There a number of very rational reasons why players might sink a hundred hours into a Monster Hunter title. For many, the gameplay loop is thoroughly compelling, as players take tricked-out weapons and armor to kill giant beasts and then use the body parts of slain monsters to augment their loadouts even further. For others, the comradery found in cooperative hunts is altogether alluring, with teams able to tackle and kill stubbornly resilient creatures. However, few are likely to invest weeks into Capcom’s title for the narrative alone. Although Monster Hunter is a fantastic action-based franchise, the series don’t offer much in the way of story-based substance.
But players pursuing a plot-rich experience would be wise to seek out Toukiden 2. Sure, there are a succession of epic showdowns pitting a party of Slayers against fantastical foes, recalling the allure of Capcom’s cash cow. But Omega Force’s sequel ensures there’s an ample amount of justification behind the oni stalking. And that alone gives the second Toukiden a significant edge over its creature-killing contemporaries.
Peril arrives across Toukiden 2 in the form of the Awakening, an event that brings scores of malevolent oni into the world, hell-bent on wiping humanity off the planet. After a brief hiatus in a basic character creation suite, players take the role of a slayer, who valiantly battles the encroachers who converge onto Yokohama, blazing a path of ferocious destruction. Following a fight with a particularity large oni, the lead is pulled through a mysterious portal, landing unconscious in Mahoraba Village, with a decade seemingly lost in the transfer.
While players might expect the game to mine the whole ‘interloping savior from another time’ premise to be clumsy, Toukiden 2 essentially shirks producing eye rolls. Save for the overly broad gestures offered up by the silent protagonist, the game’s expressive dialog helps with the suspension of disbelief. Inside the quaint village, players will find a number of well-crafted characters, that make the experience so enjoyable. There’s a professor, who studies an ancient technology known as Machina, who ranks on the tsundere spectrum and her obedient but kvetching cyberpunk-looking assistant, Tokitsugu. Largely, their interplay is charming and subtly comical, offering a reprieve from the seriousness of a persistent threat.
Pleasingly, Toukiden 2 offers more than just indulging interaction. There’s an entire sub-plot surrounding the guards that inhibited the village before the onslaught of oni and the group forced to take refuge in Mahoraba. Given the current geopolitical context, it’s difficult not to draw comparison to the heated debate surrounding immigration, making Toukiden 2 particularly timely. And while it’s not as fleshed out and I would have liked, players aren’t just bystanders, with their actions affecting both factions.
Yet another moving element is Toukiden 2’s incorporation of Mitama, which represent the souls of fallen slayers. Functionally, they’re not radically different from Monster Hunter’s Screamer Sacs or Seltas Shells, effectively upgrading a player’s stats. But here, they’re given a context. When a defeated Oni relinquishes one of the game’s 200-odd Mitama, you’re given back a bit of backstory on an actual historical figure, and a portrait, as the hero extends a bit of optimism against the fight against the oni. And since you can only bring a few souls with you in battle, it’s easy to develop an attachment for some of the Mitama, especially when some level-up through your conjoined efforts.
Certainty, you’ll feel the power of fallen warriors assist you when confronting the game’s hulking monstrosities, with prolonged showdowns that are destined to absorb gamers. Like Toukiden: The Age of Demons and the supplemented console port, Toukiden: Kiwami, you’ll be given a wide array of weaponry for slaying, with eleven different arms available to players. Naturally, each has their own inherent advantages and downsides, but there’s enough variety to suit almost any conceivable play style.
Pleasingly, there’s variability in each loadout as well. Pick up the sword and shield, for instance and you can opt for an offensive and defensive stance, opting to either dual-wield or absorb enemy attacks. Mid-rangers might want to opt for the spear, which is effective at crowd control pushing back opponents, or performing a Hawk Swoop where players vault in on adversaries. Unsurprisingly, the rifle is the arm of choice for attack from a safe distance, with players able to target different body parts, use different ammo types, toss grenades, and even denotate the explosive with a well-aimed shot. Naturally, the game also has a duo of blacksmiths who are able to create and upgrade your equipment, ensuring you’ll have the edge over enemies.
Toukiden 2’s most noteworthy innovation is the incorporation of the Demon Hand, a multi-use invention created by the professor. Navigationally, players can use the giant cyan-colored appendage to grapple through the environment. When facing foes, the Hand is indispensable, extending the ability to rip body parts from opponents, or if power-up tossing and slamming enemies into the ground. It’s also essential for tackling any aerial-based oni, swapping lesser antagonists like pesky flies.
Although the title can be played with a up to a trio of online associates, solo players won’t feel disadvantaged. Pleasing, the title provides a number of AI assistants, who demonstrate far more effectiveness than the typical CPU-controller drone. For players who do appreciate the minutiae of micro-management, you can give individual or group commands, with subordinates obediently heeding your requests. But even if you have not administrative aspirations, rest assured your party members will provide life support when it’s essential. While it’s gratifying to have autonomous assistants, their efficiency does have a downside. Compared to its peers, Toukiden 2 is a bit easy, with only a handful of moments that feel like elevated challenges.
The game’s other remarkable departure is an open-ended approach to its expedition. To balance this with a difficulty curve, Toukiden 2 employs the plot device where parts of the Otherworld are filled with poisonous miasma that’s toxic in protracted doses. However, once you exterminate the one in each area, you begin to push back at the noxiousness, allowing progression into new areas. In all, there are seven different milieus, with each flaunting its own distinctive aesthetic, prodding players to make progress.
On the PlayStation 4, each of these locales are artfully designed, filled with lush flora, stunning temples, and picturesque vistas. Mahoraba Village has its own rustic charms, feeling like a fantastical hamlet where shopkeeper lay out stacks of gourds and butchered meats and the professor isolates herself with a workshop on an adjacent hill. Agreeably, the title satisfies its thirty-frame-per-second target without disruption, while the game’s camera does a commendable job at framing the action. Socially, the game’s soundtrack is virtuous, while some of the Japanese voice-over articulating character personality as well as well as visual design.
With an absorbing mythos and a variety of well-tuned play mechanics, Toukiden 2 is nothing short of a rousing success. While other games have strained to expand on Monster Hunter’s gameplay loop, Omega Force’s latest triumphs by weaving in a plot line worth caring out. There’s no need to lament the absence of Capcom’s franchise on the PlayStation 4 when gamers have access this great experience.
Toukiden 2 was played on the PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Release date: March 21st, 2017
Price: $59.99, retail, PSN download (PS4) or Steam (PC)
Language(s): Japanese voice, English Text