Written By: Erika Haase
When the original Toukiden (prounonced: TOE-KEY-DEN) was released on Playstation Vita in 2014 from the creators of Dynasty Warriors, it was unabashedly trying to carve out its own niche in the massively popular “hunter-genre” of gaming. Capcom’s Monster Hunter has definitely grown in popularity here in the West, and in Japan it is utterly massive. However, since Monster Hunter is staying on the Nintendo platforms for the foreseeable future, developer Omega Force and publisher Koei Tecmo decided to give a good swing at the genre for themselves on Sony’s platforms. It had already been done with games like Soul Sacrifice and Freedom Wars and while both of those games arrived to modest success, they never managed to make it past one game. (Soul Sacrifice had an enhanced edition with Soul Sacrifice: Delta, however it was not a proper sequel.)
Toukiden, however, has met the criticisms of its first title head on and arrived with a stunner of a sequel that addressed almost every gripe players might have had with the first installments (Toukiden: Age Of Demons and it’s enhanced and expanded version Toukiden: Kiwami (pronounced: KEY-WAH-ME) which made its arrival on Playstation 4 as well as Vita). It’s clear that the creators went into creation with a long-term vision in mind and if you were on the fence about either starting another game in the franchise, or have never played the game at all, Toukiden 2 should be on your radar. I won’t bother trying to say which of the hunter-genre games are “better,” as that world is completely relative to your gaming tastes, however I will say that I think Toukiden is unique enough to stand on its own two legs far into the future if handled properly, and lovers of the hunter genre should give it a fair shot. Even if you love Monster Hunter, you will find something very different (yet just familiar enough) in Toukiden.
TOUKIDEN: AGE OF DEMONS/KIWAMI BACKSTORY SUMMARY:
Set in historic Japan, Toukiden is not aiming for high-fantasy RPG territory. It is an unapologetically Japanese experience based on real world locations, historical battles, Japanese mythology, and monsters spawned straight from The Land Of The Rising Sun. After an event known as The Awakening, massive Oni (demons) have begun spawning and destroying the world. Some of these Oni are strong enough to destroy time itself. Along the way, they eat and become powered by the souls of the strongest fighters of the land. These souls, referred to as Mitama in game, are named after either a real world historical Japanese figure, or god/goddess. For any Tomb Raider fans out there, you can even find the soul of the Queen from Yamatai Island, and you know Nobunaga makes an appearance. You play the part of a Slayer, a character you create and name who is generally voiceless outside of dialogue decisions. The Slayers have existed for the better part of 1,000 years of history in the shadows, slaying demons and hiding their knowledge of the supernatural to protect the general public. However, after the events of The Awakening, their existence is made public and they are met with fear and sometimes revulsion. They begin to refer to themselves as “the demons who kill demons” based on the way they’re treated by a society they used to stay hidden from. In Toukiden: Age Of Demons/Kiwami you are a newly arriving Slayer in the village of Utakata – a rare example of a place where Slayers live amongst regular people. The storyline is very character centric, as you get closer to each member of the group of Slayers residing there, each with their own tattered and painful pasts. Despite being a hunter game, and outside of the typical formula of “take mission, kill demon, harvest parts, make armor, rinse, repeat,” there is a startling amount of depth to the storyline in Toukiden: Age Of Demons and that is built upon with the arrival of several new characters in Toukiden: Kiwami which adds a very sizeable amount of important plot to the franchise lore.
Kiwami includes all content from the original game, allows you to carry over save data if you decide to upgrade, and made its arrival on the Playstation 4 as well as the Vita to expand the user base.
TOUKIDEN 2 GAMEPLAY – EVOLUTION AT WORK FOR YOU:
Drawing on its Dynasty Warriors roots, fighting has a liquid fluidity to it in the way you dart about the screen. Fights are bright, fast, flashy affairs, and the weapon selection really lets the attention paid to fighting style development shine. While you experience the fluidity of movement regardless of weapon type, your tactic in fighting actually matters. Toukiden: Kiwami introduced rifles and ammo into the mix which offered a much more complex alternative to the bow and arrow that served as your primary ranged option beforehand.
As a lover of the dual blades myself, I find myself continuously interested in seeing how each weapon feels because no matter how many hours you sink into one weapon style, when you switch over to a club, spear, rifle, or gauntlets, you’ll re-evaluate your entire approach to Oni hunting.
I respect any game that offers that kind of diversity and doesn’t make weapons just feel like a palette swap. Don’t be alarmed, however, as none of that knowledge is extensively required. The beauty of Toukiden is that you can get through the entire game using one weapon style and let the AI of your in-game teammates do the heavy lifting by selecting weapon users best suited to your demon killing mission needs. The AI is smart, and can be commanded in four key ways either as a group, or by individual member. No multiplayer required.
