Akaneiro: Demon Hunters hacks and slashes its way through feudal Japan with a Red Riding Hood flair

No one puts a dark twist on a classic tale like American McGee. Having already put Alice through her action-horror paces a couple of times, the designer and his team at Spicy Horse Games turn to Red Riding Hood for Akaneiro: Demon Hunters. This Red is no helpless girl, but a member of a team of demon hunters in the Edo period of feudal Japan. Those demons aren’t going to kill themselves, so it’s up to you in this free-to-play action-RPG.

To be fair, the Red Riding Hood theme isn’t quite as obvious in Akaneiro: Demon Hunters as the Alice in Wonderland theme was in McGee’s Alice games. You’re free to create either male or female slayers based on three primary characteristics. Go for Prowess is you want a dual-wielding damage dealer, Fortitude to concentrate on heavy armor or defense, or Cunning to focus on ranged attacks and evasive tricks. The class system isn’t absolute, so you can change things up later to suit your playing style.

The controls are kept simple, the better to hack and slash your way through waves of Yokai: demons and monsters straight out of Japanese folklore. Yes, there are also wolves, and plenty of them. Movement and basic attacks are done with a left-click, while your primary ability can be activated with a right-click. Other abilities are mapped to the number keys, and you’ll need to remember what is where because the enemies give you little time for fumbling around.

Akaneiro: Demon Hunters

A central village acts as the hub for you to take on quests, which mostly require you to clear out neighboring locales that have been overrun with Yokai. You can summon another player’s character to act as a wingman – something the game could probably be more clear about explaining – but once you’re on a mission, you’re there until you complete it or decide to bail by teleporting back to the village.

The mini-map is very useful for pointing out the locations of monsters and showing you exactly where you need to go, yet there’s still an element of surprise at times, with demons leaping from beyond the edges of the screen to ambush you. Defeated enemies drop Karma Shards, a kind of mystical currency that is used for almost everything: buying gear and consumables, learning new abilities, and in-quest revives. Loot is plentiful in the grand action-RPG tradition, and unneeded gear can be sold at the village shops or simply transmuted to Karma from your inventory screen.

Karma can also be used to adjust the difficulty of existing missions or unlock new regions of the game world. Increased difficulty in this case mostly means more and hardier monsters, and you may end up having to go through some of the maps multiple times to gain enough Karma to advance. On top of that, you can only level up at the end of a completed quest. But while there’s a definite grinding aspect to the gameplay, at least there’s a purpose to it. Plus, if you find yourself enjoying the game enough to pay for it, a one-time fee can unlock all of the content in one fell swoop.

Akaneiro: Demon Hunters

Some people are bound to do just that after falling in love with the setting of Akaneiro, which takes a backseat to no game in terms of atmosphere. That probably comes as no surprise given McGee’s track record, but it’s still pretty remarkable the way the game immerses you in Japanese mythology. The visuals make it look like you are playing your way through old Edo-era paintings, and the extra flourishes like leaves that fall in front of the camera simply add to the overall feel. Those graphics require a bit of processing power from your PC or Mac, but there are several settings in case you need to tone them down.

Some features Spicy Horse wanted to include at launch, namely crafting, co-op multiplayer, and mobile editions for iOS and Android, are still in the works. A Kickstarter campaign that (just barely) met its goals means that all of these things will probably still materialize, and there are even more ambitious plans for future content if the game really catches on. Even in its current form, though, Akaneiro: Demon Hunters is a stylish action-RPG with the power to suck you into its world. You can’t ask for much more than that from a free-to-play game.