American McGee, as you may know already, has been responsible for putting twists on classic tales and stories of childhood, and then translating his vision into video games we can enjoy. Some notable examples of his work as designer and founder of Spicy Horse Games, an independent development studio, would be American McGee’s Grimm and American McGee’s Alice. These games not only showed a darker side to the stories we’ve heard about as being the frilly, child-friendly tales we thought they were all about, but introduced us to some of the more original elements to the stories, as well as adding new visions. This approach that American McGee has taken in game design now finds its way to Spicy Horse’s latest game, Akaneiro: Demon Hunters which happens to be based on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood with Japanese folklore woven in. With the open beta available to anyone who wanted to try out the game, I decided to venture into the world of Akaneiro and I’m back with a hopeful outlook on the game.
Other than the fact that this game was based on Red Riding Hood and Japanese folklore, I didn’t know much else about the story and setting going into the open beta nor did I receive any introduction but I imagine this will be remedied when the game is fully ready…so here is a basic intro conveniently provided by the Spicy Horse Games’ forums. Akaneiro: Demon Hunters is a free-to-play action RPG that places you in late 19th century Japan as a member of the Order of Akane. The Order is an ancient group of demon hunters that was founded 300 years prior to when the game starts, by a demon hunter known as The Red Girl also known as Akaneiro. Together with her companions, the Forest Mother and the Dark Huntsman, they were called “The Three” and with members of the Order, were able to defeat the Yokai (Japanese folk monsters and demons) that threatened humanity. 300 years later, the Yokai have begun to reemerge at Yomi Island and it is your job to handle this threat.
The open beta starts off by placing you right into creating a new recruit of the Order. You are really only responsible for choosing three aspects of your character at this beginning phase but the options for creating a much more unique character open up, and more on that later. You first give your character a name, assign a gender, and choose a Discipline. The three Disciplines pretty much determine your initial character class and what you have to choose from are Prowess, Fortitude, and Cunning. These three Disciplines are tied to “The Three” mentioned earlier, with Prowess being a primary fighter class descended from Akaneiro, Fortitude being a defense-heavy support class descended from Mother Forest, and Cunning being a tactical stalker-type class descended from the Dark Huntsman. Each Discipline offers its own benefits and starting ability tailored to the character class such as Prowess granting players the ability to dual-wield weapons from the start and use the ability Rain of Blows, which is a lightning quick chain of attacks that damage and stun enemies.
Once you’ve created your character, you arrive at Yomi Village via boat with news that the village is under attack, which is your tutorial for the game. Yomi Village will act as your home base where you take on missions for the Order as well as buy items and upgrades for your character. Immediately, you get a sense of the Japanese influence on Akaneiro with its visuals and sound. The game uses a traditional Japanese paintbrush art style which utilizes the ink and watercolor that Japanese art is mostly known for, making the world look like a watercolor painting come to life. Many people have already compared it to Okami and they should, since both games use Japanese traditional art as their influences, but there is a distinction which Akaneiro has that is definitely more realistic with its approach. The traditional Japanese music sounds as it should as well and I noticed that when in the safety of the village the music tones down with a slow, calm melody while when out on a mission, you get a sense of the heaviness of danger with the sound of drums. It felt like I was hearing the same two tracks on loop but I was reassured that the game was launching with 13 unique tracks, hopefully with a more exciting one when engaged in combat since that will be the meat of the game.
The game uses a mission-based format where there are Regions that make up Yomi Island, which are further broken down into 8 Areas with 3 missions per Area. Each Area represents its own environment with its own enemy and boss types. The only Region open to players now is Yomi Forest and I started my first mission in the Area of Shigemori River. I chose Prowess as my starting discipline and I was placed in a confined area with demon wolves (going back to the Red Riding Hood reference) littered about that needed to be killed. Combat works in a click-to-attack fashion with movement and attacking tied to the left button on the mouse with a primary ability being assigned to the right button on the mouse. That definitely made the game easier to control without me having to worry about which key did what. The only reason to use the keyboard would be to assign new abilities you invest in, to appropriate number keys used in conjunction with the Tab key. The way this works is that you assign three abilities to one group three other abilities to another group, and then 3 other abilities to a final group. You then switch between groups using the Tab key and then press a number key from 1-3 to use the ability you want. I found this method to be a bit cumbersome and confusing while in the heat of battle, and I’d rather just want to use the 1-9 number keys. This might be altered for the game’s official release though. If you happen to die while in the middle of a mission, you can either choose to return to the village with no experience gained but retaining what you’ve collected or pay a small fee to be instantly revived and resume the fight. This is where Karma comes in.
Being an action RPG much like Diablo, loot and currency plays a big part in Akaneiro. The currency system revolves around Karma shards collected from dead enemies and completing missions, which is essentially the “blood of the slain Yokai”. You use Karma shards for a variety of purposes such as reviving your character while in the middle of a mission or to buy equipment, items, and abilities. The equipment and abilities you decide to invest in will determine the uniqueness of your character with complete freedom as to which abilities you want to use as well as what kind of weapons and armor you want for your character. This also plays into your character’s overall appearance. You start off with your character being a drab-gray color but as you pick up loot on missions, you’ll notice that some of the more rarer equipment you pick up will be colored according to the stat or ability boosts they grant such as a ruby-colored samurai helm that boosted my health regeneration. As for abilities, even though you pick a Discipline at the creation phase of the game, you have the freedom to buy and upgrade any Discipline’s different abilities which means a lot of different possibilities for exactly what kind of character you want and I definitely feel that this allows for much more variety between different players.
An interesting aspect of the game that ties into loot, Karma, and experience is Threat Level and Karmic World Balance. Each mission basically has a certain Threat Level ranging from No Threat to High Threat. As time passes for each mission you complete, you unlock higher Threat Levels for that mission. The higher the Threat is for a mission, the more chance there is of you collecting better loot and the more reward you gain at the end of the mission. This gives the game plenty of replayability with the more Regions Spicy Horse Games plans to add. The overall Threat Levels throughout each Area then have an effect on the Karmic World Balance which is an evaluation of the global Threat Level. A lower total Threat Level will increase the quality of the loot dropped by enemies while a higher total Threat Level will increase experience rewards, so it is up to the player as to whether they want better loot, more experience, or a balanced world where they receive a bit of the benefits from both sides.
There’s a lot more things about Akaneiro that I would like to cover but the game does happen to be in open beta so I would like to give any ARPG fan or anyone who wants to experience an ARPG for the first time, the opportunity to go try it out themselves by visiting the main site and signing up. Taking a free-to-play approach, some of you might have the impulse to just glance over this game, but having experienced it myself, I can safely say that Akaneiro: Demon Hunters is a fun time with plenty of potential that is very accessible to any gamer out there. There is honestly so much more to the game and a lot more features planned for later, one highlight being the addition of co-op with friends which has been a highly requested feature. For more on the what Spicy Horse Games has planned for the game, visit this forum thread. Akaneiro was recently Greenlit by Steam which means it will be releasing on Steam when it is ready, while the official launch of the game on Spicy Horse Games’ website will be January 24th. Until then, the game will remain in open beta and remember that the sooner you want a more fully realized Akaneiro, it is up to you and the rest of the community in helping back up this game through its Kickstarter campaign which you can donate to by clicking here.
Note: This game is currently in open beta so any comments made on the current state of this game do not reflect what the final product will be.