Weapons and abilities are enhanced by the use of the above-mentioned Mitama – the souls of heroes who agree to help you in the fight against evil. Killing Oni always gives you the chance of getting a new one, sometimes by story and sometimes by RNG. There are well over a hundred of these souls, so unless you are a massive completionist, don’t worry about collecting them all (although there is a trophy if you do, of course). Different souls have different specialties (Attack, Defense, Spirit, etc.) and you can obtain stat boosts and ability bonuses by making more favorable combinations and getting weapons that allow you to attach more souls to them. Again, just like the weapon familiarity, if you find a style you like playing, and the idea of learning a new combination is overwhelming, have no fear. You can play through the main game and side missions without investing your college career in time. Pick a style and stick with it, or experiment. Toukiden as a franchise in general allows you to essentially set your own difficulty level, right down to the acceptance of challenges against ultra-strong Oni that usually will only show up post-end game. If you’re a person who wants to see what all the hype is about in killing big monsters and making really cool armor out of them, this series is a great way to do it without the Monster Hunter time commitment. The great story you get along the way is an extra bonus that I can’t hype up enough. I never expected to walk away from a hack and slash monster game thinking “what a great story.”
Then Toukiden 2 came out and made everything 200% better than it had already been.
Toukiden: Kiwami remained extremely formulaic in nature in spite of the re-vamps: get mission, kill demon, harvest parts, make weapons, watch story. Toukiden 2 hides that formula under a rich blanket of an open world that allows you to stumble across Oni of all size varieties, and even other real-world players involved in active battles that you can assist them with. Every aspect of the game is “bigger, better, badder.” Day and night cycles take place while you’re out on the map and they affect the level of Oni strength. Even weather can affect what abilities certain Oni whip out. You can find side quests now not from a cut and dry reception desk, but from actual NPCs out on the world map. The speed is still there, as is the variety in weapon types and feel for each weapon, but now it can be applied to a much bigger playing field. Every nagging component from the first game that contributed to frustrated player cries to the RNG gods has been met, as far as I can tell, as much as it can be without simply handing you the items. For instance – if you’re short on a demon component to forge an armor set or weapon, there are multiple ways for you to get those one or two pieces you’re shy on now. One is by use of an item known as a “Multipurpose Rock” an uncommon item that serves as supernatural duct tape, the other is a brand-new synthesis system that allows you to combine the common items you’ll soon be drowning in into various monster parts you probably actually need. I couldn’t help but wonder if Koei Tecmo felt the need to integrate synthesis into Toukiden to keep its Atelier franchise company. Mitama still give you boosts, however you can now get multiple other boosts by eating meals from the village restaurant created by a mixture of demon parts and ingredients (giving you even greater use for all those commonly dropped components), and using the village hot spring gives you meaningful stat boosts for battle as well as extra rewards upon returning. Your actions have a far more tangible impact on the village you live in as well. If you see a group of travelers in trouble on the world map, saving them many times earns you increased safety in supply routes which nets you better item selection at the item store, and more importantly – “thank you” freebies from the blacksmith and carpenter which can get you very expensive weapon upgrades at no cost, which is super helpful when you’re first starting out (or working your way up to the trophy for having a Million Dollars).
The only limitation on being out in the open world areas is your exposure to “miasma” – the toxic substance that Oni give off in infested areas. If you lose track of time, you may find yourself reaching an exposure limit that you can’t get back from. However, this is remedied by letting you discover various portal stones that, once purified, become an oasis of clean air for you to recoup your miasma poisoning, as well as an option for a one-way ticket back to home base if you’re done gaming for the day.
The other big introduction is the Demon Hand. The Demon Hand allows you to summon forth a giant claw that, when timed right, is able to trip up large Oni when charging, destroy small Oni altogether, or permanently chop off limbs to keep them from regenerating. Much like the group attack that was introduced in Kiwami when the team’s Unity gauge was filled, this is a much better executed version that doesn’t require you to be standing close to your teammates (a strategy that could very well get you all killed if the Oni went into a rampage).
When the Unity gauge is filled, you can now summon forth a giant claw that transforms into a blade or club that denies even the see-through limb generation on the Oni that used to happen by default in the first games. In some great attention to detail, doing this isn’t just useful for bringing the monster’s health down. The Oni will move completely differently without legs, dragging themselves around on arms instead. If it flies and you chop off a wing, you now have a ground fight instead of needing to rely on ranged attacks. There are some really clever adaptive animations that happen in these situations that show off how much thought went into these battles and the hunter-strategy you might want to employ.
