If the success of a game can be measured by the number imitators it spawns, then Monster Hunter is irrefutably triumphant. Once a multiplatform franchise which graced the PlayStation 2, PSP, and Wii, in recent years the series has espoused Nintendo exclusivity. However, there was little reason to pity PS Vita owners, with titles like Soul Sacrifice, Freedom Wars, Ragnarok Odyssey ACE, and Toukiden: The Age of Demons closely following Monster Hunter’s formula. In turn, each title provided a variety of creatures to stalk and slay, with players using an arsenal that was as potent as it was diverse. Habitually, gamers recycled the remnants of their prey, using body and soul to bolster the effectiveness of weaponry and armor.
While abiding by genre tenets, a few elements distinguished Toukiden: The Age of Demons from its brethren. For one, the game’s narrative was surprisingly robust, offering congenial characters who each conveyed realistic motivations. Once gamers fashioned an avatar from the rudimentary character creation suite, they were thrust into Toukiden’s plotline, which depicted a surge of oni having conquered the majority of the realm. The last outpost of hope was a settlement named Utakata Village, where a handful of outnumbered demon slayers relentlessly pushed back. After the protagonist’s homeland was destroyed, the character migrated to the stronghold, making one final stand against the encroaching beasts.
In execution, the ‘defend the village’ premise might have seemed a bit hackneyed, but Toukiden’s storytelling techniques gave players a reason to care about the plight of the settlement. For one, the game exhibited an unlikely balance between exposition and oni execution. Conversations conveyed the emotions of characters without becoming overly verbose. Moreover, there was a tender sense of chivalry between the demon slayers, suggesting a comradery cultivated by a formidable foe and the near-inevitability of defeat. Most interesting was the inclusion of Mitama, which represented the recovered souls of heroic but defeated warriors. Mechanically, they functioned as power-ups, with players depositing Mitama into weapon sockets to increase stats or endow the players with new abilities. But narratively, they added gravitas to the game, referencing the type of spiritual unity that’s often attempted by games but is rarely executed successfully.
Whereas Monster Hunter’s combat required players to carefully watch for enemy tells before committing to a drawn-out strike, Toukiden’s ordinary battles were more spontaneous- built around combinations of weak and heavy strikes. There were also AI assistants for most missions- characters who showed a bit of aptitude, and when behavior subroutines went wayward, allowed players to direct party members with a press of the directional pad. Whether with CPU-controlled or real life hunters, boss encounters were a pleasing spectacle, tasking party members with hacking the limbs off of oni, then distracting the incensed creature as the appendage was purified. Adeptly, The Age of Demons’ campaign advanced without the need for excessive material grinding, with the game bestowing enough dividends through its succession of item collection, lesser demon killing, and major battles.
The release of Toukiden: Kiwami brings all that content to the PlayStation 4 (as well as Vita) along with an epilogue that effectively doubles playtime, three new weapons, two dozen new oni, as well as a high-definition makeover that makes the like look like a native now-gen game. While tedium can creep in as some of Kiwami’s beasts behave a bit too robotically, look past this blemish and Omega Force’s latest is a serious contender for the Monster Hunting crown.
Players that have invested whole weeks into the original Age of Demons will undoubtedly appreciate the ability to import your save data and head directly into the new content. Pleasingly, there’s even an option to transfer your original character, their equipment, and Mitama, while starting the game anew- which is an obliging option for players who may have forgotten elements of the game’s storyline. Once players reach the games new content, they’ll find that Kiwami’s plotline mirrors the basic structure of the original game, the variation provided by the addition of Demon Slayers whose northern station was overtaken by the demons. The secondary campaign doesn’t aim to radically change Toukiden’s structure, but adds another thirty hours of content to an already elongated play experience.
Kiwani’s most enlivening contribution is a trio of new weapons, which broaden its predecessor’s already ample arsenal offensive tools. In terms of pure damage-inducing potential, the addition of the spiked club is notable, with the weighty weapon exhibiting respectable range and unsurpassed limb-cleaving capability. The downside is the bulk of the weapon eliminates the ability to dodge roll, obliging protection from other players. The naginata offers an agreeable midpoint between the katana and the kusarigama, allowing the slashing the former but with the airborne ability of the later. What’s best about the polearm is its sense of power, with uninterrupted combos growing increasingly powerful. Rounding out the inventory of new arms is the rifle, a long-range tool that has the ability to fire six different bullet system, which deliver explosive, piercing, or concussive rounds. The arm is arguably Kiwani’s most technical tools, but has the capacity to damage demons in the hands of practiced, ally-defended players.
Elsewhere, small additions contribute to Kiwani’s enjoyment. Tenko play a larger role in the title, with players able to equip the multi-tailed foxes with Mitama- and if the divine creature is adjacent to the party, players might just be privy to an assist. Obsessives can strive to keep their tenko in a pleasure state of mind, with foods able to increase the probability of finding rare materials, changing fur color, or even altering the creature’s voice. Similar, your fellow demon slayers can seek out materials when they’re not an active part of your adventuring party. Arguably, the most important change is the inclusion of a team attack; now when the unity gauge is filled by coordinated attacks, a devastating assault capable of amputating multiple limbs.
Aesthetically, Toukiden: Kiwami makes a near-faultless leap from portable to console. Save for a reduction in detail in a few environments and a scarcity of sentiment from character models, the title is a visual pleaser. Whether it’s Utakata Village’s transition to autumn, the improved texturing of bosses, or the detail devotes the structures around the hamlet, Kiwami could almost be mistaken for a native now-gen title. Musically, Omega Force’s signature blend of driving scores and exquisite Eastern melodies provide a perfect sonic accompaniment to the game. Beneath the exterior, the game’s coding is equally as proficient, with seamless net play as well as cross-play and cross-save between Vita and PS4 systems.
Although Monster Hunter clones are plentiful, Toukiden: Kiwami demonstrates distinction though its stimulating storyline, mechanical additions, and inclusion of AI characters who are actually assistive. Save for the recycling of bosses and the tendency of some showdowns to become a bit mechanical, Kiwami is a prodigious addition to the PlayStation 4’s library and shouldn’t be missed by fans of the genre.
Toukiden: Kiwami was played on the PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 4, PS Vita
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo America
Release date: March 31st, 2015
Price: $59.99 (PlayStation 4), $39.99 (PS Vita) via retail or PlayStation Store