[Hands-on preview] Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess is ritual tower defense

[Hands-on preview] Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess is ritual tower defense

A mix of 2D action with lite tower defense and Japanese mysticism make for an intriguing experience

I had no idea what to think about Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess based on the trailers I’d seen for it. Was it an action game? An RPG? What were the influences? How would it even control?

After finally going hands-on with it at Summer Game Fest, I was completely surprised by what the game actually was: a sidescrolling tower defense game with a LOT of action and narrative. That mix is supplemented with escort missions and relationship building, and all draped in stunning Japanese myth and lore. It’s gorgeous and frightening, and always tense.

My demo with the game centered around guiding the Goddess up a mountain, from which she must purge the evil. Along the way, along her “path”, she vanquishes the evil from gates she comes across and from which demons spew. We set her path, and during the day she can slowly make her way to the gate, dancing and engaging in her ritual, but at night she stops walking and the demons attack, and we need to protect her at all cost. Luckily we have a sword and combos, and the action-heavy portion of the game takes place. Because the game is set up on a 2D field, different paths can lead up, below, and behind the Goddess, so trying to contain one area’s demons might leave her open to the wrath of those coming from other avenues.

That’s where the real tower defense portion takes place. During the day, while the Goddess is performing her ritual walk, we can vanquish the evil – depicted as tentacles, smoke, totems, etc – from the paths ahead of us and even from the townsfolk who were unfortunate to get caught. These townsfolk will in turn help us in various ways by taking on jobs. We can have them become swordsman, or sumo, or healers, or defense, with each class having certain advantages and disadvantages. Early in the demo I set the townsfolk as attackers, and ended up leaving one flank open as they weren’t able to stand their ground. Later I learned to adjust them based on their location. No matter what, though, the demo took place early enough in the game where these aspects weren’t quite as necessary as I’m sure they will be later on; the early maps are relatively simple, with minimal paths. I would find one section of a lane, camp, and pick off the demons as they poured out of the gates. The ones that would avoid my attack and make their way around it would be moving just slow enough for me to catch up and slice them up.

The Goddess only has a certain distance she can move per day in her dance, which can often mean stopping her early to prepare for an attack, but once she reaches a gate she clears it and we can move on to the next area. In between these areas we’re treated to a sort of camp, where we can change jobs and upgrade ourselves and our townsfolk. The upgrade system is interesting; instead of a standard tree, it’s presented as knots on ropes, with more or less knots based on what we want to improve.

After a couple of the gate cleansing zones, and after upgrading our team, we finally come upon a mid-boss. This battle is interesting, in that it is fully action based and requires us to command our townsfolk live. We can ask one to attack, another to defend, and another to heal or protect us. If the Goddess (also on the screen at the same time) is being attacked then we can give new commands to our townsfolk, all while we hack away at the demon. In reverse of the ritual dance day sequences, the beast is the one slowly moving towards the Goddess, and so we have to take it down before it reaches her. In this specific battle, though, my squad continues to get injured and knocked out. Blame it on my bad management in between the Goddess walks.

I slash and slash, and dodge, and do combos, and… well, it ends in failure. The Goddess falls. The demo is over.

Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess is an interesting mix of styles. It never goes all in on one, not on action or on tower defense or on the RPG liteness, instead balancing each of the aspects to focus on the story and setting. This is just a slice (pun!) of the game, and I’m told that it gets much deeper with much more complex as the levels advance, so I’m curious to see how the balance of all of the aspects shakes out. The game is launching July 19 on PS5, Xbox Series, and PC.