Originality is a pretty hard thing to come by, and ideas don't just materialize out of thin air. They're a patchwork of experiences lifted from our surroundings, filtered, and diffused back out into the world.
Many of us hide the stitching of our subliminal thievery, as we pull together material and create pastiches that are uniquely our own. Some openly celebrate their influences. And others are brazen enough to poach thoughts wholesale, copying intricate formulas to churn out imitation products.
Toukiden: The Age of Demons falls in that last category. Just about the furthest thing in the world from an original game, it pilfers liberally from the Monster Hunter series, and does little to obscure that fact. And that's okay. Despite the game's derivative nature, it manages to provide a reasonably decent, if somewhat drab, facsimile of its paragon.
Toukiden: The Age of Demons (PlayStation Vita)
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Release: February 11, 2014
Toukiden takes place in a world where the last vestiges of humanity hang by a thread. Beset upon by an endless horde of demonic Oni, embattled villages depend on warriors called Slayers to repel the tide of monstrosities that constantly crash at their gates.
As a Slayer, players will venture into the corrupted lands beyond their borders to cull a particular number of a particular type of demon. Then it's time to collect their remains and use the spoils to craft new weapons and armor before pursuing the next bounty. And that's basically it. With little in the way of frills, Toukiden takes that tried-and-tested Monster Hunter formula and, um, well, it certainly sticks to the blueprint. That's for sure.
The story and setting are perhaps the most unique aspects of the experience. It's just a shame that it's all so terribly bleak. Toukiden's world is cheerless, eschewing the vivid natural environments and amusements like the talking cats that its inspiration employs, for dreary landscapes and oppressive situations where things always seem to be going from bad to worse. Sadly, the characters are rigid and prosaic, offering precious little comic relief to a world that so desperately needs it.
The gameplay makes up for most of the title's shortcomings, and should win over fans of the genre with its familiar structure and solid combat. Once you take a mission, players are whisked away to an array of arenas populated with enemies. From there it's a basic hack-and-slash where teams of up to four Slayers grind through waves of smaller foes and occasionally tackle larger creatures. Missions are typically short and well suited for portable play, though more powerful Oni may test some players' patience.
Boss fights are repetitious affairs where larger demons must be carved up one limb at a time. These baddies possess excessive amounts of health and take what seems like forever to take down. These events seem to drag on and on, before the frustration climaxes in a moment of relief as the tired affair comes to a close. Adding insult to injury, these encounters lack variety, as boss types are recycled over and over again.
In the heat of battle players will need to lower their guards in order to purify the corpses of slaughtered demons, which yield the materials necessary to craft new weapons and armor. While the game supports both local and online multiplayer, allied characters are surprisingly competent at taking out enemies and watching the player's back while one is otherwise indisposed. And should you fall in battle they're rarely too far off to help you back to your feet so you can rejoin the fight.
In terms of weaponry, there's a myriad of blades, bows, and other implements of death to play with -- like the chained sickle. On top of standard attacks, Slayers can equip the tools of their trade with Mitama, souls of fallen heroes that offer different combat bonuses and abilities. Much of the game's appeal comes from equipment progression and kitting your character out with new and more powerful gear.
Beyond that, though, Toukiden lacks variety and nuance. The objective never changes. It's all demon slaying and equipment crafting all the time. Which is fine. But by never straying from the beaten path, it does little to differentiate itself from its competitors or step out from Monster Hunter's shadow.
Those starving for that type of experience would do well to give Toukiden a go. It's a good bit of fun and certainly a pretty experience that might well satiate your desire to kill and collect for a few dozen hours, especially if you play with friends. Just don't go in expecting anything particularly great or revolutionary.
If you're going to steal, steal from the best. And that's precisely what Toukiden's done, for better or for worse. It's a very competent Monster Hunter clone, but, by adhering so rigidly to that winning formula, it lacks an identity of its own. That's not to say that this is a bad game, far from it, but it isn't a great one either. It just doesn't do enough to separate itself from the crowd or demand your attention.
A touch of color, a few diversions, and some fresh ideas could really have gone a long way to making Toukiden something special. As is, it's merely pretty okay.