American McGee has made a name for himself by crafting uniquely beautiful and often otherworldly video games that tend to straddle that fine line between dark fantasy and full on horror. Alice is a perfect example of this, as it’s an unusual game that’s fun and playful with a definite darkness lying underneath.
McGee’s most recent game, the Kickstarter funded Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, shares many elements of McGee’s style while managing to mix the visual palette of Okami with the grinding, hack-n-slash adventuring of Diablo.
Even though Akaneiro has officially released, it’s a free to play game, and as a member of this genre you can expect to see it evolve pretty substantially over the coming months. This continued support will be backed by the funds — an impressive $200k — that were acquired through a successful Kickstarter campaign.
These funds will go to continuing support for the game post-release, including porting it to Android, iOS, and Linux. Also in the works are co-op multiplayer, equipment crafting, leaderboards, achievements, and new items and equipment.
For the unfamiliar, Demon Hunters is an action role-playing game that takes place in a vibrant and colorful world that’s heavily inspired by the ink, watercolor, and woodblock illustrations of feudal Japan. These influences affect every aspect of the game, from the music, to the world you explore and the creatures that lurk within it.
This is a stunning game. As a free to play title it’s possibly the best looking ones I’ve played so far. The art style is cel-shaded, so you can expect to see lots of colorful environments, characters, monsters, and items.
Like American McGee’s Alice, Akaneiro takes a classic tale, in this case Little Red Riding Hood, and twists it into something darker. You will be spending a good amount of time battling wolves that come in a variety of flavors, but you’ll also have to fight monsters taken from Japanese folklore, including living trees, little imps, big imps, and pickled heads. I’m not sure what those last ones are, but what I do know is they look like spiders carrying apples and they deal a lot of damage.
To battle these monstrosities, you’re going to need to pick a class. There are three to choose from, and each specializes in either prowess (damage-dealing), fortitude (defense), and cunning (skills and trickery). This decision doesn’t matter too much, as you can then go on to customize your character, their skills, and equipment in any way you please. Want to be a battleaxe-wielding geisha? You can totally do that.
This is an ARPG, but it’s different from most because you don’t unlock new abilities through skill trees. Instead, they’re purchased from a vendor, alongside pets that offer temporary stat boosts, and equipment (though you can also get that from chests and slain enemies). You can acquire stronger versions of these skills buy purchasing them, though I would’ve liked to see them improve the more often they’re used in battle.
The game’s currency is called Karma, and it’s used for pretty much everything. Purchasing items, abilities, pets, and equipment costs Karma. You have to spend substantial amounts of it to unlock new areas of the world map (more on that later). You can also purchase additional Karma using real money, because hey, this game is free and they need to make money.
Akaneiro has taken a page out of Diablo’s book by removing health potions in favor of the Karma that’s dropped from most enemies after they’ve been defeated. This heals your character a little (very little, it really should heal more), which basically forces you to keep a healing ability on your hot bar at all times. Should you die in battle, you’ll have two options: you can revive in town and lose your EXP, or you can spend some Karma revive on the spot. The more times you choose the latter, the more costly it becomes.
This is a much more linear game than I thought it would be. It’s basically a couple dozen maps tied together through a hub world, a town where you can sell and purchase goods as well as accept missions. When you’re ready for a mission you go to the board at the center of town, choose an area to complete, and after you’re done you return to town.
The areas that house the missions are also frustratingly linear in their layout. You’re always going from point A to point B with very few things to explore along the way outside of a couple houses or caves that are always just a single room with some treasure in it. The way it’s set up makes you return to the same areas to complete them again for EXP and Karma to unlock new areas of the map.
Akaneiro would’ve greatly benefited from randomly generated maps to make returning to the same area multiple times a little less dull.
This is an ARPG, so quality loot is important. Overall, I enjoy the loot. It’s simple: you have your basic, common white items, followed by the less common and more powerful green items, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find the ultra rare and powerful purple items. The equipment is divided into wearable items for your head, torso, and legs — all of which will change the way your character looks.
You also have amulets and rings, and the rest are weapons. There’s plenty different types of weapons to choose from, and for the most part they’re your standard fare: axes, swords, clubs, etc.
I have a few minor issues with the game that should be easy enough to change over the coming months. The camera is one of my biggest problems, because you can’t move it at all. This can lead to it being obstructed when you really don’t want it to be. There also doesn’t seem to be a way to filter your chat for a specific reason, and this game seems to have a large Chinese player base that floods my chat box with their discussions.
I enjoyed my time with Akaneiro, even if it does occasionally rely a little too heavily on its players’ willingness to grind through already completed levels to progress. It’s beautiful and it has a very bright future. If you’re not interested now, I recommend checking on it a few months from now after Spicy Horse has tweaked and added to it a bit.
The Final Word: Akaneiro: Demon Hunters is a fun, if flawed, free to play game that successfully manages to bring together traditional Japanese art with modern action RPG gameplay.
This review is based on the PC version of Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, which was downloaded from the official website.
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