You can still accept missions at a counter back at home base, however, instead of wasting a bunch of time to get to the monster, HQ missions will pop you directly into the combat the second you walk out the gates of town. If you’re looking to grind for materials, or need to kill a specific monster quickly for a quest, this is a great way of doing it without looking for it, and hoping it will show up. As long as you’ve already beaten it at least once, that Oni will show up at the HQ desk as a mission. Much like in the original Toukiden, you can also choose to jump online with up to three other players and go out in a squad, opening up more and more phases of monsters to fight as you clear the ones already available to you. Even if you’re playing single-player, you can help out a player online if you come across one in the middle of a skirmish. Doing so allows for the automatic trading of information cards and it’s always amusing when you come across that player again. I came across the same guy three times in one very long gaming session the other day. It’s a mutual benefit since they allow for a temporary fifth member to your fighting squad which means, you guessed it, saving time in fighting Oni.
I’m not sure what the draw is, exactly, in the hunter genre. I know I’m not immune, whatever it is. There’s something very addictive in the repetitive collection of parts to make yourself the baddest warrior in all the land. My husband doesn’t really get it, but he’s certainly used to me shoving my Vita in his face to say “Look at these blades, though. LOOK HOW BAD ASS THEY ARE.” I guess I appreciate the feeling of accomplishment that goes into spending time in crafting something because you feel you earned it more, and hey, maybe that’s the draw.
However – I draw the line when it gets too grindy. Everyone has their own standard of “acceptable grind,” however my back-log of games is threatening to kill a small child or animal if it falls on them at the moment, so while I love my world of monster killing, I also need it to end. The beauty of Toukiden is that you can make this game as grindy and complex as Monster Hunter (almost) if you really wanted to, but you’re not required to do so, or missing out on anything by for taking a more “casual” approach to it. Tutorial sessions with different weapon setups and Mitama styles are always available to play and replay if you need a reminder, so if you need to take a break and come back to refresh, the ability to dive right back in is made easy for you. There is zero requirement to play online, or rely on the existence of a community. I’ve invested a few hours of online time on the original Toukiden, but I haven’t even dipped a toe into Toukiden 2 online, nor will I for probably several more hours and armor upgrades. The fact that it is completely up to me appeals to my general “lack of time for the grind” mentality.
TOUKIDEN 2 PLOT:
If you’re like me, then you may also need games you sink 70-100+ hours into to engage you with more than carpal tunnel flaring up – yes even when they’re button mashy hunter-genre games that aren’t renowned for their plots. I need a story in my games, and this is where Toukiden continues to shine and stay unique. It has one of the most non-generic stories out there for the genre it’s in. If Soul Sacrifice had made a sequel, then it would also be in the running as it had some of the most fantastic writing for the genre in existence.
While Age Of Demons & Kiwami focused on the Slayers of Utakata Village as individuals, Toukiden 2 introduces you as an all new Slayer in the remote village of Mahoroba and has a much broader narrative. It speaks to the strength of the lore and the foundation built in the previous games that you can remove all familiarity of characters from the previous game, but still feel the same threats from the Oni menace. Since Slayers fight an enemy capable of manipulating and destroying time itself, it’s not uncommon for time periods to overlap, or have buildings from forty years ago (or in the future) show up in areas where Oni presence is heavy. While you save the world from one threat by the end of Toukiden: Kiwami, Oni aren’t gone – in fact we still don’t know where they came from. Toukiden 2 promises to give us far more answers, hinting at an expansion of the story line of one of Kiwami’s new characters. We hear a lot about how most of humanity has been decimated by the Oni in the first games, but it isn’t until Toukiden 2 where you can get more of a sense of how much has been lost and how badly people are fighting for space in the pitiful few remaining “safe” areas. Taken out of the bubble of Utakata village, which was, as I mentioned a unique situation for Slayers and civilians, you realize the rumors are true. Slayers harbor deep resentments against those that turned on them when their abilities were revealed, even within their own ranks. Toukiden 2 takes a dark turn when the story looks inward at the war atrocities committed between a divide in the Slayer community – those who lived hidden, and those who chose to integrate in society. This divide has real consequences on the lives of innocents, and you can tell the game is attempting to make a bigger point about the treatment of those different from ourselves, war-time refugees, and the excuses we make for looking down on others. Within the first ten hours of Toukiden 2, you can tell the story will be far more deep and complex than its predecessors were in total, and I welcome it. Players of the first game will be happy to know the beautiful cutscenes remain – no in game engine cop-outs here – and key points of the story are still told in the high-quality CG moments that fully highlight the excellent character design and personality of everyone you interact with.
