Toukiden: The Age of Demons tells the tale of a world engulfed in war between rampaging demonic hordes – known as Oni – and humanity's last hope of survival: Slayers. This overarching narrative paves the way for gameplay that's undoubtedly similar to Capcom's popular Monster Hunter franchise – but with the addition of a few well-implemented mechanics and decent design choices, does Omega Force's creation bring the tried and tested formula to the PlayStation Vita with success?
Following the story of your custom made character and the fate of Utakata village and its inhabitants, the game's plot fails to ever really become something that you'll find yourself truly engrossed in. It's a typical narrative that deals with good versus evil, ancient powers, and the end of the world, but its predictable nature means that it never gets in the way of the title's addictive gameplay. That said, your nicely designed fellow Slayers are at least an endearing group, each of them slowly developing over the course of this 30 or so hour adventure.
The stereotypical gang don't throw up any surprising revelations, but their own stories and backgrounds do help to tie proceedings together. Carefree and cocky warrior Ibuki lives something of a life of regret, for example, and his past is gradually unravelled as you progress, giving you a reason to see the narrative through besides making your Slayer more powerful as you unlock and tackle new missions. Overall, the plot and the personalities involved are just enough to keep you interested throughout, while the release does a surprisingly good job of portraying a society that's trying to make the most of life while being so close to total destruction.
Of course, what really matters is how Toukiden plays. With access to six varied weapon types, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a fighting style that suits you. From swords and spears to bows and huge gauntlets, each moveset offers its own strengths and weaknesses, although it won't take long to master a particular discipline due to the somewhat simplistic combat. Indeed, the vast majority of your time with the game will be spent battling sparse numbers of Oni across massive, somewhat bland battlefields. It's the Monster Hunter formula at work, especially as each task sees you traversing large areas and hunting down specific beasts that need to be culled.
Basic attacks are mapped to square, while hitting triangle activates secondary moves. With most weapons, you're able to string both types of techniques together to make relatively long combos, while pressing circle activates a more powerful or specialised attack. The six styles on offer are well balanced, and you're given the option of switching to any other moveset at any time in between missions, as long as you've got equipment of that type on hand. In theory, this means that you can chop and change your gear depending on what sort of enemies you'll be facing. You could switch to a bow for a quest that sees you taking on a flying Oni, for instance, or you could grab a pair of gauntlets before tackling a melee-based baddie so that you can perform a blocking manoeuvre. In reality, however, sticking to a single discipline is perhaps more feasible if you're not keen on learning the ins-and-outs of each death-dealer – mostly because the title isn't all that challenging.
There isn't anything inherently wrong with a release that's easy to succeed at, but when that easiness makes things somewhat boring then it becomes a problem, and unfortunately, this is often the case with Toukiden. Smaller creatures pose almost no threat whatsoever unless they're in large groups – which is a rarity – because they stagger after every few blows, and so many missions become little more than chores as you and your capable computer controlled allies repeatedly slaughter each opponent that stands in your way, and routinely collect the materials needed for that shiny new armour set. It also doesn't help that there isn't much variety when it comes to your demonic enemies – even halfway through the release, you'll still be coming into contact with Oni that you've cut down hundreds of times since the opening chapter.
Thankfully, colossal boss demons provide plenty of excitement, are a usually a joy to fight, and become increasingly common as your delve further into the story. There may only be a handful of them, but you'll grow to love the tense clashes that they introduce, especially since they seem to be what the combat system was actually built around. Rolling out of the way of a gigantic fist at the last second and countering with a few quick stabs or slashes is generally how these scenarios play out, but each battle feels like something that'd be included in old myths and legends.
Consisting of several clearly defined stages where the beasts change form or go into rampage mode, each encounter may initially seem like a struggle, but as you become more knowledgeable of each monstrosity, you'll soon be anticipating their attacks and felling them with confidence, which makes for a very rewarding and enjoyable learning curve. Launching an offensive on the same body parts – be it a wing, an arm, or a leg – gradually weakens it until it bursts off into a cloud of blackened blood. After you've hacked away a limb, you'll need to purify it by standing near and holding down R to initiate your purification circle – a stance that's also used to revive knocked out allies.
