Toukiden: The Age Of Demons review
With Capcom cosied up in bed with Nintendo when it comes to the wonderful Monster Hunter franchise, the legions of imitators continue to have Vita to themselves. And while none has yet managed to top PSP boss grind Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, a few have come close – Soul Sacrifice for one managed to capture a lot of the same magic while shifting the tone for the darker, forcing hunters to use their own blood, limbs and body parts to fuel powerful attacks. Having already failed at denting the genre once with the middling Dynasty Warriors: Strike Force, Omega Force wouldn’t have been our first choice to fill the huge footprints left by Capcom’s absent monster. But with Toukiden showcasing the best aspects of the team’s own work with the Warriors series as well as some of the finer points of the monster hunting franchise from which it so liberally borrows, it’s considerably better than we expected it to be. If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery then these guys must really, properly love Monster Hunter.
Weapon selection and upgrades, quest structure, segmented maps, towering boss monsters to dismember, crafting and the open village will all feel instantly familiar to anyone who has ever been near a Monster Hunter game. But instead of dragons, wyverns and beasts, your prey here are Oni – hideous demons that run rampant in the village’s surrounding areas and must (literally) be cut down to size. Breaking key body parts in Monster Hunter is a way of negating particular attacks or scoring extra loot but here, it’s much more of a key mechanic. Every boss Oni has multiple breakable parts and when they are removed, the must be purified. Doing so not only earns materials and other goodies but also reduces the overall life force of the enemy. Fail to purify any severed body parts in time and the Oni may regenerate any missing bits, and limbs, horns and whatnot often come back stronger than before, so you need to avoid that at all costs – many of these guys are tough enough as it is, even for seasoned Monster Hunter veterans like us.
Making life a little bit easier is the supporting AI, with other characters joining you in pretty much every mission. While MH’s Felyne companions (and Cha-Cha in Tri) only really serve as distractions to occasionally buy you some breathing room, this merry band of warriors can actually hold their own in battle. They’re not especially smart – we once watched lumbering powerhouse Fugaku run back and forth for ages chasing tunnelling worms as they burrowed all over an arena for about ten minutes without managing to land a single hit – but they get the job done. They break body parts, play to their style’s strengths pretty well and even use supporting abilities at crucial times. And with a host of different warriors to choose from all with different weapons, abilities and strengths, it’s easy to put together a perfect party tailored around both your own character and your quarry.
As is expected from the genre, it’s not just about killing the big guys – it’s about killing them over and over again in the hunt for rare drops and better materials with which to forge and upgrade better gear. With only defence tied to armour and not skills, farming better outfits isn’t quite so pressing as it is in Monster Hunter but you’ll still want to work on a number of weapons so as best to enable you to exploit Oni’s elemental weaknesses. What you might want to farm instead of armour pieces, though, are Mitama, souls of fallen heroes that occasionally drop from enemies and can be equipped to weapons in order to gain their abilities. Getting new ones is pretty rare and upgrading them is an expensive and/or laborious process, but with buffs and perks getting better with each level, it’s blatantly worth it.
While there aren’t such clear difficulty spikes here as in Monster Hunter, a slow and steady escalation of challenge can present similar bottlenecks. Gear can be slightly improved by the village blacksmith between missions and naturally, your skill and experience will grow over time too. These elements sort of counteract the rise in difficulty for a while but when you stop learning or your gear caps out it won’t take long for things to get tricky. As such, you’ll find you need to rotate gear and Mitama regularly – a good habit to get into anyway – before the game forces you to relearn everything by introducing nasty surprises such as unleashing multiple bosses at once or having giant Oni ambush you during seemingly simple missions. Which is just rude.
Monster Hunter still wins out in terms of depth and variety, but Omega Force manages to nail so many of the other elements that make Capcom’s game so satisfying. And since Capcom is busy sleeping with the enemy, we have no hesitation whatsoever in heralding Toukiden as the best Monster Hunter game on Vita.