First Impressions – Akaneiro: Demon Hunters

Who doesn’t know the story of Red Riding Hood?  A young girl, wearing a red cloak, wanders into the woods and is stalked by the Big Bad Wolf.  Learning from her struggles, she eventually founds the Order of Akane to hunt demons in the woods of Japan and around the world.  The Order is, of course, dedicated to maintaining the balance between humanity and demons.

Well, clearly the traditional story has been altered just a little bit.  This outline is the backstory for Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, created by American McGee’s company Spicy Horse.  Much like Alice in Wonderland is to Alice: Madness Returns, the developer has taken the familiar story of Little Red Riding Hood and changed it to create a striking setting.

Story aside, the game plays like a traditional action RPG much like Diablo or Torchlight. You initially create a young Red Hunter, a member of the Order of Akane.  In addition to naming your character and selecting a sex, you can choose from one of three disciplines: Prowess, Fortitude or Cunning.  These different paths influence which skills your Hunter starts with, your eventual weapon and armour masteries, and your base stats.

The different skills you attain all focus on three traditional archetypes of play.  Prowess will create a warrior that can hit extremely hard, Fortitude allows you to take more damage, and Cunning focuses on critical strikes and afflictions like poison or stunning.  In other words, you have your Warrior, Tank and Rogue.

After a character is created, your journey begins in Yomi Village, the game’s hub.  Here you can purchase food, drink, weapons, and armour and take on Akane missions.  The world is separated into different areas, and selecting a mission is how you travel from Yomi Village to various parts of the world.

Food and drink offer temporary boosts to stats, such as increased damage or defence, and these last only a few missions.  If you want to obtain longer lasting benefits, you can also invest in spirit animals, also available for sale in town.  These Spirit Helpers offer similar boons as food, but last for a number of days instead of a number of missions.

The game offers a large variety of foods and animals, as well as weapon and armour types. There are a plethora of katanas, hammers, axes, and maces which differ in attack speed from fast to slow.  Armour also has a wide selection, and many pieces offer unique aesthetics. For example, a Samurai helm and monk cap look entirely different from one another, but can both offer the exact same defence.

Once I had finished preparing and was ready, it was time to walk off into the woods.  Missions can be taken through an NPC and these offer you the chance to use that shiny new sword.  Once you arrive at the new level, the game begins to feel a bit familiar.  You wander around maps, kill enemies, collect loot and eventually level up.  There is even a system similar to Diablo 3’s health orbs; killing enemies provides you with crystalized demon blood to restore health as you fight.

While gameplay is familiar, the art and design of Akaneiro is fresh and surprisingly beautiful.  Spicy Horse is very open about its influences from games like Okami, traditional Japanese art, and even manga like The Lone Wolf and Cub.  The world appears to have been painted with water colours and ink, and despite playing the game over an internet browser, it all looks very impressive.

The first few missions you partake in take place in Shigemori River, where demonic wolves lie in wait to ambush you.  A nice pull from the original story of Little Red Riding Hood, but instead of any kind of happy fairy tale setting, the environment is dark and foreboding.  The sounds of a deep forest emerge from your speakers, which work well with stark ink-lines outlining many objects in the background.  The effect of a fantastical Japanese forest is handled very well.

These features all exist in a game which is still in closed beta, so new and different features are still on the way.  There is enough here to get excited over, but even more is coming in the future so while there is enough to be impressed by, like the art direction,  I’m looking forward to seeing what directions Spicy Horse goes next with the game.

The game is expected to be free to play once released, with micro-transactions for customization, convenience items and DLC-style expansions.  While it doesn’t forge any new paths down the darkened woods, it certainly makes the scenery worth looking at.

***EDITOR’S NOTE*** – These are our impressions on a game that is currently in early beta.  No features have been finalized and the final build is likely to change.  A full review of the game will be forthcoming at a later date.  Stay tuned!

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November 14, 2012 - 8:29 am