A Monster Hunter doppelgänger with a smattering of distinguishing traits up its steel-plated sleeves, Omega Force’s Toukiden: Age of Demons blends elements of the developer’s long-running Dynasty Warriors franchise with Capcom’s hack-and-slash fantasy genre titan as well as Sony’s too-quickly brushed aside PS Vita exclusive Soul Sacrifice. Primarily set in and around Utakata, a guardian village in medieval Japan, Toukiden replaces the nominal creature poachers from the Monster Hunter series with a group of skilled Mononofu, warriors who are trained to take down hordes of invading demons, or Oni, that threaten to destroy surrounding lands within the mythical region of Nakatsu Kuni. Exchanging traditional mammoth beasts for a swarm of towering hellspawn is the most obvious difference between Toukiden and Monster Hunter, yet it’s really the only one that keeps the game interesting throughout. With its polished visuals and unique character/enemy models, Toukiden is a decent first attempt by Omega Force at establishing a new enduring intellectual property—one that, remarkably, was among the top-selling Vita games in Japan for 2013. However, beneath the surface, this is a relatively shallow action RPG experience, depreciated by persistent gameplay repetition, a lack of variety in combat mechanics and weapon selection, and an overriding sense of parochial familiarity.
As with other Omega Force melee-centric titles, button-mashing comprises the bulk of Toukiden’s battlefield strategies. Armament types are generally limited to swords, daggers, chained blades, and arrow-flingers; assigning the proper weapon at the start of each mission is key to success. While it’s nice to have, say, a competent bow tossed in for players who like to keep their distance, opting to snipe big baddies rather than implement an all-out close-quarters assault, the gradual escalation of tedium that comes along with fighting the same bosses over and over again cheapens the adroitness level required to prevail in the game’s later hours. First-round run-ins with colossal foes, especially with a group of friends at your side (either via local ad-hoc WiFi or Internet connection), are well presented, and stand as a reminder of why Monster Hunter and its ilk are so popular. Grievously, though, Toukiden simply doesn’t do enough to stylistically separate itself from the deep-seated pack. Even by introducing an initially alluring narrative-based upgrade system that uses the departed spirits of defeated adversaries, called Mitama, in accordance with Haku, the in-game currency, to apply powerful enhancements to weapons and armor, the advancements are restricted to momentary offensive, defensive, and healing buffs that don’t do much wholesale benefiting. Once a proper altercation groove is settled into (i.e. knowing what weapon to pair with each opponent), using a wide array of Mitama augmentations is somewhat unnecessary.
Toukiden’s main campaign is enjoyable enough, rendered more bearable by an assortment of sightly environments and cinematics, but the habitual mindlessness of loading out AI companions makes speeding through single-player sections a priority. The game’s online functionality may be its best feature, with up to four Oni-slayers joining forces to eliminate a limitless amount of able-bodied monstrosities, the absence of much noticeable lag is highly commendable. The ease and addictive nature of cooperative play (although interim lobbies could use a bit of tinkering) very nearly rectifies the perennial air of déjà vu that Toukiden exudes, but Omega Force falls short of delivering their own ironclad answer to Monster Hunter, instead offering a handsome replica that wants for true innovation. Hopefully, they’ll walk their own path when it’s time to produce an inevitable sequel.