Capcom’s insanely popular Monster Hunter series has had plenty of imitators, though none have superseded its raw brand of skill-based combat or finely tuned progression system. Namco Bandai and even Sony have tried to usurp the kingly action RPG with little success, especially here in the west.
Rival series God Eater is pretty much a non-entity in these parts and though Soul Sacrifice had promise, it strayed too far from the game it tried to imitate, the end result being a laborious, tangled web of ill-thought mechanics.
Meanwhile, developer Omega Force has been sitting in the wings. For more than ten years the studio has worked under Japanese publisher, Tecmo KOEI, constantly expanding its popular Warriors year in, year out. Its a comfortable set-up to say the least, mimicking the regimented routine of western developers such as Infinity Ward and EA Canada, contently dedicating itself to one particular IP.
It came as quite a surprise then when Omega Force announced Toukiden, a Vita-exclusive action RPG looking to capitalize on the Monster Hunter-shaped hole left in the handheld’s software catalogue.
To summarise, Toukiden is currently the closest you can get to playing Capcom’s cash cow on the Sony device without trawling the compatible PSP archive. Without a trace of irony, Omega Force have torn away Monster Hunter’s trinkets and baubles, before adorning its bare bones with a few of their own fresh ideas. It’s rather uncanny and although the game has its flaws there’s a good chance Toukiden will garner a following in Monster Hunter’s absence.
Embedded within Japanese mythology, Toukiden charts the ongoing war between the demonic hordes of Oni and slayers – humans charged with protected the last remaining bastions. After creating your own custom-made character you are immediately dropped into this fictional medieval universe as an initiate of the slayer order.
Instead of leaving it at that, Toukiden actually develops on this original premise by introducing a narrative and characters. Players will soon discover they are destined for greatness and, through hours of gameplay, must hone their skills to face the encroaching darkness.
Though the presence of any story at all is one step above the Monster Hunter series, Toukiden’s narrative doesn’t exactly hail from the same school as, say, The Last of Us or BioShock. Dialogue and character interaction are simply filler between missions, featuring a cut-out cast replete with naive fledglings, ill-tempered veterans, and remote silent types. Toukiden’s characters aren’t completely unlikeable, they just do little to improve the overall experience.
It’s a shame as these companions highlight one the game’s successes over its competitor. If there is one thing I’ve always disliked about Monster Hunter, it’s Capcom’s narrow-minded view that ad-hoc play is actually a thing in the west. Since the original, I’ve always been forced to trek out into the wilderness as a lone wolf, adding yet another layer of challenge to what has always been a difficult series.
In Toukiden you rarely have that problem. As in Monster Hunter, you sign-up for a mission but instead of waiting for a stray player to drop into your lobby, you can set off with three AI companions instead. Though hardly a revelation it certainly helps to have AI slayers on-hand to fill gaps in wi-fi lobbies too.
The missions themselves are fairly rudimentary and begin to grind during long sessions. More often than not, players are tasked with hunting either a batch of certain Oni or taking down a big one. These boss fights, if you will, are without doubt the main pull and can take anywhere between a few minutes to half an hour, depending on a variety of factors.
Your overarching goal in Toukiden is to improve your weapons and armour using components scavenged from Oni. Upon returning from the hunt, you can forge and upgrade your gear at the blacksmith, experimenting with different stats such as weapon weight and a slew of elemental properties.
Gameplay itself is best described as a mix between Monster Hunter and Dynasty Warriors with the odd sprinkle of Soul Sacrifice here and there. Toukiden is completely third person with areas split into numbered zones, separated by brief loading screens. While monitoring their stamina and health, players will chain attacks to bring down Oni before Purifying (read: harvesting) materials.
Again, taking cues for Monster Hunter, your playstyle will hinge on whatever weapon-type you carry into battle. There are six in total including the long sword, twin blades, gauntlets, spear, long bow, and kusarigama. Each has its own moveset and unique potential, the best slaying parties usually consisting of a variety of different weapons.
The Dynasty Warriors comparison is mainly in reference to the combat itself. Attacks are fast-paced and precise as opposed to the lofty yet powerful strikes dealt in Monster Hunter. A target-lock feature has also been thrown in to help slayers cycle between enemies efficiently.
Toukiden’s only innovation is the Mitama system. Echoing some of mechanics found in Soul Sacrifice, the game assigns an ability to each face button that can be activated while holding down the right trigger. There are eight types of Mitama which combine with Toukiden’s weapons to create a multi-layered class system. For example, the Gauntlets can work in tandem with a Speed Mitama, making your special attacks markedly quicker, while the Long Bow can be paired with a Deceit Mitama to confuse enemies and poison specific body parts.
All of these gameplay nuances come together to make an accessible action RPG experience that still has a decent degree of challenge. As you go from chapter to chapter the Oni will become increasingly tougher, often forcing slayers to think out of the box or come prepared with optimised gear.
Though not a particularly bad looking game, Toukiden does little to push the Vita to its limits. Environments harbour just the right amount of diversity, as do the game’s characters as well as the Oni. All of the voicework is done in Japanese (with English subs, of course) though this doesn’t detract from the game at all.
It’s abundantly clear what Toukiden’s intentions are yet, even with its shopping list of lifted features, its still an enjoyable handheld RPG. Though somewhat repetitive, the game is teeming with content and plays well, especially when allied with three other online slayers. In short, Toukiden could easily be the start of something big for Omega Force and, given Tecmo KOEI’s penchant for expansions and follow-ups, a sequel is possibly already in the making.