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The RPG Files: Goken: Bringing Old School ARPG Game Play Back

By Randy Liden on October 18, 2017 | Columns | Comments

Goken: Bringing Old School ARPG Game Play Back

Standing on the shoulders of giants like Secret of Mana and the Ys Series, Goken aims to bring back the features that made Action RPGs great in the first place. Unashamedly appealing to nostalgia right on their Steam page, the game is quite clear where its roots lie and what it wants to be. This is our Goken review.  

Goken offers all the core features that need to be present in an Action RPG. There is dynamic action oriented combat where skill combos and mobility matter. There are weapons and upgrade paths for the weapons and a passive attribute system in the form of complex tattoos, but more about that later. Finally, all that is tied together with a narrative that takes us all over a large sprawling map in search of ancient swords and gods.

Our story begins, like all good JRPG, with our immortal hero stripped of power, confused, and reawakened to the world around him. Five thousand years ago our hero, master of the 5 Swords, was imprisoned after an epic battle with the god Ozone. The swords themselves turned on the gods for unbeknownst reasons and legend has it that the hero and the god were incarcerated in magic vessels. Fast forward to the present and young Chao, the fortunate NPC who gets to open our story, has released the hero who commences tracking down his scattered and lost swords.

Edge has the singular goal of recovering his lost swords and likely seeking revenge or, at the very least, the opportunity to continue his fight with Ozone. Maybe those will end up being the same thing. Maybe not. There has been a mysterious figure following Edge and generating more questions than answers.

While the story is interesting and keeps the game moving, the dialog falls flat with the most cringeworthy moments coming from our hero. Much of the NPC dialog feels familiar in a comfortable way that you expect NPCs to behave and converse in a JRPG. But it often delves into the awkward and campy. This is an area the developers need to put more effort into polishing. A strong narrative supports and drives the game while a weak one drags it down.

I used an Xbox One wired controller for Windows, but the game also offers keyboard controls and two schema layouts for each control type. There is no mouse support and apparently no intention of adding it to this game. I highly recommend using a controller as the primary input.

Combat in Goken is straightforward and simple. Edge can slot a weapon in X and on in Y. Attacking with the same button 3 times in a row can end with a power combo that does greater damage. The 3-button combo attack can also use a mix of X and Y attacks which can also create some powerful combo effects. This can be more difficult than it may sound. Each weapon has its own speed and animation cooldown so timing combos is between two weapons is especially hard but can yield a very rewarding finisher.

Positioning and mobility is also important, and monsters and bosses can apply a variety of conditions and impairments. These mechanics are used heavily in boss encounters making some of them brutal with little room for error. Some boss encounters were too much and I had to grind out some levels and upgrade my gear and tattoos before progressing further.

A key thread driving the game is gathering the lost swords. Each weapon plays differently regarding attack speed, animation delay, recovery, and range. As more weapons are collected more options for combat builds opens up too. The first sword is one-handed, fast, and does medium damage. There is a two-handed sword that has a slow swing and recovery but does a lot of damage. There are the daggers which are ranged and the scythes which are also fast. As the game progresses it becomes more important to choose the proper set of weapons for the type of monsters and bosses being faced.

The more Edge uses a weapon the more experience that weapon gains until it can be upgraded at the blacksmith. The components for upgrade come as occasional drops from the world monsters.

In addition to monster bits that we can use to improve our weapons there are various consumables to help aid in recovery or condition management. Keeping these in stock is critical because they are the main method of healing damage and conditions during tough encounters and boss fights.

Weapons aren’t the only upgrade path Goken offers. There is the Tattoo system which is an intriguing and elaborate approach to passive stat building. One part of the system is simple. The character gains points and can allocate those directly to four combat related stats. The other part of the system is much more complex. The character gains points which can be spent to unlock “ink slots” where they can apply “ink” that has attributes. These attributes buff attack, defense, and health. Inks are acquired from tattoo artist and found in gold chests scattered throughout the world.

The open world, which is vast with a gentle maze-like terrain, contains destructible objects, like bushes and rocks, that drop health globes and coin. There are also red and gold chests that dot the land for our hero to find.

There are diverse environment themes throughout the world from deserts, to icy mountains, and lush forests. Icy terrain and monsters can chill the hero or cause cold damage over time. Fortunately, there are curatives and even tattoos that can be applied to mitigate the damage and effects.

Monster models in Goken are reused throughout the world just like early JRPGs. Monsters that you meet may look similar to the same type encountered before, but will often have new skills or tactics to use in addition to more hit points.

One feature the game offers is called the Compendium. This is a resource accessed through the menu providing information on monsters, places, the storyline, and items. This is a handy reference when trying to find your way through the world.

Goken has a few rough spots as well. Sometimes during combat the hero would end up facing the wrong direction after an attack sequence wasting precious stamina and opening me up for a flank attack. The game suffers from occasional stuttering and performance issues as well. The roughest spot for me personally is the dialog. None of these issues are too horrible on their own though, but it does mean the game needs more polish. Goken just came out of early access and there are patches planned over the coming days and weeks. The developers have acknowledge issues, but it still pulls the experience and score down a bit.

Despite a few rough edges Goken delivers on what it means to be a classic Japanese Action RPG. It’s fun, challenging, and worth investigating for people who want a straight forward open world Action RPG.

Note: Our copy was reviewed on PC, with a Steam key provided by PR.



  • Native controller support
  • Classic JRPG action
  • Visuals are beautiful
  • Nice soundtrack


  • No mouse support
  • Dialog is juvenile
  • Needs polish