld. With highly detailed monsters and various combatants on screen, this game is surprisingly pretty, although the color schemes that are assigned to each of the locales get to be a bit overbearing at times. The character models also boast a great amount of detail, and when you start looking at all the different armor sets out there you'll see that your character can be pretty unique. But if you're making for a specific end-game build then expect to see a lot of the same characters and weapons.
While there is plenty of stuff to hunt for and plenty of stuff to kill, after a while it gets to feel a bit stale, especially when you really need to put some effort into farming late-game items. You'll also find that you're going to need to have some high-end weapons in order to target specific parts of the enemies you'll be hunting. If you're doing this with friends via the ad hoc or local multiplayer, you'll find that the grind is a bit more manageable. If there is something this game could benefit from, it's voice chat, because it's hard to communicate strategies through the limited in-game options. But when you get a party together and everyone knows their roles, then it makes taking down some of the tougher enemies a lot easier. While the game's AI is pretty smart, it can be a letdown as you get further in to the game. But if you find yourself being overwhelmed and dying a lot, they will at least make some effort to get you revived in the middle of the battle, which is a major step in the right direction.
Toukiden: The Age of Demons is a pretty good attempt to capture the lightning in a bottle that is the Monster Hunter franchise. It does a lot of things right that make it more friendly to the player, and doesn't seem nearly as harsh on failure. It's lacking a bit of depth in terms of gameplay variety, even with the myriad weapon and Mitama configurations you can explore because, by the end of the game, you'll find that if you want to continue you'll be making a lot of the same builds that people are posting on GameFAQs, much like I was. If you're looking to hunt some demons with friends, this isn't a bad option. But if you're a solo player who'd rather hold out for the next Monster Hunter, I'd suggest at least giving this one a shot, because it does have a few things going for it that Monster Hunter does not.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers. Now I'm working for a record label, a small arm of casual games in a media company along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.