Since last year, the two joined forces to bring it to eager(?) Steam users everywhere along with Dizzy Hearts: a visual novel that has always been in development for some time. However, the last time we visited the world of Toko wasn’t a smooth trip. The game needed a lot of work from where we last left it and Lupiesoft has had over a year, the backing of Sekai Project, a larger team to bring the glimmer of potential from 2014 out and build not just a solid game, but start a franchise. Let’s see how it all panned out.
The Reject Demon Toko is the story of Toko; a young succubus who gets kicked out of Hell for refusing to ferry the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Upon her exit from Hell, she runs into a young lady named Nadia (literally) and the two begin a relationship as Toko deals with the threats of the supernatural world. On the surface, that makes it shonen action with a yuri twist as we are treated to tons of actions scenes and the young love of Nadia and Toko. Of course, things are rarely that simple.
The biggest problem with the game is the relationship between Nadia and Toko. In my first go at Toko a year ago, I said the biggest positive an episodic game had was that you could take your time. There was no need to rush anything: especially the relationship that was supposed to be the cornerstone of the game. A year later and we’re still rushing through Nadia and Toko’s relationship. They literally run into each other, sleep in the same bed a few times and before the midpoint they are a couple. After that, Toko spends all of her time either jealous of anyone who steps near Nadia or ignoring everything she says when she’s not being ignorant of the human world. On the other hand, Nadia is an idiot.
That’s not a slam: Nadia is an idiot and my least favorite character in this game by a country mile. Considering the stakes of the game are her life, her enforced ignorance on everything happening around her isn’t ‘quirky’: it’s asinine. I’m not saying she should be running down the streets screaming for dear life, I AM saying that when a stranger you’ve pulled into your home because of ‘reasons’ says ‘I’m a demon who wants to consume your soul’, cluelessly smiling about it is as off-putting as the whiff of lecherous pervert about her. The only thing creepier about her stupidity is how her dragging Toko along like a living doll while Toko stares blankly at the camera is supposed to be romantic. It’s a shame because when Nadia becomes a damsel in distress, the story tries its best to make you care about Toko finding her power within and saving her. However, since I know that the only reason they care about each other is because that’s the way the author wants them to be together right now and not through a natural evolution of the plot, I can’t do it.
The relationship between Nadia and Toko is a sample of the actual glue that holds this game together: the Word of God. The writers want something to happen, so despite any shred of common sense it happens. While we’ll get into it in more detail, the absolute will of the writers to just make stuff happen is well shown in the second half of the game when Toko picks a fight with an angel because Nadia is a fan of her music. If this was a point to show that Toko was dealing with her possessive feelings wrong then it would have been an interesting fight. However, no time is given to Toko to reflect on her bratty behavior and since Toko is our protagonist, she is shown in a default positive light…despite being the one who started everything.
This isn’t a plot hole, because it can be explained if the writers bothered to give a damn. In fact, I’d argue that Toko doesn’t have any actual plot holes in it since plot holes are minor details left untied that causes a paradox down the road. Since this is only the first chapter, what Toko has are supposedly major plot points that are needed to advance the plot that are outright ignored because the writers want certain scenes to be at certain points of the story. On the surface, that means stuff like how demons interact with the human world, or why they need soul energy or really anything on how the world of Toko works, can be outright ignored. Why? Because the writers don’t bother taking it into account in the story and much of it is thrown out in the very next scene.
However, once you get to the actual plot line the game is trying to tell, you realize just how grinding it all is. So now let’s talk about the structure of the game and the plot points Chapter 0 wants to cover.
In the first half, we get the exact same story we got in the game jam version last year. Some scenes have been added, but it falls under the Word of God rather than add to the story. This is best seen by the tried and true ‘they met when they were kids, therefore they were destined to fall in love’ scene at the opening. The only thing the scene adds to the story is that Nadia cameoed in Men in Black. (Seriously? A little girl playing in the park by herself at night? She’s up to something Zed.)
Pushing the empty calories aside, what the first half wants to accomplish is to establish the relationship between Nadia and Toko, as well as build towards the eventually fight with Devon which unlocks Toko’s demonic bass guitar. We’ve been through the relationship already, but even if you can piledrive through all of that and find enjoyment in the boss fight with Devon, you still have to return to the fact that all of this is a build-up to reveal that Pellatrix, an authority figure in Toko’s circle of Hell, was pulling the strings on all of this to unlock the demonic bass guitar in order for her circle to win Hell’s Battle of the Bands. Ignoring that, again, the only reason any of this manages not to collapse in on itself is because of Word of God AND that if you’ve already played the original Toko you know this twist is coming and time hasn’t helped it get any better, the simple fact that the payoff isn’t worth the wait.
This tournament thing is a shonen staple, but without a decent buildup or threat there is really no reason to be excited to see it unfold. There is no overarching threat or long-time nemesis presented yet to push the audience behind Toko and the promise of ‘prestige’ for Toko’s particular circle of Hell is irrelevant since we only spend enough time there to establish that Toko doesn’t give a damn about it. It’s just there because, again, it’s a shonen staple: again enforcing the writer’s will to just have stuff happen without connecting it together. Not giving it ‘logic’; just connecting it together.
The second half of the story Toko runs headlong into a fight with an angelic pop star. then loses, then runs headlong back into a fight only to get her ass saved by Baby Freakin’ Yaga who arrives to deliver the only necessary information in the entire game. During the fight with Devon, Toko somehow managed to form a parasitic connection with Nadia’s soul and every time Toko unleashes her musical bankai, Nadia gets closer and closer to death. This half of the story had a bit more potential for a few reasons. The first is that it tries to explain how Toko’s guitar works. However, with the philosophy of this story being ‘introduce and ignore’, the information we get is useless.
How useless? Let’s run it down.
