Spicy Horse is trying to make a splash in the Action RPG genre with their new Free to Play ARPG: Akaneiro: Demon Hunters. Spicy Horse is owned by American McGee (of American McGee’s Alice fame) and he’s back to retelling classic stories. This time he’s re-imagining “Little Red Riding Hood” in Akaneiro: Demon Hunters. Does American McGee’s twisted mind have enough to bring an original ARPG to the table, or is it just as generic as the dozens of other Diablo clones?
Right out of the gate, Akaneiro separates itself from the countless other ARPGs with a unique setting and art style. Most ARPGs are set in a mythical fantasy land, Akaneiro is set much further east; all the way in feudal Japan. This is a nice and unique change, as the Japanese setting has yet to be utilized in the ARPG genre. The art style is very unique as well. Instead of the dark and gritty style that most ARPGs have, Akaneiro is psuedo cell-shaded. This gives it a look similar to Okami, and other feudal Japanese art. This really fits the setting well. Unfortunately, the technical side does not fare as well. The game feels very poorly optimized. It lags incredibly on a medium quality PC, even on the lowest settings. The game still looks good on low, it just doesn’t perform well at all. This is a huge issue in a genre where the player is expecting dozens of enemies on screen. Nothing is worse than having a choppy frame rate during a huge battle.
Further fitting the Japanese theme, the soundtrack in Akaneiro mostly consists of flute and drum music that one would expect to hear in a Japanese ceremony. This really does set the mood for demon hunting across the lands of Japan. The combat sound effects are slightly above average, as the enemies don’t seem to spam the same sound when they die; which is a huge improvement in the ARPG genre. Unfortunately, the voice acting is very scarce which is a huge downside.
Gameplay and Controls
An ARPG can look and sound as great as it wants; but it’s appeal all hinges on how fun it is to play. Akaneiro tries to further set itself apart, by simplifying the genre and making it much more accessible. Unfortunately players who enjoy the genre, enjoy it for the complexity and diversity. In Akaneiro there are no skill trees, or tireless skill point allocation. There is no overworld to explore and fewer item slots to fill. This gives the game a distinct lack of depth, which is really disappointing. That being said, the gameplay that is there does function well. Despite being overly simplistic, it is quite fun to play. Clearing through each zone is fairly challenging, and with several different difficulties to fight through; there is a lot of fun to be had. This joy is quickly cut short when the player realizes that they must pay in game currency in order to gain new skills. This is very awkward and generally unfun to do. It breaks up the combat and just doesn’t fit well in a genre that is all about flow and momentum.
The biggest issue with Akaneiro’s gameplay doesn’t even show itself while in combat. In town, the player speaks to a man who brings up a map. From there, the player can choose what quest he wants to go down, and they’re then transported to said zone. However this action puts a cooldown on the zone, which can be expedited by spending Karma Crystals which are acquired by spending real life money. In a genre that prides itself on tireless grinding the same zone(s) over and over for that one piece of loot; any sort of gating is a horrible addition.
Control wise, the game functions closer to it’s archaic ancestor Diablo 2, than it’s new buddy Diablo 3. Instead of having the MOBA style QWER buttons to activate skills, the player has Left Click and Right Click to choose from, and they must cycle the skills via the tab key. This wasn’t an issue back in Diablo 2, but ARPG fans have become accustomed to the QWER style of key binding, and taking a step back is not favorable. Otherwise, the game’s controls are responsive and it’s pretty easy to control.
ARPGs are games that meant to be played for dozens and dozens of hours, all in search of that one piece of loot. Unfortunately the gating aspect of Akaneiro does put a damper on that goal. While Akaneiro sports 4 different difficulties for each zone, having to wait to replay the same zone kinda defeats the purpose of trying to clear all of the difficulties.
Another huge aspect of ARPGs is the multiplayer, being able to clear through hordes of enemies with a group of friends is great fun. Akaneiro has found a way to ruin that as well. Instead of a traditional multiplayer system, the player is able to take friends(or strangers) characters and make them an NPC pet that follows them around. This takes all of the camaraderie out of the game and makes the player feel even more alone.
Despite having a new and refreshing setting, the technical aspects Akaneiro: Demon Hunters ruin it. From poor graphics, to bad optimization the game doesn’t play well. The gameplay unfortunately doesn’t make up for it. With an uninspired skill system, gating preventing farming, and a complete lack of depth Akaneiro feels more of a shell of a game than an actual game. Despite being “Free to Play” the game still costs $9.99 on steam.