From the developers of Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors comes Toukiden: The Age of Demons, a monster-slaying, loot-grinding, Eastern-styled action RPG that seems tailored to portable play. Publisher Tecmo Koei's dedication to Sony's troubled handheld console is admirable – but does its newest creation shine like a beacon of light, or flounder in the darkness?
Admittedly, things start off rather shaky. Despite a lovely opening cinematic, you're quickly thrust into the character creation menu, where anyone who's familiar with the Dynasty Warriors: Empires games will be disappointed to discover that Toukiden makes use of several of the same customisation assets – even if they are of a better visual quality. After you've formed your avatar's mug, you'll then choose your fighting style of choice, before you're casually tossed into a brawl with a gigantic oni.
Taking on the massive creature in question serves as a tutorial of sorts, but it isn't a particularly great way to introduce you to the release's combat, mainly because the beast can slap you around like a ragdoll without too much warning. Its attacks won't be dealing out huge amounts of damage, but the fact that each blow sends your warrior spiralling away from the point of impact can certainly be off-putting for a newcomer.
Thankfully, once the duel is over, it's safe to say that things only improve. As you're talked through the basics of what's happening in the title's world by fellow slayers, it's difficult not to admire the nicely-drawn character portraits and the hub village's homey feel. The game's art style isn't completely original or especially compelling, but it does have a well-realised quality to it which ensures that everything from weapon designs to natural looking locations click with the title's overall feel.
The plot, meanwhile, appears to be your typical tale of mankind's guardians fighting off hordes of evil demons, but it's told in way that's not overbearing, and so it doesn't seem to really interfere with the gameplay. And it's a good job, too, as Toukiden's relatively simple but refined systems fuse to create an addictive experience.
Comparisons to Capcom's Monster Hunter series are easy to make, but Omega Force's take on the sturdy formula is perhaps a little more accessible. Forging and upgrading your equipment is slightly more straightforward, as your weapons won't slowly lose their edge as you wield them in battle. Improving your chosen gear isn't too hard either, as all you'll need to do is build up your affinity to it by using it in combat. However, you'll still be felling enemies in the hopes of gathering the required materials needed to craft new weaponry, so despite its differences, the progression feels inherently similar to the abovementioned blockbuster.
Consequentially, those who struggle to enjoy Monster Hunter may not find much to get excited about here. That said, Toukiden's nicely crafted world and slightly more welcoming nature may make it a brilliant alternative. The mitama system also adds a welcome twist, where the souls of warriors from bygone times grant special buffs, and allow access to various helpful abilities, like health restoration and offensive power boosts.
Unsurprisingly, the meat of the release comes in the form of slaying oni which come in wildly varying forms, some far more dangerous than others. Both your own attacks and your enemy's can be quite sluggish, but the slow swings and slices mean that every hit counts, and the pace forces you to react to each move instead of mashing buttons. Disposing of smaller foes like imps doesn't take too long – especially since each hit tends to stagger the little blighters – but against more powerful adversaries, watching and learning their telling actions before they launch an offensive is crucial.
You're not forced to fight alone, however. Accompanying you on your adventures are artificial intelligence-driven companions, who seem to be capable enough even when tackling tough foes. With allies on hand, it's easy to cut your way through waves of baddies, and they prove to be a huge help when you're eager to bring down boss beasts. You can also team up with fellow human players, but you're limited to specific co-op missions when doing so, meaning that playing through the release's story with friends or strangers isn't an option. Fortunately, this isn't a big issue, as these particular assignments offer a great way to stock up on materials and complete secondary quest objectives.
Overall, we've got quite high hopes for Toukiden. Its bite-sized missions pave the way for addictive character progression, while its epic boss fights had us clawing for survival. With its release in just a couple of weeks' time, we're eager to see how Omega Force's oni-hunting RPG holds up over the course of its likely lengthy campaign.
Have you already forged your gear in the blood of demons thanks to the game's colossal demo, or are you saving your focus for the full release? Let us know in the comments section below.