Apparently the guitar gets its power when Toko feeds on sexual energy. Devon and Ginxhou repeatedly point this out and suggest Toko bangs Nadia to get the guitar to full power. However, Toko manages to unleash the musical bankai just fine without doing the deed: although it’s only strong enough to fight to a draw in each case. The reason given (sort of) is that cuddling with Nadia excites her enough for Toko to draw energy from it, HOWEVER, just few scenes before this, the guitar explains that she cannot unleash her full power because of that exact same cuddling. SO, what dictates when the guitar works and when it doesn’t? If you said ‘the writers’, ding ding; you’ve won the solid gold cupie doll.
This takes any potential steam out of Toko’s fight with the angels. While they may play a role in the future, they currently stand as a good idea but have no quantitative value right now because we know by this point it’s all empty calories. Baba Yaga’s revelation that Nadia and Toko’s relationship is literally toxic can be built on if it isn’t shelved along with the other interesting ideas we get this game. This is a loose thread left to dangle for the new Chapter 1, but it also is one of the few good ideas that crawl over the bodies of its fellow good ideas in Chapter 0 along with Toko and Ginxhou’s relationship and whatever role the angels will be playing in the future.
So, gentle anon; you are absolutely correct. You can look at Toko as a over-the-top action story and be fine because ultimately that’s all that’s left. However, that’s not what the story is centered on; that’s just what’s left of the flood of ideas that are never fleshed out. Any one of these ideas could have been the core of this game if it had been given time to breathe and tell its story. Yet that doesn’t happen and because it doesn’t, it all just feels aimless. It can be good and for some it might even be fun, but the potential for momentum and actual momentum are two different things. What we have is a lot of potential and little else.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
The Presentation is a slight step up from what we got in the first edition. The sprites are distinctive and it gives Lupiesoft its own feel, which is commendable in a genre washed in anime-style artwork. Toko’s has also gotten many more expression while the others make due with the different manga-style sweatdrops and excitement points. Now, that basically goes for the main cast: Toko, Ginxhou, Nadia and Devon. Everyone else, especially the angels that come later, are rough on the eyes. They just look out of place both in scale and, frankly, design that it just further my thought that the first and second half of Chapter 0 were supposed to be different games.
There are very few actual Event Graphics here. Most of them are just Toko going into what I’ve turned ‘Musical Bankai Mode’ like our header image here. The rest of it are chibi-styled cut-ins of Nadia and Toko’s interactions. Ironically, a la the Sakura titles, we do manage to get a PG-13 version of the combination boob/ass/crotch shot. We have to think of a word for that, because it is as ridiculous as it looks. Overall the CGs are serviceable, which is more than I can say for the backgrounds.
The backgrounds are pre-rendered 3D courtesy of Unc’ Mugen and something more unique to represent Hell. To make the pre-rendered backgrounds look more ‘unique’ to the game, a pink neon filter was added to most of them and several additional design choices were drawn it. Not going to lie here; it makes it very difficult to look at. The Hell stuff was okay, but the lesson here is some things should be left alone. The soundtrack fared a bit better. There are a handful of solid rock tracks there, but most of it is the up-tempo synthetic themes you’re probably used to in anime by now. It’s a decent start though and hopefully we’ll see more of the musicians work as they grow.
Technically speaking, Toko has issues. There are technical mistakes abound like a repeated text scroll and more than a few instances where the sprites float, although since it was behind the user interface I guess it wasn’t considered a problem that suddenly Ginxhou was floating high enough to show that her legs had been cut off. That doesn’t begin to touch the issue of the sprites’ spacing, which can get wonky with more than three sprites sharing the screen or the fact that their name plates often change despite who’s speaking. Some of these are finer details that need more polish, but a good number are technical flaws that should have been fixed with the extended development time.
As a kinetic novel, there are no choices.There’s also no Extras menu which has become pretty common, even for the kinetic stuff. The only ‘extra’ we get is that if you replay the game, Nadia has a baby chick on her head. Hilarious? Other than that, it ran without crashing so I’ll take that as a positive.
Currently, The Reject Demon Toko retails at $4.99 and I wrapped it up in less than two hours: around one hour and forty minutes with me taking my time. Here’s the kicker, when I reviewed the first edition of Toko last year, I was shocked to see that it took me damn near the exact same amount of time. That baffles me on a personal level because that just shouldn’t be the case. Yet, for five dollars you can get an extra thirty minutes at the most of a game many of you probably got last year for free.
Ultimately, with all of the issues that have been presented I don’t see myself running back for another go at Toko. It’s value may grow as the rest of the series comes out, but by then surely the price will drop since there wasn’t a first week sale on it. I’d keep your powder dry until then and support Lupiesoft another way; at least then you’ll feel you got your money’s worth.
If you haven’t read my review of the original Toko, you really should if only to see how much I repeat myself this time around. So many issues were pointed out back then not just by this website, but by other reviewers who found the game to have potential but little else. Now, over a year later and after several delays, the Reject Demon Toko Chapter 0 came into the ring with a single job: take that potential and turn it into reality. And, in one of the greatest tragedies I’ve seen in the EVN sphere, it doesn’t.
So much of the story is muddled and rushed, even the new material is crippled by the absolute refusal of the team to slow down and flesh out their work. The cast, especially Toko and Nadia, are grating and their relationship is would be interesting if it actually WAS a relationship. The only thing that connects the ideas is the writer’s desire to make it so, not the story evolving to make them work. And, frankly, after blaming a delay on the release of Mortal Kombat X, Toko’s full release should have been technically flawless. The fact that it isn’t and I’m so far the only one pointing it out is shameful: absolutely shameful.
It’s not bad, but it is still far from good. In fact, it’s exactly where we left Toko the last time around. You guys had one job: one job.