While performing the ritual, you'll be completely open to retaliation, meaning that you'll have to rely on your fellow Slayers to keep the creature busy. Luckily, your computer controlled team mates are incredibly capable, perhaps overly so. In combat they'll likely never fall, and if you're down and out they'll sprint over to resurrect your battered body. However, as you may have already guessed, their prowess does have an impact on the title's difficulty. Because you're almost never alone on a mission, actually failing in your duty is a lot harder than it may seem because of the reasons mentioned above, and while it's nice to see artificial intelligence companions that are so competent, it does make you feel as though they'd get the job done even if you weren't there.
If the boss battles don't quite catch your attention, you'll likely still be roped in by the game's relatively simple but addictive crafting system. Mash up some monsters, take their remains, and then head back to the serene village to see the blacksmith Takara. From there, it's just a case of selecting the equipment that you want from a list that slowly expands as you progress through the release, and using your gathered materials up in order to forge it. It's an accessible way to go about building your hero, and it gels well with the game's approachable nature, but there's nothing specifically unique or interesting about it. Although having said that, actually crafting a brand new set of armour or a destructive new weapon feels brilliantly satisfying, especially when you've toiled through the same battles multiple times to get your hands on the raw components.
Side quests also serve to keep you occupied, as inhabitants in need of favours ask you to journey out into the field and bring back what they need. The tasks usually become available around the same time as a new area to explore is opened up, so there's little point in not seeing them through, although you'll no doubt be disappointed by the lacklustre rewards that the villagers offer. It's a good job, then, that your comrades also ask for your help from time to time. Completing jobs for your brothers and sisters in arms strengthens your bond with them, which can lead to some hidden social events. It's nothing as deep or as important as you'd find in the likes of Persona 4 Golden, but the option to grow closer to your favourite party members is welcome nonetheless, and only adds to their personality.
Materials won't be the only thing that you'll be busy collecting, though. Bosses and sometimes lesser beasts can drop Mitama – souls of warriors that were taken from their time period by the Oni menace. These historical figures come with their own lovingly drawn portrait, as well as varying passive buffs and magical skills that allow you to alter your play style outside of your equipped weapon. For example, attack type Mitama come with powers that boost your damage, while spirit type souls allow you to summon destructive elements that injure your target from range. Like the game's take on crafting, this light RPG element is something that isn't wholly unique or especially compelling, but it adds another thoughtful layer of player choice and customisation.
With a serviceable narrative, solid gameplay, and addictive character progression, Toukiden is certainly a title that you may find yourself coming back to again and again, even if it's just for a quick stint of Oni slaughter. Smaller missions suit portable play well, but it's best to be aware that the epic clashes against larger foes can sometimes take up to half an hour to complete, meaning that the game is probably at its best when you're sitting comfortably with a few hours to spare so that you can get ensnared by the burning desire to churn out some lovely new items, all of which sport unique, attractive designs, whether they're burly bits or armour or swift, slender swords.
Meanwhile, multiplayer is on the menu if you're up for some cooperative action. Online missions are separate from the single player's, but they're perfect for gathering materials that are particularly tough to locate. Cooperation isn't a necessity as you and up to three other players will usually just be sprinting in separate directions so that you can achieve victory quickly, but it helps that the release supports gestures and quick messaging, which makes basic communication easy. But while playing with strangers is as easy as making or joining an open lobby, teaming up with friends is an absolute hassle. The only way to join with your buddies is by searching for and entering their custom-made room, but the search function seems to be completely unreliable, and at times, refuses to acknowledge that the created lobby even exists, which leaves us baffled as to why there isn't something as simple as an invitation system in place.
Outside of its gripping boss battles, Toukiden: The Age of Demons doesn't do much to get you excited. From its art style and audio to its combat and crafting system, it sticks to a familiar format, but its accessibility might just be its best asset, making it a decent alternative to the slightly more demanding mechanics of Monster Hunter. For a new property, though, it's an absolutely rock solid foundation on which developer Omega Force can build upon, hopefully crafting a sequel that slays the demon that we call predictability.