10 Thoughts on… the Toukiden: the Age of Demons demo (Sony Playstation Vita)

While Monster Hunter is probably one of the hottest things going in Japan, there’s been a general dearth of games that have attempted to put their own spin on the “hunt giant monsters” concept, both in Japan and the US, until fairly recently. While there have been games that borrowed certain elements from the Monster Hunter franchise, like Dragon’s Dogma and Gods Eater Burst, releases have been slightly sparse up until about two years ago. The Playstation Vita, oddly enough, seems to have sparked an advanced interest in the genre, as while Capcom has migrated to the 3DS for its Monster Hunter releases, other developers are attempting to make the Vita into a haven for giant monster hunting gameplay. With games like Ragnarok Odyssey and its upcoming update, Ace, God Eater 2, and Toukiden: the Age of Demons either already available or coming out soon, there’s never been a better time to invest in the Vita if you’re a fan of giant monsters and the hunting thereof. With Toukiden launching soon in the US, Tecmo Koei has seen fit to push out a demo of the game to give players a chance to see what the game has to offer, and as the game is something of an unknown entity, I basically jumped on the chance. While its developer Omega Force has done some great work in the Dynasty Warriors series, I was curious to see what they might bring to the table for a game of this sort that might differentiate the game from its competitors, and how the game would work in general. Well, having spent some time with the demo, let’s take a look at what Toukiden has to offer for monster hunting aficionados so far.

1.) When you boot the demo up, after an involved introductory cutscene, you’re given the option to create your own character more or less as you see fit. The customization options offered, while not terribly in-depth, hit all of the major expected points: you can choose your gender as well as customize your hair, face, voice, skin color and so on basically as you wish with minimal difficulty. The only significant choice you’re asked to make from the beginning is the starting weapon you’re equipped with; this doesn’t have a big long-term impact so you don’t need to feel like it’s a life-altering decision or anything, but it’s important in the first few minutes at least. There are six default weapons to choose from that represent the weapon categories available in the demo, between swords, knives, spears, gauntlets, chain and sickle (kusarigama) and bows, so you’ve got a decent mix of normal and novelty weapons available to you to play with. You can change your weapons out at basically any time, though, so just pick what looks interesting, name your character and head off into battle! Literally.

2.) Yes, after you create your character, you are almost literally dumped right into battle with a gigantic monster. While you’d be forgiven for thinking that this a bit of a “toss you into the deep end to learn to swim” situation, in reality it’s just an overly dramatic tutorial. As tutorials go, it handles the basics fairly well; it gives you a gigantic monster to face that is, in no way, likely to kill you unless you seriously screw off, instantly attempts to impress you with the scope of the situation before throwing you to the wolves, and generally gets its point across fairly well. It’s also worth noting that, in comparison to something like Monster Hunter, which spends about an hour or so walking you through the important stuff before unleashing anything vaguely impressive upon you, Toukiden gets right to the meat of the matter almost instantly before spending an hour walking you through stuff. If nothing else, it whets your appetite for the cool stuff you expect is coming any day now, and from a demo, you kind of expect that.

3.) Insofar as the mechanics of combat go, well, the basics are pure Monster Hunter mania, so anyone familiar with the franchise will be right at home here. The left and right sticks control movement and the camera, respectively, and in a nod to Gods Eater, holding down the Left Trigger will enable lock-on should you want to use it. Square offers up a faster, weaker attack, while Triangle allows for a stronger, slower attack, and most weapons allow you to chain these attacks at your leisure (though the bow, being a ranged weapon, changes this up a bit). Circle is set up as a “special attack” which depends on the weapon equipped, though they all generally drain your stamina like nuts, and X is your all-purpose interact/dodge button. You’ll also see your life and stamina bars in the upper left corner of the screen, as you’d expect, though unlike Monster Hunter, stamina only depletes when performing certain actions, such as running, dodging, special attacks and so on, and the bar doesn’t decrease or need any real maintenance. In other words, right from jump, this is probably going to be a lot more accessible to newcomers simply because it expects less from the get-go, which is by no means a bad thing for introducing gamers to the world of killing and carving giant monsters.

4.) Where Toukiden starts to become its own thing is in the advanced combat actions that pop up during the tutorial. The first big thing the game shows off is the “Eye of Truth,” which is essentially a screen filter that, when kicked on, shows you enemy weak points and how damaged they are, the health level of the enemies on screen, and hidden items in the environment. It’s not too easy to use at all times and it drains stamina while it’s turned on so you won’t be keeping it on at all times, but it’s useful for sizing up enemies and finding hidden loot in the game world. The other interesting thing the game shows off here is Purification. Holding down the Right Trigger kicks you into Purification Mode, which allows you to break down dead enemies or enemy parts into items (though the game doesn’t show this off until later) as well as kick on special abilities with the press of one of the face buttons. In this particular battle, most of the abilities revolve around increasing damage and healing, though as you progress they get more involved. Finally, there’s the Weapon Gauge, which appears to the left of your health and stamina meters. As you beat on enemies, it fills up, and when it’s full, you can press Triangle and Circle together to unleash a massive damage attack that ruins anything it touches, though the actual effects depend on the weapon equipped.

5.) The special abilities you can kick on from the Purification stance depend on what the game refers to as “Mitama,” which are essentially the souls of dead hunters that you recover out in the field. Each soul is built under a certain combat style (attack, defense, spirit, and so on) and has special abilities that correspond to that designation. Part of this dictates the special skills you can use from the Purification stance; the Mitama you get early on, for instance, has attack boosts and life leaching skills, while another you recover from the first boss monster offers missile and area of effect attacks. The other part comes from the active boosts gained from equipping a Mitama, which can increase attack, defense, the speed at which equipment bonds to you, and other fun things. Each Mitama can level up (in the demo at least, up to three times) either through using them out in the field or with the expenditure of Haku (money) in town, and each level adds new bonuses to the Mitama, so you’ll want to level them up as best you can. The game also allows you to Purify the Mitama, reducing them back to level one, though what benefit this may carry is uncertain; it’s possible that there may be better benefits available when raising a level or other positives that may come from leveling a Mitama multiple times, however.

