First Impressions: Akaneiro - Demon Hunters

Akaneiro

Red Riding Hood meets Japanese monsters in this free-to-play game from American McGee

I wanted to write this article without mentioning Diablo, Torchlight, or any of the other well-known click-click loot-hunting ARPGs. I wanted to avoid such lazy comparisons, I was hoping to write an inspired, exciting introduction full of vivid colours and explosive descriptions and extremely witty and accurate metaphors... the problem is - outside of the game's striking visual style, and a few thoughtful design choices - there's nothing that lifts it out of the crowd.

That sounds harsh, perhaps I should start from the beginning...

Character creation was simple. I chose from a list of three disciplines (classes), two genders (reality imposing brutal limitation here), and, well, that was it. At first I was put-off a little; the pedantic creator in me always experiences these moments with tinges of a Skyrim creation-tool melancholy (forgetting briefly the pitifully hideous, sub-human creatures that emerged from the darkness of the ill-fated early-hour creation attempts that game afforded me). I'm often left playing my game wistfully dreaming of the patch that will bring me the ability to truly shape my avatar, to breathe life into my adventure, to make that nose ridiculously too big for that terrifying face because, damn it, it's hilarious (well, at least for the first five minutes).

I was pleasantly surprised when, only three levels deep, I found my inventory packed chock-a-block with a decent amount of visually varied gear. If the first minute was spent playing god, and the next couple of hours hacking stuff to hell, then the last half an hour of my initial turn was used up playing Barbie (or Ken, for those who prefer that sort of thing), as I decked my character out in style. If this is what the game offers with its loot in the first couple of hours alone, then it’s a sign that there will be some opportunity for serious customisation later on.

Akaneiro does a few other things very well. The game's visuals are gorgeously realised, especially for an indie title. Thick black strokes outline with flourish and flair, pallets of muted watercolour pastels set mood and atmosphere; while splashes of almost neon-bright scenery and effects add a layer of vibrancy that really bring the canvass to life. The designs are detailed and crisp, and the world moves smoothly past. Some of the icons and interfaces are a little low resolution in comparison to the rest, but, for the most part, it's all very lovely to look at.

My initial fears about the limited class choices were somewhat put to rest, as the character progression system is not as constricting as it first appears. The choice between three disciplines hints only very vaguely toward the fact that, by choosing your character's class, you're not closing off access to the other class' skills. Instead, the discipline you choose grants a bonus to the rate in which you learn skills relevant to it, while you remain free to learn any ability from the two remaining discipline's selections.

After an optional tutorial, your character finds itself in an isolated village that acts as the hub from which all levels are launched. You start with three unlocked levels in which you kill your foes for Karma Shards that do three things: act as a currency for your upgrades (skills, gear, pets, etc.), unlock new levels, and heal you slightly upon collection. There are no potions to collect and the energy for your skills regenerates over time - a stream-lined system I at first liked. In addition to killing enemies, Spicy Horse has liberally scattered crates full of the life-prolonging Karma Shards throughout the environment, which allows you to forget about potion management and get on with the important stuff. It works at times, but certain encounters early on left me swarmed in enemies with only my main attack and a flimsy low-energy skill to work with. During my first few levels I became very accustomed with the game's revive system.

Perhaps I'm just bad at the game. I tried luring small clusters of mobs, I tried prioritising targets, but every now and then the game started to throw too many enemies for my limited skill set to cope with and it became a matter of killing as many as I could between being revived. There are no penalties for reviving; it just costs an increasing amount of Karma Shards – which the game, coincidentally, will offer to sell you for real-world money.

The cost of buying new levels seemed pretty high and entails grinding the same missions over and over in order to gain greater access, unless you ante up and by some Karma. You can spend Karma to increase the difficulty and reward to keep things interesting as you level up, but I didn't notice any massive benefit. Grind is a grind, and forcing you to repeat the same levels over and over again each time doesn't seem like a particularly engaging activity.

I only spent a few hours with Akanerio, but in that time the click-click combat didn't do anything I haven't seen done before, and the engagements were nothing more than clustered animations waiting for the other clustered animations to stop animating, no matter how pretty it looked.

I wanted to avoid lazy comparisons, but the game didn't give me enough to work with to say much more than this: If you're looking for a decent Diablo style game you don't have to pay for, then Akaneiro looks like it might satisfy your urges for a short while at least.

Perhaps the promise of future development if the current Kickstarter goal is reached will bring something more, and perhaps the game becomes more engaging the more you play, but the initial impression I was left with was of a pretty looking grind-fest with a decent amount of loot... and we've been here before, haven't we?

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