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An expansive world rife with monsters and the humans who slay them. A long but satisfying grind. Larger-than-life boss battles that endeavor to test your patience at every turn. Yep, Toukiden: The Age of Demons is unmistakably a Monster Hunter clone. But we’re not talking about a simple rip-off looking for its own 15 minutes of fame. Surprisingly, Toukiden manages to take the shamelessly addictive traits of Monster Hunter and actually make them accessible to both new and old players.
Toukiden focuses on the rivalry between the bloodthirsty Oni (Japanese for demon) and human Slayers. Unfortunately, while its divergence from Western fantasy tropes is savory, it isn't exactly interesting. The “legend” itself is standard fare, inviting players to Utakata Village, a community under siege by a demonic threat that appeared eight years ago. The Slayers in the village have been on clean-up duty ever since, and that’s where you come in. When the malevolent Oni rear their ugly heads, it’s up to you and your friends (or AI companions) to take them down. That’s about as involved as the narrative gets, and while it eschews dragons and magic for “purification” and “mitama” abilities, it’s still rather flat. For the most part, your Slayer acts as a painfully bland pawn of sorts--think Dragon’s Dogma companions with brief dialogue exchanges.
Fortunately, developer Omega Force demonstrates a willingness to make up for the story’s shortcomings with a layered combat system and myriad of missions to complete. While Monster Hunter has always thrived on rigid multiplayer trappings, Toukiden is content to serve up action you can enjoy alone. Its battles are easy to grasp, with free-flowing combos and battles that require little more than learning a few simple button presses. What’s more, you don't have to sit around and wait for real, live human friends or even online acquaintances to join the game lobby to get your adventure going. You can set forth with three AI slayers who are more than happy to grind along with you. That said, if the option exists to invite some friends on the hunt, it’s advisable to play with someone you can issue orders and suggestions to in real time.
You’ll enjoy yourself much more with friends, too, as Toukiden has a heavy emphasis on repetitive questing and monster-killing, all in pursuit of gaining stats and gear. This gear then helps you take on the true draw of these types of games: towering, deeply satisfying bosses. Stumble upon a larger-than-life Oni and you'll be in the match for the long haul, with these larger trophy monsters taking up to 45 minutes to kill, depending on how prepared you and your party are. Chaining attacks, outfitting you and your companions with optimal equipment, and tailoring your play style to each individual monster is the key to victory. Personal choice and aesthetics aside, there are styles of play that end up feeling more appropriate to different types of players. I found that using a long sword made Toukiden feel much less like a sprawling open world Monster Hunter-type adventure and more like a brawler.
The Mitama system is also a boon that players will find themselves gravitating toward. Each face button triggers a special ability when held down, with eight different types of Mitama available for the weapons found in Toukiden. For example, when paired with a speed Mitama, the Long Bow launches a quick and deadly assault on enemies in the distance--it's simple to understand, but the possibilities are nearly endless. The experimentation here is compelling, and you'll undoubtedly spend more time with Toukiden than you otherwise may have, just playing around with these weapon combinations. Sure, you could stand around and hack away at what’s supposed to be a 45-minute boss encounter, but you’ll want to become intimately familiar with your Mitama to create swift and efficient Oni-slaying weapons tailored to your favorite style of play.
As accessible and engaging as Toukiden is, there are a few issues with the game's presentation. It doesn't exactly push the Vita to its graphical limits, with some blurry textures and muddy character models that call back to the age of PlayStation 2 RPG epics. Additionally, there is no English dub track. The Japanese voice cast, however, is excellent, and a lack of English audio isn't a glaring oversight--just a puzzling one, given the full treatment with games such as Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc or even Persona 4 Golden.
Plainly stated, Toukiden is a Monster Hunter-style game that's not only more accessible than Capcom's juggernaut franchise, but suitable for solo play as well. It's pretty cut-and-dry whether or not you should play it. If you're looking for a Monster Hunter substitute that works well with or without real-life friends, you're going to want to look into it. With such a glaring spot vacant in most Vita owners' libraries, you'd do well to fill yours with Omega Force's valiant effort. It’s messy, but it’s one hell of a ride.
Toukiden is fast and furious, but it also knows how to play up a complex leveling system to keep things fresh. It isn’t perfect, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better Monster Hunter replacement in the interim.