6.) Once you get through the tutorial, the game dumps you out into the plot proper (after a bit of “the Gods seem to think you’re alright” business), which is exactly what you’re expecting: you’ve been sent to a front line base that defends against the giant monster menace as a newbie hunter… er, slayer… and you’re here to learn the basics. The town in question, Utakata, is understaffed and overworked as a front-line against the evil Oni forces, but as you might expect, you’ll likely be the force that turns the tide in the town’s efforts to survive and protect the area from evil. The game puts a bit more emphasis on its plot, akin to Gods Eater, as you’ll meet a good amount of NPC’s during the demo who have more personality to them than “here’s a mission, try not to die,” and the main NPC’s all have their own character portraits and such. The character personalities, so far, are fairly stereotypical (strong yet sensitive female warrior, younger warrior who has something to prove, joker with a heart of gold) but they fit in here well enough, and the character interactions are fun enough to add something to the game that’s interesting. The NPC’s also introduce the more involved gameplay concepts to you as you progress, as sort of a plot-based tutorial, which works well enough.

7.) The town, as you’d expect, acts as a central hub of activity for you when you’re not out in the field murdering Oni. You can visit the combat headquarters, where you can take on missions, change gear, and make donations to the gods for possible boosts in battle. The town proper offers a spirit medium to level up your Mitama, a vendor who sells more goods as you do business with him, a blacksmith who builds and upgrades your gear, and various NPC’s who can offer quests or flavor text… as well as a few other novelties. Your house allows you to change gear, look at your storage, save your game, and read notes you’re delivered as the plot progresses. Also, in the second chapter, you’re given a pet Tenko (a sort of mystical fox) that can explore the world for items you can use in crafting and such at no cost to you (and it’s adorable so hey, bonus). The one thing that does grate, at least in the demo, is the inventory limitation: you only have thirty slots available for storing items, so far, and if there’s a way to expand that I’ve yet to discover it. Hopefully such is the case at some point, but if not, it’s going to make prioritizing inventory far more painful than it needs to be, and hopefully someone will patch that at some point if it’s the default.

8.) The vast majority of your time in the demo will be spent going out into the field to hunt for monsters and collectibles, and this is basically similar to Monster Hunter, or perhaps more accurately, Gods Eater, in thought and deed. The map shows up in the upper right corner, and you’ll run through the various available map locations attempting to perform whatever tasks the game has assigned you, be it slaying monsters, finding items, or what have you. You can bring your NPC allies into most missions, where they’ll essentially help you beat the mess out of whatever, which is good for balancing out a combat force, since each NPC ally uses one of the weapons from the palette, so you can mix and match as needed. The game actually feels a lot like Gods Eater in its combat sections, when you get down to it; a lot of the involved “hunt for stuff in every nook and cranny” elements Monster Hunter is known for are excised entirely from this game, and you won’t be needing supplies or anything of the sort when you go into battle. Everything you need is on your person, and much of the exploration aspects of the game are streamlined down to the basics; aside from using the Eye of Truth to find hidden objects and such, it’s mostly about killing and Purifying enemies. Whether or not that’s going to scratch the itch of genre diehards is questionable, but the streamlining has its benefits, if nothing else.

9.) As you spend time in the various missions there are a few other novelties that are worth mentioning that pop up here and there. For one thing, Purification actively takes less time the more people are involved in doing it, so if two or three players (or you and a couple NPC’s) are purifying a carcass or item, it breaks down faster. This is important to note in boss battles, as you’re basically going to be aiming to hack all of the component parts off of a boss to weaken and ultimately kill it. Now, while this only temporarily disables the boss (they grow a phantom to replace it), you can then purify the dismembered part, though it takes a good while to do so, leaving you open to attack. If you have one person distract the boss, however, the rest of the party can jump on purifying an item to break it down faster. Plus, no matter who purifies an item, everyone gets a drop from it, so it pays to use strategy in these cases. Also, if a player character is knocked to zero health, while they can retreat, if allies can get to them in time, they can kick in Purification to attempt to bring them back to life on the spot with a little bit of health, instead of a knockout meaning instant rejection back to the base camp. It also bears noting that the AI on your NPC allies actually isn’t too bad, and they seem to more or less be immortal by all indications, so you don’t need to worry about them as much as you might expect. Playing with others will be a different animal altogether, of course, but for the most part, even if you have no one to play with, you should still be alright.

10.) The Toukiden demo is, beyond anything else I can say here, absolutely massive; I’m two hours into it and still playing it, which, regardless of anything else I could say about it, makes it a far better showcase for what the game offers than the Monster Hunter “kill one monster” demos we’re used to. There’s a lot more to the game beyond what I’ve highlighted here, including weapon crafting and upgrading, adding sockets to weapons to equip multiple Mitama, online and ad-hoc multiplayer and more, and if you have a Vita you should really download it and check it out. It’ll be interesting to see if the demo progress can be carried over into the main game (probably not, but it would be nice), how extensive the single player and multiplayer campaigns will be, and what else the game will have to offer in the mid and late goings of the experience. As it stands right now, though, the demo for Toukiden shows a game that, while it might not appease diehard Monster Hunter fanatics, will almost certainly be a fun introduction to the genre for newcomers, and a solid tide-over for fans if nothing else. We’ll be covering the game more closer to release, so stay tuned.