Toukiden 2 makes a strong case for changing the term “Monster Hunter clone” to “Toukiden clone”, setting a new bar for the Hunting RPG genre.
I propose that from here on out, “Monster Hunter clones” be referred to as “Toukiden clones”. True enough, the original Toukiden drew heavily on Monster Hunter, but it built in that with a far more interesting setting, more captivating story, and a more refined and accessible combat system. Where Toukiden (and it’s expanded port / sequel, Toukiden Kiwami) embellished on the MonHun formula, Toukiden 2 completely eclipses it.
The basic idea is still the same: go out, hunt demons, sever parts of their bodies, and use those pieces to create increasingly powerful equipment. With that new gear, you can take on even stronger demons, craft even stronger equipment, and so it goes on. That formula is mostly untouched – don’t fix what ain’t broke, etc – but everything around that core loop has been revamped.
The times, they are a-changin’
Toukiden 2 takes place a few years after Toukiden Kiwami, in a fictionalisation of Japan circa 1800s. It’s a land overrun by demonic Oni, where humans survive in small communities; if not for the “Demons who hunt demons”, more commonly known as Slayers, humanity would probably have been wiped out. Toukiden 2 takes place in and around Mahoroba Village, one of these little communities, where the amnesiac main character finds herself helping the locals in their fight amid a search to find out who she is.
That’s a similar premise to Toukiden, but this is a different village with a different community. As always, the anti-Oni effort is led by Slayers, but here, they’re strictly divided into two factions: Guards and Samurai. The Guards have always been in Mohoroba, even prior to the Oni invasion, while the Samurai are made up of outsiders forced out of their homes by the war.
It’s an exploration of isolationism and xenophobia that’s about as subtle as a brick, but it’s a welcome one – especially in an age of Brexit and President Donald Trump. It doesn’t go too deep, but at least canvasses some of those ideas and puts the spotlight on how absurd such ideologies are.
While the Guards and Samurai are busy fighting amongst themselves as well as with the Oni, an “eccentric” scientist who lives on the villages outskirts is exploring a different approach: machina. She gathers and tinkers with this strange machinery, creating robots and other contraptions. To call these things useful is an understatement; the Professor almost single-handedly turns the tide in Mohoroba’s fight against the Oni, yet most of the villagers treat her with comic skepticism or outright hostility. Technology is a scary thing to those who don’t understand it.
Running through both these narrative threads is the idea of change: the necessity of it, people’s resistance to it, and the place of tradition and custom in an ever-changing world. These themes were at play in the first Toukiden as well, but the machina and insider-outsider plotlines make that much more of a focus.
That all makes for a story that’s surprisingly deep and captivating, despite a premise that can seem overly generic. It certainly helps that the characters are well-written and empathetic, building off anime archetypes to become quite complex and interesting. Each of the supporting cast gets their own little arc over the course of the game, and in all of them – even the characters I don’t particularly like – I was curious to see where those roads would lead.
A place in the world
The theme of change certainly comes through in the huge improvements made over the already very good Toukiden, most significantly in the approach to world design. Toukiden had isolated battlefields broken down into small chunks, and each mission would transport you to a specific section of one of those battlefields. Toukiden 2, on the other hand, has a huge, seamless map that you can freely explore from your base in Mahoroba Village. The level design still takes a constrained, maze-like approach – which is why I don’t think “open-world” is a suitable description – but it’s certainly a huge world, with areas that feed into one other organically.
I can’t overstate how much of an impact this has. In practical terms, it makes exploration a big part of a game that would otherwise be all about combat. In fact, I rarely went out specifically in search of demons to kill; most of my material gathering came from exploring the map, with demons killed along the way a side effect of that.
Far more meaningful is the way this structure fosters engagement with the world at the heart of the game. I love Toukiden for its setting, with the way it brings together different cultural and historical aspects of Japan, but I never felt a connection to the land. For all their fascinating presentation, maps in that game are just that – maps in a game. In Toukiden 2, the world takes on a life of its own, and the way the map comes together as one coherent whole feeds that.