A CRITICAL EYE:
Toukiden 2 has made so many improvements to the original formula (and I liked the original formula), but nothing is perfect. I’m playing on the PSVita version myself, however it is clear that preference in development was given to the Playstation 4 iteration. While you can customize the controls on the Vita to make more sense on the limited visual real estate you have on the handheld, there is a lot going on on-screen now.
I’ve had less frame-rate drops than I expected, but they’ve happened, and at one point my game stopped to just go to a loading screen between one big open area and another even though they’re not separated by any door or gateway. Furthermore, the best way I’ve found the wrangle the Demon Hand on the PS Vita is by touching the screen and using either a double-tap or press of the R button. Either way, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that being mid combat which requires the symbol buttons, and having to quickly jab at the screen when your Unity gauge is filled, makes for some awkward balancing acts on a skinny handheld. I have tried re-assigning this command to the rear touchpad which does work, but it makes for a very nagging hand cramp after a few hours when you land up overstretching your pinky finger. It’s clear that the controller and a big TV screen was definitely what they had in mind for Toukiden 2. It’s helpful to note that the game does support cross-save so you can take grinding on the go if you choose, however, if I’d been more aware of these radical differences from the first two versions of Toukiden, I’d have gone for the PS4 version purchase. If you’re still on the fence about this title – save yourself the hand cramps.
There are odd glitches when the game has issues connecting to the network. When you’re in the open-world, if you encounter an ongoing mission that involves a real-world player I’ve had the game drop me more frequently than not. This should be irrelevant to which console I’m gaming on, and seems to be a game problem regardless of system. I get a notification box that I’ve been disconnected from the network, or that no network is available, and that box has sometimes stayed on my screen for two minutes before going away which (as you can imagine) in battle can mean a game over since you can’t see what you’re fighting.
I don’t play games for graphics, but it bears mentioning that the PSVita/PS4 versions don’t look much different except for a higher resolution on the Playstation 4, and possibly less frame rate issues. The game looks amazing in some respects – character models, and Oni design and animation are clearly where 90% of the budget went. Environments, however, are not well detailed and still muddy. Those are definitely still on a PS3 level. It’s smart that Toukiden chooses to tell its biggest moments via CG cutscenes because those detract from how noticeably dated the in-game graphics are.
Lastly, it’s a little redundant that the game gives in-game tutorials as part of the story, but then offers better tutorials at HQ immediately thereafter. Sometimes, you can land up having done a tutorial at HQ before you get the explanation in the story. I find the “story” explanations to be too fast and miss important details, because the systems they fly over take more than twenty seconds to grasp. My advice to you is – if you’re stuck on something, don’t quit the game. Go to the HQ desk and play the tutorial. It’ll be over in about two minutes and you’ll probably land up saying “well why didn’t they say that in the first place?”
CLOSING WORDS/ANIMATED SHORTS:
With two games on the Playstation 4, and a continued presence on the Playstation Vita, I think that Toukiden as a franchise has a lot up its sleeve if it manages what it’s set up correctly. It would make for a fantastic anime with the amount of lore and character depth, and in fact in a 2013 interview with Famitsu, Producer Kenichi Ogasawara did hint at expansion to anime and manga. When the original Toukiden came out, a four-minute animated short was produced (see below) that featured the first heroine you meet in the game, Oka. It established the dark tone and the identity of The Slayers so well it made me preorder the original game on the spot. In Japan, it got its very own prequel manga.
The same producers went ahead and made another animated short for the arrival of Toukiden 2 which introduces you to the ever-curious Professor who isn’t half as distant as she pretends to be (below).
With such a strong sequel, I think it’s fair to say that Toukiden could easily become the next big name of the “hunter-genre” with a very robust legacy of its own to stand on. It gains that praise from me without any disrespect meant to the Monster Hunter fanbase (which will go nowhere, mind you). Toukiden brings something new and exciting to the genre, and that is a soul of its very own. Even if you passed on the franchise before, or found Kiwami to be too repetitive, I really hope you give Toukiden 2 a chance. It is welcoming to new-comers, and will fill you in on the backstory. The demo is up on PSN currently, and all accomplishments you make there will carry over should you choose to purchase the game itself.
See you on the battlefield, Slayer!
Disclaimer: Review is based on the PS Vita versions of Toukiden: Age Of Demons, Toukiden: Kiwami, and Toukiden 2. All copies were purchased at expense to myself and I have no affiliation or agreement with KoeiTecmo for a positive review nor did I receive any compensation.