Toukiden: The Age of Demons review: Oni hunter

Toukiden: The Age of Demons isn't quite developer Omega Force's "Monster Hunter clone," though just like its closest neighbor, up to four players pound away at larger-than-life beasts in exotic locales to haul in rare items and acquire new gear. Toukiden attempts to maintain the same appeal as Monster Hunter and similar games by emphasizing progression through equipment upgrades.

The Tecmo Koei-published Toukiden bears so many similarities to Capcom's franchise, in fact, that it's practically a part of it, which ends up being its problem. Toukiden falls short when it comes to pushing the genre forward in any meaningful way, resting as a functional, albeit hollow monster hunting experience.
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Toukiden (E3 2013)

Toukiden features a cast of characters that serve as your teammates, each given a little life by Japanese voice actors. Players join a squad of "Slayers" that must destroy many demonic Oni to save a historical Japan-inspired world from utter destruction. Along the way, players sift through occasional dialog options to build relationships with the characters, each one seemingly losing confidence in the task at hand before your created hero inevitably reminds them of their value to the group. The hero is also the only one of the group that can collect the souls of fallen legendary heroes, called Mitama, equipping them like armor to provide boosts and abilities in battle. It's not a particularly novel plot, but it's serviceable enough to encourage you to keep pressing forward.

Unless you deliberately choose not to, you'll rarely ever venture out of the hub village alone to take on a large Oni. You can almost always choose to bring three of your fellow, CPU-controlled slayers with you, instantly making Toukiden much easier to handle than other beast-busting, dungeon-crawling adventures. The missions aren't as varied, primarily focusing the action on defeating various quantities of monsters with occasionally-restrictive challenges (kill 100 creatures within 5 minutes, etc). The main story lasts five chapters, though the offline campaign continues with subsequent chapters after the credits roll. Coupled with online co-op, the amount of content is healthy and generally satisfying, though the repetitive objectives can become tedious.

Compounding the monotonous objectives, Toukiden's demons display little in the way of flair or personality. You won't come to any deep understanding of the Oni or their malevolent intentions – they are simply "the bad guys" that stand between you and better equipment. Aside from their increasingly-elaborate designs as the campaign wore on (such as the downright freakish Viper Queen, a snail-meets-demon woman with two large, protruding snake legs), the large Oni only represented Toukiden's gradually escalating difficulty. Had the Oni shown more fatigue or permanent damage (hacked off limbs return as purple, translucent phantom appendages), they might have exuded at least a trace of personality, giving me more reason to go out of my way to reconquer the ones I'd already beaten. Destroying demons piece-by-piece was satisfying to a point, but not as thrilling as it is when slaying Monster Hunter's vibrant, lively beasts.

The main story is pretty easy to trek through. I failed just twice during the 72 missions that compose the primary quest (before the extra chapters are unlocked). Even when introduced to a new, intimidating large Oni for the first time, the "cut the limbs off, then hack away at them" gameplan stayed true throughout the entire adventure. Items recovered from Oni are used to fulfill quests and upgrade equipment, though I completed nearly three chapters without changing my equipment or Mitama at all. I did give in eventually, curious about whatever new gear I could acquire, and I'm glad I did; battles with monstrous Oni that would have lasted 25 minutes turned into 15 to 20-minute encounters with my newer, stronger blades. Over time, Toukiden's array of collectible Mitama and equipment offer enough layers of strategy and depth that Toukiden became nearly as addicting – in terms of grinding to progress – as your traditional Monster Hunter game.

The other half of Toukiden comprises co-op missions, which are tracked separately but don't differ much in objective from the story missions. Players can tackle them offline with their NPC teammates, via local multiplayer with up to three friends or online with friends and/or strangers. Those who can't field a full team can still select characters from the story to join them on missions as well. Save for very few disconnects and some latency issues – Oni locations sometimes don't synchronize, and it will appear that other players are hacking away at thin air – online multiplayer was a breeze to navigate and participate in. Players are stuck with preset text messaging and character gestures when in a hunting party, however. The lack of custom messaging options is a disappointing omission for avid hunters. You can always use the Vita's Party app to voice chat with friends, of course, not that team communication is really necessary – Toukiden's "kill the thing that never leaves this area" objective never changes.

Toukiden: The Age of Demons is a solid hunting adventure, but hardly a departure from the monster hunting genre. It's nice to have a team of NPCs to take out demons with, even if the characters feel a little hollow. I know I will stick with Toukiden for a while before finally growing tired of collecting the 200+ Mitama or dozens of spears, swords and other weapons, even if the extra missions don't feel engaging enough to stand on their own. Toukiden is meant for those that just want hack-and-slash, beast-busting action, and in that respect it delivers. But even when avoiding some of the trivial bits like inventory management, the game ends up feeling a little trivial itself.

This review is based on a PSN download of Toukiden: The Age of Demons, provided by Tecmo Koei. Images: Tecmo Koei.

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