|Dev: Spicy Horse Games|
|Pub: Spicy Horse Games|
|Release: January 31, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Shelby Reiches
Oh Akaneiro, you are a strange beast. You tempt us with stunning graphics, drawn from the same Japanese watercolor inspiration as Okami, a perennial artistic favorite. Levels are accompanied by the beatific pluckings of the koto, a string instrument of some prevalence in traditional Japanese music. Your combat mechanics, too, are solid, with the basic framework of an action-RPG given an always-online twist.
It’s a shame, then, that you’re missing the few things needed to turn you into a compelling experience in the long term.
Where Akaneiro falters isn’t in any matter of presentation, as its presentation is positively stunning. Vibrant reds are used in striking contrast to the earth tones that pervade the palette, and empty space has a distinct “grain” to it. Everything is shaded with a heavy touch of “ink,” a fusion between cel-shading and the brushstrokes of Japanese calligraphy. As mentioned before, the audio is also befitting of the game’s tone, with a placid rhythm that evokes the aesthetic beauty of Eastern mythology.
No, Akaneiro’s faults are in the areas of function and motivation, as it is hobbled in the former and almost devoid of the latter.
The materials written about the game claim that it’s inspired by the Red Riding Hood story, twisted to better suit the Japanese aesthetic American McGee and Spicy Horse chose for their latest game. In practice, though, the story seems to be wholly absent from Akaneiro. The gameplay cycle consists of hitting the hub, buying items and abilities for the battles ahead, and then talking to an NPC who sends you out on missions. There are a set number of missions per area and, while they’re often fairly long, they don’t really contain an engaging story. The entirety of the Red Riding Hood connection seems to stem from the use of wolves as enemies and the prevalence of red in the armor one can acquire.
Once one has completed a mission, it’s back to the village with no further ceremony. There is no attempt to chain together a coherent narrative. Just, y’know, proceed to the next mission. Once a mission has been completed, it does unlock a new difficulty tier for that task, but raising or lowering the “threat” level involves using precious karma, unless one simply waits for the threat level to “recharge” over time. It discourages farming missions, since you’ll be met with diminished returns on successive playthroughs, unless you’re willing to invest some currency.
Karma, as it stands, is the universal currency of Akaneiro. Abilities and items are purchased with it, it can be used to revive yourself right where you’ve fallen, the threat level of missions can be changed with it, and rather than being sold, equipment can be transmuted into it. Most importantly, though, it is how one unlocks other parts of the game. Though the starting area and its three missions are immediately available, karma must be spent to unlock the others. This leads to a balancing act that you will inevitably lose, meaning that to continue playing the game with any real efficacy, you must pay real money to Spicy Horse for their “red chilies,” which can be spent to purchase karma.
To clarify, that is a nested, fantasy money purchase. You buy fake money from Spicy Horse with which you then buy fake money specific to this game. The only other red chili purchase in Akaneiro, of which I’m aware, is an immediate unlock for all of the zones. Since unlocking new zones increases your character’s level cap, there is a benefit to doing so even before you’re ready to tackle the toughest missions, but it would be nice to see a system more like Path of Exile’s, in which purchases are exclusively relegated to quality of life enhancements, rather than in-game “boosts” that make your character more powerful. Even the donation incentives are often primarily extra items for use in game: weapons, armor, even pets. While some are surely aesthetic, given that they cost real world money, there’s a certain expectation that they will in some way provide additional in-game benefits, too, which would risk unbalancing most any action RPG.
Of course, that’s less of a concern in Akaneiro than in its competitors because, unlike almost every action-RPG since Diablo launched back in 1996, Akaneiro lacks online multiplayer. It’s on the way (potentially, donations pending), but right now the closest thing to online co-op is the ability to pull other players’ avatars into your game to fight alongside you. It’s a solution, definitely, but it’s less enjoyable than a full-fledged multiplayer component would be. Considering you’re already online and logged into an account, no doubt to facilitate karma purchases and the pseudo-multiplayer the game allows, it’s even stranger that some form of more direct multiplayer was not a core conceit of the game.