Akaneiro: Demon Hunters
Developer: Spicy Horse
Price: Free
Platform: PC

Spicy Horse has been teasing their action-RPG game Akaneiro: Demon Hunters for quite some time and their Red Riding Hood mixed with Japanese folklore game has finally dropped. It’s got some issues and it’s definitely a solid ARPG for the casual fan of the genre, but hardcore ARPG players may be left wanting more.

There’s a story in Akaneiro that’s a bit hidden but it’s there if you bother to look. Basically the gist of it is that you’re a Red Hunter who’s on a mission to scout the local area to evaluate the threat of the sudden Yomi (demon) appearances. When you show up you realize that the shit has hit the fan so it’s your job to clean the place up. I really wish there was a bigger focus on a story since all the story tidbits you get are either from brief conversations with the various NPC villagers, from the mission briefings, or from your own character during a mission. I suppose this is a gameplay vs story argument that will never win but it wouldn’t have hurt for them to put some more work in the story.

The game plays exactly like your typical ARPG and it plays fine which really works against it at times. The game doesn’t really try anything new and anyone who’s really into ARPG’s are left questioning why they should bother with this game when they could be playing better games in the genre that have more depth to their gameplay. That’s not to say the combat in Akanerio is bad because it’s not, but there really isn’t much else to the game. The combat is smooth and it can be fun but there’s not much in terms of strategy and none of the skills get too complicated in a way that makes you think about what will work for you instead of just getting whatever sounds like it deals the most damage. The attack animations also lack some flair I’ve come to expect from modern ARPG games. Another kick against the game is the lack of co-op which has been confirmed to be a post-release addition and the only sort of multiplayer it currently has is being able to summon the character of other players. Of course these AI controlled morons offer no sort of help besides distracting enemies since you can’t assign any sort of tactics on them and they can’t use abilities. This means you’ve got a dummy that runs into packs of enemies at first sight and can only use their basic weapons. Hell, there are even areas in the game that block off the path until you kill some more guys (Devil May Cry style) that the AI partner will just walk right through to fight whatever’s on the other side.

Oh man is the frame rate is a killer issue with this game. For a game that doesn’t have many effects popping everywhere and is a pretty simplistic looking game (graphically) I have no idea why the frame rate noticeably drops during combat. I could see it drop when fighting maybe four or five enemies at once but when you get to the later areas where you can expect double that amount the frame rate takes an even bigger dip. There’s also an issue with the enemies where sometimes you’ll find them clipping into parts of the environment they clearly shouldn’t be able to get into and if they’re a ranged enemy then you’re shit out of luck if it’s mandatory to kill it. The bosses also have a problem when it comes to attacking you and the hit registering. You’ll see them perform their attack animation but even if you’re not in their attack range you’ll still get hit by the attack. It reminded me of the way the combat is in an MMO but considering none of the enemies behave this way and it’s not something you ever see in an ARPG I doubt they were going for MMO-ish combat. The reason why I mention MMO’s is because (in the few I’ve played) when you’re in combat and an enemy registers an attack on a player they *will* get hit by that attack no matter if the player begins to run out of the range of the attack.

There are three disciplines you can pick from which are Prowess, Fortitude and Cunning. These disciplines don’t affect much besides what starting stats, equipment, and abilities you get. Akanerio won’t confine you to one class tree though and allows players to purchase abilities from other classes and level up those skills. Once you get into the game you’re free to focus 100% on leveling prowess abilities even if you picked the cunning discipline when you started the game. Whenever you level up you’ll be asked to pick which of the three disciplines you’d like to level up and whichever you pick determines what stats go up and will power up your abilities of that discipline. Leveling up the fortitude discipline will bump up your defense and all fortitude abilities for example.

Fans of stat management in their action RPGs are going to be severely disappointed since there isn’t any sort of stat allocation. All you do is pick a discipline you’d like to level up and one of your three stats will increase depending on your choice. Picking prowess will only increase your power stat and all disciplines raise your health as well. It simplifies the process for players who probably aren’t fans of having to think of how they’re going to build their character right from the start but it also alienates players who actually look for that kind of stuff in their ARPGs.

As you’d expect in an ARPG there’s tons of loot to pick up as you work your way through one of the many dungeons in the game. There’s a solid variety to all the equipment and they even come in different colors at times. As you’d expect in any ARPG worth its salt all the various weapons you can find/buy come in a variety of rarity types and you can even craft or upgrade your equipment at the blacksmith. The only issue I have with the equipment is how equipping a cloak will *cosmetically* remove your helmet. That means you’re forced to decide if looking cool or having more stat bonuses is important to you. Something I’ve grown to hate in loot heavy games is no way to sell all the crap you lug around and you’re eventually forced to look through your inventory for the lowest priced item to replace it with something that will sell more. Torchlight still has my favorite way of solving this problem by letting your pet go sell your items at the town while you can keep playing but Akaneiro has a solid enough approach. If your inventory is getting uncomfortably close to being full then you can choose to transmute items instantly from your inventory for a smaller cut of karma than what you would normally get at the town vendor. Of course, the game never mentions what the transmute does until you bother to try it out and happen to notice your karma going up, but more on that later.

