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Akaneiro: Demon Hunters

Platform: PC Games
Category: 3rd Person: Action, RPG
Official Page

Action RPGs (Diablo clones to old farts like me) are, when you get right down to it, about spending hours pointing and clicking, clicking and pointing... With the occasional bit of inventory management. To unlock new difficulty levels in many of them, you have to play the whole darn game over again, tired plot and all. One man and his talented friends, however, have figured a way around this, and it will probably not surprise you to find that that man is American McGee, the talented mind behind Alice, Grimm, and Crooked House.

Akaneiro: Demon Hunters is, on the surface, little different from other ARPGs: You click, you murder, you shuffle items when you're full up. But just the tiniest scratch reveals elements that make it, if not entirely fun yet (it's in open beta this week, so there's a week or two of refinement to go), definitely interesting. And it's all about the same thing Torchlight 2 does best: Streamlining.

The game is set in ancient Japan, where the youkai (somewhere between spirits, monsters and demons in the mythology) and yomi (definitely demons!) are up to their tricks again, causing trouble in the kingdom. This is where your characters come in: They hunt demons, take power from their crystallised blood, and generally whup ass. Beyond that, there's currently not a lot, or rather, if there is an overarching plot, I haven't unlocked it yet (more on that in a bit). Gimme a break, I've been playing it for one day, dagnabbit! There is, however, back*story*, in that the Akane Temple (where all y'all Demon Hunters come from) was started by a woman called Akaneiro, who killed a wolf-demon, and wore a red cloak... Supposedly inspiring the "Little Red Riding Hood" myth. You can find that juicy tidbit, and a bit more, on their FAQ, at http://spicyworld.spicyhorse.com/social/thread-126-1-1.html

Gameplay wise, it is (as is often the case) what's under the hood that's important. For a start, classes, as you know them, are basically not there: You have the slightly bashier hunter who starts with light armour and dual-wielding, the slightly tankier hunter who starts with heavy armour and two-handed skills, and the slightly rogue-like hunter with whatever weapons are left. Each of them start in one of the three skill trees (Power, Fortitude, Cunning... AKA – Bash, Tank, and Rogue), but from there, you can move around the skill trees as you like, using up to nine powers in combat (three in one tree, three in the next, third verse, same as the first), and, so long as you have the required level, can use any kit whatsoever (you get bonuses if you use kit you're skilled in, however, like health regen for Heavy Armour).

Now, here's where it gets interesting: See that health bar, the red squiggle in the lower left bit of the HUD? That only goes up when you earn the game's currency, karma crystals. You get them by smashing crates, and killing monsters. That's it, limited supply. There's your first unique thing, and it won't really catch you out until the 3rd “mission” of the game, where the boss will wreck you if you're not clever. But you still want to get as much as you humanly can, because, as mentioned, it's also the game's currency. So, do you want a quick heal, or do you want to save it for a rainy day (don't save it for the boss, the boss areas close themselves off the moment the boss turns up. Just be tactical once you hit the boss!). Death, as such, is somewhat easy to find. But it doesn't cost a lot to come back where you died, and nearby enemies get smacked when you do. I'm kind of torn on that last bit, but still, it's an interesting feature.

Here's another one, while you're at it: Once you've finished a mission, it unlocks the next difficulty for that mission. You'll have to wait a bit for the difficulty to creep up, but once you do, harder mobs, better loot, and more chance of champions to wet your whistle on. Once you've beaten it on any difficulty, it goes right back to the bottom of the difficulty table again, and starts creeping up. But by that time, something else has crept back up in difficulty, so you're never really short of anything to do. And considering there's currently about 9 areas, each costing more to unlock, you can pretty much take it at the pace you want. Also helping is that, when you get too full on items, you can directly translate them into Karma, wherever you are. Doesn't amazingly help when

There's not a lot of cosmetic variety yet (maybe not at all) except in costumes, but there are tantalising hints that there's a lot more to come: A crafting blacksmith, who tells you that his shop is currently being repaired. A rude vendor who variously tells you “nothing back there”, “buzz off, kid”, and other nasty noises, and various... shadowy ghost-like figures. There's also co-op, seemingly on the same basis as Dark Souls (summoning from a pool of buddies to be NPC helpers), and, while it seems a little bit limited right now, it's going to be free to play.

Akaneiro currently has a Kickstarter page (they need the cash to get it done, and you still get stuff, even if the game itself is free to play. Want a copy of Alice signed by McGee himself? Fork out so this game continues!), and, this week only, as far as I'm aware, an open beta. While it's definitely not groundshaking, it's interesting, and has a lot of little details ARPG designers could well learn from, even in beta!

Akaneiro: Demon Hunters is coming somewhere in late January, definitely to PC, and hopefully to iOS and Android.


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