As in the first game, Toukiden 2’s map is broken down into Ages based on periods of Japanese history – the Age of Peace springs from the Edo period, the Age of War is from Sengoku, the Age of Chaos is based on the Bakumatsu era, and so on. Unlike the first game, all these areas are physically connected, so you don’t just see them in isolation, but get to move through them in real time. In doing so, you can see how they differ and how they’re alike, instilling a sense of history that isolated fragments alone never could. In Toukiden 2, the world isn’t just a character; it’s the main one.
The other major change In Toukiden 2 is the introduction of the Demon Hand, which is effectively a kind of fantasy metaphysical grappling hook. With it, you can grab into certain targets, like ledges, trees, and enemies’ faces to fling yourself into the air, in order to strike from above or reach high ground.
It makes exploring a lot more fun and efficient than it would be otherwise, because you’re not simply confined to the spaces for feet allow. You can scale cliffs, cross gaps, even fly through treetops, and the map is designed with this in mind. There are open sections with lots of verticality, shortcuts aplenty, and in some sections, the game almost becomes a platformer as it asks you to grapple your way from point to point.
The impact on combat is just as significant, with the Demon Hand’s variety of attacks opening new tactical options. Most importantly, it makes melee weapons far more viable because you now have a way to attack parts of big demons that would normally be out of reach. When a lot of demons are three or four times your height, and have special materials that can only be obtained by attacking their heads or other high appendages, being able to get airborne is vital. Ranged weapons were far more viable in Toukiden because of this, and I’d say they’re still better (or, at least, easier to use) but the balance is a bit less skewed this time around.
We’re not just going on an Oni hunt
The seamless world and the Demon Hand are the major improvements in Toukiden 2, but there are also a lot of other little tweaks and additions that make for a more streamlined experience. You can get more companions to send out on automated fetch quests this time around, as well as upgrading and customizing them. You can combine materials to create new ones, so the stuff that you’ve outgrown doesn’t just collect dust in your storage. The seamless world means that if you want to find something specific, you can just go get it, instead of having to find the right mission with the right enemies.
Almost all of Toukiden‘s missions involved killing a specific target and / or acquiring specific items. Those are still here in Toukiden 2, but they’re accompanied by others that involve more exploration, crafting, and narrative. Sometimes you’re looking for certain people or objects; sometimes you’re tracking demons, Witcher-style; sometimes you’re simply mapping an uncharted area of the world. Even the side quests that do amount to “fetch this” or “kill that” usually have a bit of story to them – nothing on the level of The Witcher 3, but enough to give those quests a bit of purpose within the larger story.
Some of my favorite quests are the “Joint Operations” that randomly show up when you’re out in the world. In Toukiden 2‘s world, you’re not the only Slayer; you run into others outside the village, and sometimes they need assistance killing something – this is when a Joint Operation pops, and if you want to, you can take a brief detour to help them out. Success comes with the usual rewards, as well as getting an extra AI companion for a few minutes.
Joint Operations are also where Toukiden 2‘s “online single-player” elements come into play. Assuming you’re connected while playing, these missions usually involve another player – not as part of your party, but as someone else with a common goal. I generally hate multiplayer games, but these brief encounters give you that a bit of that feeling of cooperative achievement without all the other nonsense that a more standard multiplayer mode entails. (There is also a standard co-op mode, if you’re into that.)
This helps build the game’s world. It’s easy to get lost in a story about being the hero, but Toukiden 2 constantly reminds you that you’re not alone. You may be the fated “chosen one” of sorts, but every other person in Mahoroba Village has an important role to play, and these Joint Operations are an expression of that.
Basically, what I’m saying is that Toukiden 2 is the new gold standard in monster hunting RPGs. The big, seamless world opens a whole lot of doors for more varied and exciting play, while create a sense of place that this genre often lacks. What looks like a standard fantasy story on the surface quickly turns into something much more. Toukiden 2 takes the first game’s solid foundation and builds that up into something fantastic.
Toukiden 2 is developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo. It launches on 24 March for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and PC.
A PS4 press copy was supplied by Koei Tecmo for this review.