Kill ’em All
Video games tend to revolve around the slaughter of monsters or various enemies much of the time. For one reason or another, gamers have come to accept wanton mass destruction as the standard in most popular genres.
For many, its a means to an end, or a way to give a player some challenge. What’s the fun of making it to the end of a story if you haven’t overcome obstacles along the way? Mostly of the angry fleshy variety? Hell, games that encourage you to not kill things (such as stealth games) tend to go against the norm, and even then, you still have the option to forego your pacifism and murder everything in sight.
Other games revolve entirely around slaughtering ever larger and angrier creatures. One of the more popular genres here is the hunting RPG, where the focus is to kill a monster and use what you earn from it to upgrade your character to take on the next monster. The cathartic repetition and joy in overcoming each challenge is the big draw to these kinds of games.
The game we are looking at today is one of these hunting RPGs, taking your character out into the world to hunt down ever more hellish demons. Being from Koei Tecmo, though, the uniqueness here comes from a vaguely historical Japanese setting.
Developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo, Toukiden 2 was released on March 21st, 2017, for PS4, Vita, and PC via Steam. The PS4 version was played for this review.
As mentioned earlier, Toukiden 2 takes place in medieval Japan, but diverges from actual history immediately as an event called the Awakening takes place. Menacing demons called Oni appear and begin to attack Japan, prompting a specialized army known as the Slayers to make their presence known. They have been preparing for this day, and begin the counter attack.
You are a member of the Slayers, and are attempting to hold off the Oni onslaught, when a massive Oni appears from a portal in the sky. You are sucked into this portal, and shortly thereafter awaken in a totally different part of Japan. Of course, you end up with a case of amnesia as well.
This relatively simple premise sets up a strongly character-driven story, focusing just as much on the struggles within the village you find yourself in as it does on the fight against the Oni.
In many ways, I found myself much more interested in the human aspects. The drama between various village factions and the development of the characters you meet held most of my interest, to the point where I’d be disappointed when forced out into the greater world to fight.
To be fair, the characters are written rather simply – they have pretty basic personalities and some minor development over the course of the story. More intriguing, though, is the way the relationships develop between each of the main players. Watching the budding companionship between them and not just your character, but each other as well, creates a subtle touch that helped hook me in to the plot.
The overall story involving the Oni is a bit of a slow starter. It takes a few chapters before much of anything even happens, and while I wouldn’t call what develops “mind-blowing,” the tale presented is still rather interesting.
Slaying Demons and Slaying Demons and Slaying Demons and…
At the base of Toukiden 2 is the usual flow of a hunting RPG. Putting plot-focused moments aside, you’ll be spending much of your time hunting monsters to improve your gear so you can hunt bigger monsters, so on and so forth.
Of course, the game has a few unique mechanics that make it stand out. The first, and most major, addition is the “Demon Hand” mechanic. Holding down the R2 trigger brings up a target, which you can aim at enemies and parts of the environment. Once you have your target, releasing the trigger launches an ethereal claw that grabs on to your target and slingshots you at it.
This mechanic adds a fun layer to fighting large monsters and bosses. Most major Oni have multiple limbs and ligaments that can be targeted and cut off, so being able to quickly launch yourself at these targets is a major boon. Enemies won’t make it easy, though, as they’re constantly moving and launching attacks. Once you’ve launched, you’re pretty much dedicated to your travel path, so you have to hope the enemy doesn’t fire up an attack before you land.
My only complaint with this mechanic is that there are some aiming issues. The game will attempt to auto-aim your Demon Hand upon activation, with a fairly low success rate. There were many moments I’d fail to hit my target multiple times in a row, simply because the auto-aim would offset from the target just enough to miss it.
The other major mechanic is the “Mitama” system. In Toukiden 2, Mitamas are essentially the souls of fallen warriors, and can be used by Slayers to allow them access to special abilities. You’ll be able to collect various Mitama throughout the game, each offering different attacks and skills, and equip them to your liking to further customize your character.