Right now the game has consumable items you can use before starting a mission that will give you a passive effect for a certain amount of time. This type of stuff is fine but I’d really like to see potions added to the game. The only way to heal is to gather karma from defeated enemies or destructible pieces of the environment. This works fine but when you get to boss monsters and your source of karma is severely limited to the few boxes or weak enemies in the arena it really starts to become obvious how broken the system is. If you enter the boss area and manage to kill all the weaker enemies you now have no way to heal yourself when facing the stronger enemy who definitely won’t go down quick since the bosses in this game hit hard. This issue becomes blatantly visible when you replay a mission on a higher threat level since the game will buff the enemies up to stupidly powerful and throw waves of them at you. You can expect to have to respawn quite a few times and it really doesn’t help that you’ll be playing these high threat level missions at a low level too. Now when you die you can choose to either return to the village or pay karma to be brought back to life with full health which really helps not having to restart these boss fights. While the cost for recovering your health is relatively cheap (although it increases each time you die) I’d still like to see some sort of consumable item I can bring into the mission or find on enemies. Perhaps health shrines scattered throughout the missions and boss arenas that players can use.

I’m never a fan of having to grind to progress in a game so it really kept killing my enjoyment of the game whenever I was reminded that I couldn’t get to a new area until I had enough karma to purchase it. You’ll have to replay the same missions to grind enough karma to unlock the next area and then repeat it again when you want to get to the next one. There are quite a few stages to unlock and they’re all really visually interesting but grinding out karma on the same missions you’ve played multiple times (since you likely replayed them to unlock the place you previously just got done grinding to unlock) really starts to kill the fun. It also doesn’t help that your karma is also your currency so you’re left wondering whether you should buy some new equipment, a new ability, or unlock a new area; either way you’re going to be grinding those missions for something.

Now something I don’t like about how the game plays is how it’s got a mission based structure to it instead of being given a sizable world to explore like Torchlight and Diablo. You’ll accept missions from the bounty board in the hub town, magically appear in the location you selected, and once there it’s a pretty linear path till the end. Some of these areas have some decent length to them and you can venture off the regular path to find hidden caves you can explore to find more loot; unfortunately these caves you can find are incredibly small so they don’t offer much in terms of exploration. Another thing about this is how you don’t get any experience points until after you finish the mission. If you find a sweet new hammer you want to use but you’re just a few points shy of going up a level to unlock it you’ll have to wait until you finish the mission. I would’ve really preferred it if I gained XP during the mission from any kills I got and finishing the mission gives me my bonus XP for doing miscellaneous things like finishing the mission itself.

I’m really digging how flexible the game is in how you can play it. Right now you can play on the Spicy Horse website or download a dedicated launcher if you don’t want to play on the browser; it’ll also be on Steam and a few other platforms as well such as tablets. So I can play the game on a browser somewhere (maybe while I’m enjoying my $50 Mumbo Jumbo Tibetan tea at Starbucks), or I can play through the launcher which will update itself with anything new you did while playing on the browser. It’s nice to have that flexibility when deciding where to play the game but it’ll be interesting to see if that stays when the game launches on the other platforms. The launcher could desperately use some more resolution options too.

What really annoyed me was how many things aren’t explained to you. I’m not asking to have my hand held through the game but I’d appreciate knowing what the specifics of summoning a character are. Right now there’s no co-op and being able to summon the character of other players is the only sort of multiplayer the game has right now. If somebody summons your character you’ll gain experience points for whatever they did with your character the next time you sign in. Now I wish the game told me that since I only got that information from the press kit I was sent. Another thing the game doesn’t bother to explain is the Karmic World Balance which is something similar to the world tendency in Demon’s Souls.

First off the art style is awesome; I really love the feudal Japan look and all the monsters look fantastic. This is one of the few games where I’d love to buy a sizable art book for. The only thing that’s a real eye-sore at times is how some of the font looks like it’s some sort of placeholder text that somebody forgot to update. The NPC characters in the village have white names on top of green health bars when you select them which makes reading their name a slight annoyance. It’s like that in a few other parts of the game and lots of the font just looks really low-res and ugly. The soundtrack compliments the look of the game as well with tracks you’d expect from a game taking place in Japan. You’ll go from soothing tracks to the haunting sounds of a dungeon and to hectic battle music.

The Final Word
Akaneiro is a competent ARPG with lots of potential and casual fans of the genre should have a blast with it; anyone who’s more accustomed to games like Torchlight 2 or Path of Exile probably won’t see any reason to stick around with it though. So far the official release isn’t different from the beta besides a few bug fixes but with co-op confirmed to be on the way I hope Spicy Horse polishes the rest of the game because this could really turn into a fantastic game with some more work put into it.

– MonsterVine Rating: 2.5 out of 5 – Mediocre