Toukiden: Kiwami

Many videogame companies have a bad habit of releasing “enhanced” versions of titles they developed after their original versions’ releases, with Square-Enix coming to mind with so-called “International” incarnations that ironically and rarely leave Japan. Omega Force is another offender in this regard, having released expansions to its Dynasty Warriors series, although the company occasionally produced original content such as Toukiden: The Age of Demons for the PlayStation Portable and Vita, only the latter version receiving localization. Unsurprisingly, they followed the original release with an enhanced version, Toukiden: Kiwami, released exclusively on the Vita in North America, and while it’s easily the definitive release, it does have some niggling issues.

Kiwami features a methodical gameplay structure stemming from a hub town after the player has created their custom character, the player able to save their game in the village, send their pet to a certain period to procure materials used in the synthesis of new equipment alongside money acquired from completing missions and quests, upgrade mitama (with a max of three or less depending upon the player’s current weapon) to acquire new skills, and so on. In the guild hall, the player can take on requests, with some necessitating the acquisition of certain materials, and others taking them to different battlefields in various eras of Japanese history with an objective to kill enemies and bosses.

Combat in the game is action-based, with the player’s character able to equip a variety of different weapon types, and take up to three A.I.-controlled allies on missions, each with fixed weapons and classes. Killing foes acquires experience for mitama, although the player can only advance their levels at a facility in town when acquiring the necessary points, the player also able to spend money to increase mitama ranks. Mitama each have a certain type and era, with the equipment of three of the same type and/or era granting battle bonuses such as increased offensive power or immunity to certain status ailments such as poison.

After killing enemies, the player can “purify” their cadavers to obtain materials, with a maximum of different types the player can keep at their home in town that occasional quests can increase, this reviewer experiencing a ceiling of five hundred varieties that necessitated selling low-level items. Repeated purification rituals somewhat mar an otherwise quick combat pace, and assuming the stance is necessary to use mitama skills, four assigned to the Vita’s face buttons, having effects such as health recovery, increased attack power, gradual HP regeneration, and so on, with a charge time after their execution necessary before players can reuse them.

Especially if the player wishes to complete every mission optional and story-based, they can expect to fight the same boss types repeatedly, with these affairs consisting of severing their appendages after enough damage, which players can purify for materials, although after a certain amount of time the antagonist will recover the severed body part. Aside from the acquisition of materials, this mechanic seems somewhat pointless, especially since bosses are still fully functional even with indicative transparent phantom appendages, and will on occasion completely regenerate them even if the player succeeds in purifying all their parts aside from their perpetually-intact main bodies.

Should the player’s character lose all health, they fall facedown, with their allies coming to the rescue also through the ritual of purification, a circular gauge gradually depleting the longer the fainted protagonist is down, although if the gauge regains all its points, the player will revive with a minimal amount of health, with certain mitama abilities supplementing hit points. The more times a boss knocks them out, the fewer points the circular meter will have, with total expiration reviving them with full health at the era’s initial battlefield, up to two deaths allowed in this manner before mission failure.

Although the player can ultimately run out of skill usages, there are fortunately miniature obelisks where they can completely recover ability uses, some of which might just be invisible, revealed by pressing the select button, which also serves to view a boss’s remaining health and maybe occasional oni or materials unseen by the naked eye. Successful completion of a mission nets the player a monetary reward and triumphant trip back to town to perform whatever functions are necessary and maybe view story scenes before the next quest, with each of the twelve main chapters having a dozen or so missions in this regard.

The gameplay is generally enjoyable, with forgiving, but not necessarily easy, difficulty, although as mentioned, the ritual of purification necessary to obtain items from enemies definitely spoils the fast flow of combat, especially since some other action RPGs grant item drops from defeated adversaries the player can instantly pick up, and re-fighting the same bosses can be tedious. There are also many gameplay elements that receive lousy explanation, with this player, for instance, not discovering that he could feed his item-searching pet until late in the game when experimenting with button presses, and the constant color changes of bosses somewhat confounding. Even so, the general game mechanics are far more than functional.

As also mentioned, the gameplay structure is linear and methodical, virtually ensuring the impossibility of losing oneself within the game’s world, exclamation bubbles above characters indicating the advancement of the narrative whenever necessary. Voiced dialogue is also skippable most of the time except in CG Full Motion Videos (with hearing-impaired gamers unable to appreciate the voicework). There are some minor issues, however, regarding the need to quit the game to view total playing time, not to mention the lacking in-game help on certain mechanics (since Toukiden, as with most Vita titles, lacks a physical instruction manual), but otherwise, the game interacts well with players.

The narrative is one of the highlights of the game, in spite of a largely blank-slate protagonist, although all the dozens of mitama have some backstory and likely basis on actual figures from Japanese history, the hero or heroine’s allies have background and development of sorts, and despite the presence of an epilogue chapter, the plotline before ends satisfactorily.

The translation doesn’t hurt the storyline, although there are some minor foibles regarding things such as one character addressing the protagonist as “mentor” (in which case the Japanese equivalent, senpai, would have been welcome seeing as the game occurs in Japan), most players won’t be able to make sense of the three-letter-long mitama type abbreviations aside from ATK and DEF, and most of the Japanese voicework in battle receives no subtitles.

Kiwami features an excellent oriental soundtrack that fits its various situations, and the localization team as mentioned left the voices unlocalized, accounting for a largely-authentic Japanese videogame experience. Aside from a guild hall theme that oddly resembles “When You Wish Upon a Star” and many players likely not being to understand the non-subtitled voices, the aurals definitely don’t disappoint.

The graphics also show a surprising amount of polish on the Vita despite the games’ basis on a PlayStation Portable version, with believable realistic character models, animations, and nice nuances such as different equipment affecting the protagonist’s appearance, alongside colorful scenery and battle effects and character portraits during story scenes varying in emotion. There are occasional blurry pixilated textures and flat environmental objects, but otherwise, the visuals shine.

Finally, the game can be lengthy despite its linearity, even longer if the character completes the large amount of side and post-game content, somewhere from two to three days’ worth of total playing time.

Overall, Toukiden: Kiwami is for the most part a solid action RPG that hits most of the right notes in regards to its diverse gameplay options, tight control, excellent story, superb aurals, polished visuals, and endless side content. It does, however, stumble in areas such as the repetitiveness of the gameplay, some mechanics receiving poor in-game explanation, a few localization foibles, and especially how it tends to overstay its welcome. Toukiden is certainly by no means a gold standard of action roleplaying games, although it definitely has plenty going for it, is worth a look from Vita owners, and is another feather in the cap of the portable system’s largely-solid RPG library.

This review is based on a playthrough with knives as the protagonist’s primary weapon.

The Good:
+Solid gameplay with endless variety.
+Near-impossible to get lost.
+Superb story.
+Excellent soundtrack and voicework.
+Pretty visuals.
+Plenty lasting appeal and post-game content.

The Bad:
-Can become repetitive.
-Some mechanics not explained well.
-A few minor localization issues.
-A little long.

The Bottom Line:
A great action RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 9/10
Localization: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 2-3 Days

Overall: 8.5/10

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