Some of the skills they offer, though, aren’t immediately obvious as to what they do. “Healing” is easy to understand, but there were many others I’d activate and notice nothing seem to be changing. I’d often have to dig into the menus to find descriptions of each skill and what exactly it does.
One thing I want to note is the AI of your partners. You do not have to fight alone, and during story missions, you are often forced to bring a party of AI characters with you. My issue isn’t bad AI, though. Quite the contrary, the AI is strong enough to the point that it felt like it was doing all the work for me. Quite often, while exploring the world, my partners would jump ahead of me into an enemy mob and eradicate it before I could even get close.
Having these AI partners with you has the effect of making the game feel too easy at points. I rarely ever saw an AI partner fall during my time with the game, and I’d often let them handle the brunt of the work in taking a major Oni down while I stood back to buff and heal. They even take care of the tedium of “purifying” enemies after killing them, which you are encouraged to do every time.
My final note here is the same complaint I have with just about every Omega Force title: mind-numbing repetition. Outside of following the plot, all you really get to do is run around and button-mash monsters until they die, with little to break up the monotony. I had very little desire to do any tasks outside of the main plot, as I’d find myself getting quickly bored without a story reason behind what I’m doing.
As far as graphical presentation, Toukiden 2 is rather subdued and simple. The color palette is mostly on the darker side and makes use of red and blue contrast quite often. It has a bit of a faded, washed out feel to it, although I’m not saying that with a negative connotation – it’s an artistic choice that works well. Graphics aren’t incredibly detailed, which I suspect is due to the fact that this game also received a Vita release.
Movement and animation is fast and fluid, although not incredibly varied outside of battle. During dialogue scenes, characters will usually move around and stand in a singular stance. Most moments that infer a unique action (like sitting down to eat) cause a quick fade to black before fading back in to the characters standing around again. Really, it just feels that the characters aren’t expressive enough in their motions during plot moments.
That all changes, though, in the heat of battle. Each weapon you can equip comes with its own unique attack animations, characters fly and tumble through the air after being hit, enemies animate enough to have noticeable tells for certain attacks, etc. Much like the rest of the game, most of the graphical work was put in to the actual gameplay, rather than the story.
Lost in the Chaos
This game is one of those cases where I’m having a hard time remembering much of the soundtrack. Toukiden 2 mostly features orchestral tracks with eastern influences, and is surprisingly subdued even in battle. Perhaps that’s why no tracks really stood out to me – they get easily lost within the chaos of battle.
There is some voice acting during story moments, along with occasional quips in battle, in the original Japanese. The best way I can describe the performances is “adequate.” None of them were obviously bad, but I can’t deem any of them stand-out either. They fit into the feel of the game, although I usually found myself skipping through the voiceovers during the dialogue.
Oddly, though, there are a few voiceover moments that do not receive a translation. Battle quips that pertain to the story are usually subtitled on screen, but occasionally during exploration, a character will speak up with no translation appearing. There was also one moment in the story, upon completing a mission, that the screen faded to black and a voice-over played…but there was no subtitle.
Overall, Toukiden 2 is a solid hunting RPG with some interesting and fun mechanics…but it just didn’t manage to catch my interest. The story was intriguing but ultimately forgettable, with character interactions being the star of the show. The gameplay is the main focus here and, despite a few quirks and annoyances with the Demon Hand mechanic, it plays excellently.
Personally, though, the repetition and fatigue typical of an Omega Force title set in quick. When I realized I was toppling bosses with nothing much more than button mashing, my interest began to wane. Having AI teammates doing the brunt of the work also made me feel like my personal actions didn’t matter much to the game.
Toukiden 2 is a title that appeals greatly to fans of the genre. If you’re already into hunting RPGs, you don’t want to miss this one. If you’ve never dabbled, I’d say this is a great place to start. If you’re a gamer like me, though, who’s less into open worlds and more into plot focus, this may not be the title for you. Personal tastes would lead me to a lower score here, but it’s impossible to ignore that this is a solid game with decent presentation.
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo. Screenshots taken by reviewer.