3WS – Hunting games on Vita

No, there won’t be any Cabela-branded game in here where you shoot deer with a rifle. What you’ll find here are outlandish weapons, huge boss battles and cooperative-friendly gameplay.
The games I’ll be comparing for this three-way showdown are Freedom Wars, Soul Sacrifice Delta and Toukiden: Kiwami. I am well aware that there are way more hunting games on Vita but I had to pick three and they’re either worse than these (like Ragnarok Oddyssey) or I haven’t played them yet (like God Eater 2). Let’s just dive in.

What are they?
Just like it happened to the First-Person Shooter games which used to be called “Doom clones” before someone decided to name the genre. These type of games were often called “Monster Hunter clones”. That IP in particular was featured greatly on Sony’s first handheld, the PSP, but by the time the Vita came around, that franchise was exclusive to nintendo platforms so we actually never got a Monster Hunter game developed for the Vita. However, I’d argue that the hunting genre has been better represented on the Vita than it was on the PSP and this article is partially proof of that.

Arguably the most important aspect of these games as it comprises 90 percent of the gameplay in this genre. It is very important for a hunting game that its combat feels satisfying and I’m happy to say that (to various degrees), the fighting in all these games is pretty good.
That being said, my favourite of the three in this aspect has to be Toukiden Kiwami. This game was developed by Omega Force and they’re no stranger to the hack n’ Slash genre so that might be why the controls and the movesets for the attacks feel so specially responsive in this game. Its biggest strength though is the amount of different weapon types you can use. They provide different fighting styles and they managed to balance them out very well. They’re all effective in their own way and also entertaining to use.
Freedom Wars has its lights and shadows. The combat is pretty good but what really sets it apart is its use of the “thorn”. Basically some sort of grappling whip you get to use for mobility and also to fight the giant enemies. Dragging them to the ground and such. It works quite well and it’s a very unique mechanic (or it was before other games started implementing similar tools). The thing is however that Freedom Wars have some gameplay flaws. The controls are a little off specially the camera which you’ll have to get used to.
I consider Soul Sacrifice’s combat to be kind of an acquired taste. It’s certainly the most unique combat style out of the three but being different doesn’t make you automatically better, if anything, it just makes it more interesting. Here you aren’t carrying weapons as much as some sort of spells called sacrifices. Being relegated to only using spells even if some of those are literally summoning weapons is what made the combat not feel as fluid or gratifying as Toukiden as you have to deal with certain restrictions on how frequently you can use your sacrifices and such. However, I do applaud how deeply thought out this unique mechanics have been implemented. There’s this saving/sacrificing mechanic all throughout the game whenever an enemy or ally is defeated. They collapse to the ground and you are given the choice to either save or sacrifice them to different “rewards” and “compromises”. Explaining the whole system in detail would take me way too long but believe me, it’s way cool.

These games may feature plenty of action but they clearly aren’t just hack n’ slash games that could be over in a couple afternoons. It’s not just about game length though there’s depth to their mechanics, there’s grinding to be had and there has to be content to support it all.
It has to be said that both Soul Sacrifice Delta and Toukiden Kiwami aren’t exactly original releases. There were before them a Soul Sacrifice and a regular Toukiden and these versions are re-releases with added content and some gameplay tweaks. On that regard, you’d think they would be in advantage before Freedom Wars which didn’t receive an expansion of any sorts and, they are. Freedom Wars is the title with the least amount of content of the three. The whole game length is shorter but there’s also less enemy types, less weapons and environments. It’s not to say that the game feels barebones but it clearly is a step behind the other two games.
Now, among the other two games the difference is smaller or, at least, since this is a hard thing to quantify, it feels more similar. Both games aren’t structured in the same way. Soul sacrifice has these different side-campaigns added to it while in toukiden the progression is less staged. That being said, I felt like the enemies were repeating less often in Soul Sacrifice while I certainly spent more hours with Toukiden’s campaign. Take that as you will.

The story was never a big part of the whole Monster Hunter experience. Those games were bigger on lore than they were on individual stories and even then, it all was pretty basic. However, I couldn’t write an article on Soul Sacrifice Delta and not talk about how great the story of that game is.
It’s not that often that a game has an interesting lore, a good story and also is able to tell that story in a cool way. But Soul Sacrifice hits all of those spots. You have been trapped by a powerful and evil sorcerer named Magusar. And as you’re caged waiting to be sacrificed, a gross book starts talking to you. This magic book, named Librom, is a collection of stories that describe the past of Magusar, his fights and other experiences. The story is quite unique and very dark. Also, the Delta side-stories are all twisted versions of fairy tales which is undeniably cool.
I’ll admit that Freedom Wars premise is very special too. It takes place in a future post-apocaliptic earth where humans live underground. In that universe people is sentenced to ridiculously long prison penalties to coarce them to work for the state as “volunteers” in very dangerous missions and thus reduce their sentences. It is a very interesting premise that has some political commentary on freedom, equality and also enviromental messages but, after the game is set, there isn’t really much story behind.
As for Toukiden Kiwami, this game feels like it sticks to the Monster Hunter formula closer than the other two titles and that also applies to the story in the sense that it’s given a very secondary role. There is a story yes, but it’s so cliché that it barely counts. What you could consider the lore in here is basically just that you’re playing within a Japanese-inspired mythology. Which is cool, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t count it as a reason to play the game unless you’re really into the japanese folklore.

Lights and Sounds
This is just a fancy way to say graphics and audio department. These three games are very good for vita standards. Toukiden’s environments might be a little more empty and Soul Sacrifice might have a bit more jaggies but I don’t think there’s that big of a difference, they all look quite good and they run quite well too. What would differentiate them from each other would be their aesthetic more than anything else. Toukiden is very Japanese, Soul Sacrifice is a grotesque gothic style while Freedom Wars is mostly a typical post-apocalyptic deal. I personally liked the most the Soul Sacrifice style and Freedom Wars the least, but this is a very subjective deal.
As for the game’s sound and its soundtracks I have to say that Soul Sacrifice would trump again as I really dug the almost melancholic soundtrack. It’s not that the other two were bad though but SS really hit my weakspot in this department.

My thoughts
I’ve enjoyed my time with Toukiden Kiwami more than my time with any of the other two. Mostly because its combat is the one I found to be more fun to play. It has a lot of content which results in a lot of bang for your buck and overall is a great package. I could recommend it to any fan of this “hunting” genre but yet, I’d rather recommend Soul Sacrifice Delta.
It’s not that I consider Soul Sacrifice a better game but I do think that it’s more worth playing. It’s a more unique experience, it has a story that’s dark and intriguing and the designs are very exotic. It is a very solid game but it’s this “uniqueness” card what sets it apart for me.
As for Freedom Wars, I don’t think this is a bad game, not at all. But it’s not as big nor refined as the other two and thus it makes it the worst game of the three. If you really dig this genre though and you’ve already played the best ones in the system, give it a try.

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