By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 19 August 2020
As I have frequently stated and showed via my reviews, I am a sucker for a good Japanese game. Being an old guard otaku will do that, of course, but as a long time gamer, it’s always interesting to see how another culture handles gamification.
Thanks to a friend’s generosity, I was gifted a copy of Kamigakari: God Hunters, for the sole purpose of reviewing. Now that I’ve gotten the chance to take a look at this tome, it is high time to give this a review…
Writer’s Note: The provided copy of Kamigakari is an early copy of the book. Some changes may be made between now and physical publication.
Set in the modern day, Kamigakari offers to tell the tales of the “Awakened,” individuals granted a shard of power from god-like beings from long ago, as they battle against monsters, anomalies, and beings that wish to become dark gods and bring ruin to the world.
Originally released in Japan in 2013, Kamigakari was successfully funded via Kickstarter in 2018 to have a properly published version released in the West.
==What You Get==
The PDF for Kamigakari weighs in at 297 pages. The book is mostly black-and-white, with some colorized art “inserts.”
The first half of the book covers the basics of setting and character creation, a section dedicated to the game’s core mechanics, and nearly an entire third of the book dedicated to the GM.
Mechanically speaking, the game utilities a d6 mechanic to resolve all actions, with the now-classic 2d6+Mods being the core of the game. Character creation is based off of archetypes, and many of the tropes presented in this game are easily recognizable to anime fans.
As a d6 game, Kamigakari already benefits from ease of access and low cost of entry. Players only need up to 5d6, but will normally only need 2d6 for rolling. Nothing wrong with a simple roll mechanic and low cost of entry!
From a mechanical perspective, there is one interesting permutation of the standard 2d6 mechanic: the Spirit Pool. All characters have access to a set number of dice that are rolled at designated times and put to the side. These are used to either activate powers (all with their own Spirit Pool cost/requirements, such as Doubles, a specific number, or Even/Odds) or swap out from your roll (to either increase chances of success or provide you with that needed number for a special ability). It is an interesting bank-spend mechanic that I don’t see too often, and would love to see it show up more frequently.
For new players or GMs, Kamigakari has a number of ways to help speed up getting to the table. The early parts of the book include a number of ready-to-play PCs, a number of NPCs to utilize, and even a simple city/area generator with plots. The GM section has a rather robust bestiary, a collection of randomization tables, a handful of scenarios, and a slew of tools to get a game running. If nothing else, the tools are worth checking out, whether to help with descriptions, naming attacks/items, or fleshing out a location.
Finally, the premise of the game is both accessible and entertaining. Fans of anime or Japanese pop culture that have been active within the last twenty or so years will find plenty of points within the plot to draw them in. With dark gods rising, ancestral powers handed down from generations, magic sigils that flare up when using magic, heroes that transform before entering battle, and the ability to create a “spirit barrier” to create a safe space to fight within, there’s something for everyone to nod and smile at.
Right out of the gate, Kamigakari suffers from two specific, but not unique, problems: Layout and Localization.
The layout for Kamigakari leaves quite a bit to be desired, as the quality is inconsistent and, at times, nonsensical. For example, in some cases, the text almost bleeds into a shadow version, which is distracting at least and frustrating at worst. I saw situations like this on more than one computer, which confirmed that this wasn’t just my tablet being weird. Hopefully this won’t happen in the print copy and will be fixed in a later digital copy.
There’s also a few minor issues in layout, including headers that don’t stand out well enough to easily spot (such as the frequent sub-headers that are not changed from standard font), pictures shifting font or covering other layout features, and the general flow of the book not feeling “right” (rules references for character creation that are half a book away, for example).
The same goes for the localization. Anyone who’s had the daunting task of translating knows the difficulty of making a “correct” translation that not only literally makes sense, but also sounds correct to a native speaker. It was a curse I faced when speaking to anyone in Japan, and a challenge I faced when I was translating manga and novels for fun (and homework). There is a specific art to it, and it’s one of the reasons why translated works get so much flak from those who had the chance to study that language.
Kamigakari falls into this same pitfall. While the translation makes literal sense, it feels awkward and slightly jarring when read. This may just be the standard “this doesn’t translate well” trap that languages suffer from, but I fear it may have just been more focus on getting a literal translation of text. Considering members of the team behind the translation were behind other games such as Maid, Tenra Bansho Zero, and Golden Sky Stories, I was severely disappointed
Overall, reading Kamigakari is harder than it needs to be, which makes it a bit more of a chore than I’d like for my games. Considering I can barely get players to read a forty page rulebook written by native speakers, I worry I wouldn’t get anyone to read the necessary parts of this one.
I also have to admit that I’m disappointed in the sheer lack of art. We have a solid cover and color art pages, some art in the setting chapter, and after that…that’s it. We see some of the art re-appear in some parts of the book, but in grayscale instead of color, often when tied to a chapter. We see some “new” art included, but that is limited to a couple of small comics to help with mechanics, a small image for each Mononoke type (which are recycled from the combat section), and a handful of NPC portraits. Considering how great the art looked in the earlier part, I was sincerely hoping to see additional item, character, and even magical crest designs, but I was sorely disappointed.
This is doubly disappointing as it means we have proverbial walls of text before something interesting breaks it up, and we have to rely on vague descriptions for things. I hate to say this phrase, but “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” rings true for this title.
Finally, the game is a bit convoluted. This verdict is caused by a number of things, from terms that are used but barely explained (like the terms vaguely defined at the beginning, then are frequently used over the course of, but not clearly explained, for nearly 200 pages), word choices for terms that aren’t intuitive, and an inherently over-engineered action economy.
After wrestling with a nascent Avatar of Ruin within a Spirit Barrier, Kamigakari: God Hunters is leaving with a paltry two buns.
I wanted to like Kamigakari from the get-go. The art was reminiscent of anime I’ve enjoyed over the years, the plotline and concepts were nods to much of the series I still enjoy, and the pitch for an epic game just sounded too good to be true.
Sadly, it proved to be too good to be true, and “disappointing” is the word I would link with this title. With convoluted mechanics that were not improved upon with awkward language and a severe lack of proper art placement (and art in general for a book this size), Kamigakari proved to be a chore to read with only a few bright spots for me. Your mileage may vary.
If you are a fan of d6 games, anime-inspired games, and want to save the world, then Kamigakari could be a good fit. Avoid it if translated books and anime tropes are not your thing.
Kamigakari: God Hunters was localized by Sea Serpent Games. As of this writing, it can be purchased as a PDF via DriveThruRPG for $25, with a POD version expected in September.