Developer: Omega Force
Platforms: PS4, PS Vita
Release Date: March 31, 2015
ESRB: T for Teen
With so many Dynasty Warriors versions, spin-offs, and crossovers, it is hard to believe that Omega Force actually has the time to do anything else. Yet, last year Omega Force tried their hand among fellow "Hunting" action-RPGs with 2014's Playsation Vita exclusive Toukiden: The Age of Demons. It was firmly entrenched in ancient Japanese lore and in many ways tried to make many aspects associated with games like Monster Hunter less obtuse. Not unlike Monster Hunter, however, it has quickly seen an enhanced version for not only PS Vita but the PS4 as well with Toukiden: Kiwami. Does it earn its second welcoming or has the thrill of the hunt long since passed?
Among most hunting games that actively try to distinguish themselves—Soul Sacrifice with its oppressive setting, Freedom Wars with its fast-paced mobile combat, Gods Eater Burst with its anime-like storytelling, and so on—Toukiden wears its inspiration on its sleeve the most from not only Monster Hunter but its contemporaries as well. In a normal context this would be a bad thing, but in the case of Toukiden it feels like it takes a harder look at certain clunkier flaws associated with the genre. I'm not saying such aspects don't exist in Toukiden: Kiwami, but the moment to moment gameplay can possibly be more fulfilling for those who want less opaque progression and more context to their monster slaying.
The first reason for this is that there is an honest-to-goodness story mode in Toukiden. In the original release, the main narrative was a character-driven tale of the fellow hunt—I mean "Slayers" of Utakata Village as they fend off Oni for a world on its last legs. In Kiwami they nearly double the story content by including an entirely new narrative arc that takes place three months after the original's story that encompasses more of its internal lore and also introduces new faces as well. Though storytelling expectations are admittedly low for the subgenre in general, both story modes still manage to easily surpass expectations by doing a solid job at creating a localized tale that is interesting enough to kill one Oni to the next despite its predictable moments.
While narrative context is certainly appreciated, the bulk of the time is spent taking down large Oni with allies in the narrative or those in online multiplayer. Because of this, it is especially difficult to not make a million comparisons to similar releases, since on a rather basic level Toukiden: Kiwami really does not really attempt to do too much different. Missions are rather typical and rarely amount to anything more complex than kill X amount of monsters or felling a boss-like Oni. It also bears mission repetition problems that are quite commonplace for the genre where you fight a few too many of the same bosses with minor alterations (or none whatsoever) to advance.
But as I said before, it is not a surface-level perspective that makes Toukiden stand out among its action-RPG niche, but rather the refinements around it. Aspects that would seem like blasphemy to Monster Hunter like being able to see an enemy's health bar, having surprisingly useful single player A.I. companions, being able to revive allies, and requiring far less material farming are minor on paper but go a long way in making the title more approachable instead of being an overbearing commitment. Toukiden: Kiwami specifically makes this even more the case from having newly added powerful team attack skills or being able to send your fox-like pet "Tenko" to retrieve items during missions.
This carries over to fast-paced and satisfying combat mechanics as well. There is most certainly depth to each class, and none of them feel unfit for solo play either. I found myself rather fond of one of the three newly added classes to Kiwami, rifle in particular, due to its surprisingly technical style. The rifle class has you utilize different ammo types creatively and try to trigger different effects altogether if they are fired at grenade lobs. Of course, because of its basic mission design, and combat skills being nowhere near as varied as a pure character-action game like Bayonetta 2, it can feel rather button-mashy for melee classes in particular. Which, considering Omega Force's Dynasty Warriors pedigree, is perhaps not too surprising that it falls into this "love it or hate it" pacing over time.
What also helps differentiate combat are the Mitama and limb dismemberment systems. Mitama, aka the souls of fallen heroes, give players various passive skills in combat. Due to the sheer variety of Mitama, you can forge your own play style since all of them seem practical. For example, as a rifle user I found it highly valuable to use agility-based Mitama, which increased my weapon reload speed and allowed me to occasionally negate attacks. Other classes may find it more valuable to use Mitama to make it easier to dismember/purify Oni limbs, which in doing so makes it easier to deal direct damage to enemies or obtain rarer item drops. Though, like the original, limb dismemberment can be annoying since certain classes have more difficulty with it and therefore can take significantly longer to kill tougher Oni because of it.
Aside from the newly added story mode and classes, there is tons to delve into in a multiplayer environment. The story modes alone are quite a bit to chew on but Oni-slaying purists can be occupied much longer if they want to tackle much tougher late-game missions for higher level gear and weapons. What is neat about both the Vita and PS4 versions is that they both feature online cross-play in addition to being able to transfer saves between the two if you happen to have both.
For a former Vita release the game holds up surprisingly well visually with its transition on PS4. Certain character models may look doll-like, and some textures look rough upon close examination, but otherwise the general art direction and environments, as well as the very solid framerate, fair well despite being on far more technically proficient hardware. Also good is the soundtrack, which has a decidedly classical Japanese instrument flair but is all the more fitting because of its well-done overtures and certain boss themes.
It may not distract incredibly passionate Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate fans, but for other people who haven't been able to get into more popular hunting titles (like myself) or just want to try a different flavor of it, Toukiden: Kiwami can possibly be different enough to be a preferable alternative. It has a fairly in-depth story mode, is more approachable and faster-paced from a gameplay standpoint, adds significantly more content, and it also fills the void of a complete lack of any Hunting action-RPGs on modern consoles. It may not be the most original take on the action-RPG subgenre but the cut of Toukiden: Kiwami 's jib is in the right place.
+ Decent story mode with nearly double the overall content from its original release
+ Fast-paced combat and diverse Mitama mechanics make combat, bosses in particular, satisfying
+ New classes, team special attacks, and bosses are welcome additions
+ Surprising solid visual transition from Vita with neat cross-play/cross-save functionality as well
- Like most in the hunting subgenre, it suffers from some shamelessly repetitive mission design
- Many classes can feel rather button-mashy over time
- Limb dismemberment mechanic can be annoying
Overall Score: 7 (out of 10)
Though lacking in originality, this substantial re-release boasts a ton of content and a different, more approachable and just different enough take on the hunting subgenre for who want more context and less grinding to their monster slaying.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.