Watch out demon, or I'll button mash you to death!
Plenty of reviews start with comparisons to other games/franchises, but it's hard to get past that when games like Toukiden: The Age of Demons exist. This Vita release from the Dynasty Warriors developer clearly uses Monster Hunter as its central inspiration. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that doesn't always benefit the imitator. Toukiden's influences help forge a mechanically sound experience and also severely limit its potential. It does enough to escape mediocrity, but fails to establish its own identity.
Toukiden's narrative plays like some kind of virtual madlibs in which derivative characters, monsters, and environments are plugged into a formulaic equation. Slayers are on a quest to rid the world of Oni, demons who mysteriously appeared eight years earlier and continue to wreak havoc on the land. Beyond that foundation there's not much in the way of originality. Insert griffins and bland environments here.
As someone who appreciates story, I have a hard time skipping past dialogue and ignoring narrative completely, but I sure wanted to with this game. But let's be honest, gripping characterization and clever plot development don't define this genre. The reason you play Toukiden is to kill a bunch of monsters—preferably large ones. The game succeeds, albeit marginally, in this area.
Much of Toukiden's combat toes the line between full-on button-mashing and more complex systems of demon eradication. I was successfully able to obliterate all normal enemies in my path by mindlessly tapping the square and triangle buttons, but mixing in a few combos here and there was fun due to my weapon of choice. I used the chain and sickle most of the time, which isn't an everyday weapon in this genre of game. Combining short- and long-range attacks adds more variety to the combat that's missing with swords, bows, and other typical instruments of death, though it should be noted that changing weapons is a simple process and adds a welcome layer of player flexibility.
Variety also comes in the form of Mitamas, souls of dead warriors that aid the player and provide additional attacks and/or buffs. Collecting the souls feels like its own little mini-game even though it requires no extra effort; simply completing missions results in more Mitamas. There's just something about viewing a collection of small portraits that's appealing.
The Mitama skills come in handy during boss fights, perhaps the strongest aspect of Toukiden too. These fights require a bit more strategy in order to obtain materials for crafting/upgrading weapons and armor. Players can “purify” the demons by decapitation (naturally), so striking limbs and using the game's vision mode proves essential in these moments. It almost makes the repetitive combat up to that point worth it.
Outside of combat, players can explore the village hub, a pleasing reprieve from battle that also disappoints due to its small size. It's here where weapons and armor can be crafted, Mitamas can be upgraded, and a stone allows access to online multiplayer, in which four players can group up and take down demons together. There's a surprising amount of customization when it comes to the search and lobby creation tools, but I didn't use multiplayer a whole lot. This is usually a key feature in games like Monster Hunter or Soul Sacrifice, but Toukiden provides capable AI partners for those playing alone. Factor in the easy combat and the result is a game that actually works better as a single-player experience.
Not every game needs to be ambitious, but those that settle for the familiar must face the consequences. Toukiden succeeds with what it sets out to do, but fails to distinguish itself from the crowd of portable action games. It makes it hard to recommend this game over, say, Soul Sacrifice. But fans of the genre who are looking to fill that void could do a lot worse than Toukiden.