By Henry Badilla / December 13th, 2017
|Release Date||November 15, 2017|
|Genre||Dungeon Crawler, RPG|
There’s something strange in Hyakki’s Island. Who you gonna call? If you thought Ghostbusters, well you’re a couple of centuries too early. I’ll be reviewing the debut title by Asakusa Studios called Hyakki Castle in which you have to command a secret group of warriors that deal with monsters and creatures that no one knows. And no, they’re not called Yokaibusters, but that’s a movie I would watch!
Hyakki Castle tells the story of Kigata Doman, an evil sorcerer from the 17th century in Japan who was attempting to overthrow the Shogun. However, he was captured and sent to exile in Hyakki’s Island. Years later a strange castle filled with creatures of horror appears on that same island and Doman claims to be its master. The Shogun calls a group of warriors that deal with the supernatural to go there and put a stop to Doman’s plans.
And how do you stop Doman, you may ask? By navigating a castle filled with monsters in a first-person view dungeon crawler. Hyakki Castle resembles games like Legends of Grimrock or Might and Magic. You will be controlling four characters and you can customize their class, race, name and portrait before starting the adventure.
Unlike most first-person games you don’t have full control of your character through the map. Instead you are placed on a grid and your character can only move one tile at a time to any adjacent space, and no diagonals. In addition you can only attack enemies in front of you and your range varies depending on the attack. This may sound similar to other dungeon crawlers like Chocobo’s Dungeon or Baroque, but combat here is real time and the enemies will continue their movement pattern regardless of your actions.
Since you will be controlling four characters, the way you determine who is attacking would be by either clicking on the attack that you want to use, if you’re using a mouse and keyboard, or by pressing one of the back buttons or triggers on your controller and then a face button. For example, the first character corresponds to the R button, and each of the face buttons (A,B,X,Y) will correspond to an attack. These attacks have a Mana cost that recharges over time and a cooldown time before you can use it again. This makes the key to combat cycling between your four characters to avoid waiting for the cooldown of your characters to end.
There is a total of 15 floors, with a boss battle every three floors and different themes. You will start the adventure at the very bottom of the dungeon and make your way up until reaching the top tower of the castle. The different floors have a very unique Japanese style, and if you have ever watched any samurai movie you will feel at home with the representation of the scenarios.
While in general this feels like a safe game with not much innovation, there is a unique mechanic that consists of splitting your party in two smaller groups. However you will need to select which one to control while the other stays standing vulnerable to attacks. While it would have been nice to plug in a second controller for a friend to control the other group, this is not possible.
The concept of splitting the party is nice, but the game only makes use of it for a couple of puzzles that consist of having a group stand on a switch while the other stands on another, or pressing a switch so a gate opens, and the second group goes through it and does the same on the other side. The idea is nice, but I feel that the same results could have been achieved by moving boxes instead.
But this wouldn’t be a dungeon crawler without its fair share of monsters, and this is one of the strongest points of the game. Most, if not all, creatures in the game are inspired by yokai, monsters from Japanese folklore. From kappas to ogres, skeleton samurais, ghosts, cyclops monks and many more will make your stay as unwelcome as possible. And while the backgrounds may feel a bit simple, the monsters really feel threatening and scary. Due to the nature of the game, it’s pretty common to turn a corner only for a monster to jump at you. For not being a horror game it really made me jump a couple of times.
Going back to the RPG elements of the game, there are only four possible races and four possible classes. Each race will affect the initial status of the character but nothing significant. The classes are Samurai, which is a damage dealer, Ninja, which is also a damage dealer but can inflict debuffs to the enemies, Sohei, the tank with skills based on absorbing the aggro of the enemies, and Miku, a caster that can deal elemental damage and heal the party.
Each class has a skill tree of abilities that can be learned with skill points that you get by leveling up. However there are not a lot of options so there’s not much to customize in here. You will always end up with the same character in the end regardless of your choices.
The main problem with the classes is that on a normal RPG it is assumed that you will receive damage since you can’t avoid it. The way that Hyakki Castle works is that all enemies have an attack that will practically kill your whole party, but since you can move left, right or backwards you need to learn how to avoid them. Once you understand that it works it makes having defensive skills, or a whole class based on resisting damage, almost useless.
Bosses are quite easy to defeat since you can use the same strategy on almost all of them. Stand in front, wait for the attack animation and evade accordingly. Only the final boss is a bit different but every battle in the game consists of reading the enemy animations, evading and then attacking. The design of every boss is quite unique and the animation looks nice, but it’s a shame that they are not memorable.
In regards to the flow of the game, I had a couple of problems. The first is that you can only save your progress at the start of the level. This is fair since the save point will also heal your party. However, enemies don’t respawn in this game, so at any time you can walk back to the beginning of the level, restore and go back. Since there will be no enemies the way you came from there’s no risk; it just becomes a waste of time. Also there are no items to revive a fallen ally, so you will always have to retrace your way back to resurrect them at the save point if you make a mistake against any enemy.
From a graphical standpoint the graphics are fine, but may feel a bit bland in the backgrounds. Most of the walls look the same and can get a bit repetitive since there are only five different environments. The monsters however look very different from one another and are very unique. There is no music in the game except for the boss battles, which does give the exploration a feeling of unease since everything is very quiet most of the time, so I think that works in favor of the game.
In conclusion, this is the kind of game that, while the story is not all that unique or interesting, it gives a good excuse to explore a cursed castle and kill monsters. However, there are not many classes or customization options to keep the game fresh for several runs. The castle itself is always the same so there is not a random element either. The game has its flaws and it’s not that long at 12 hours for the main story. While it’s fun to explore the game at first, it’s not the kind of game that I feel that I have to revisit. For fans of dungeon crawlers and first-person RPGs this one is worth a look at $25, but if you’re not a fan of those two genres this may not be for you.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Asakusa StudiosDungeon CrawlerFirst Person Dungeon CrawlerHappinetHyakki CastleSteam