+Unique two-point combat system allowing for combat from multiple angles
+Extremely detailed and beautiful Japanese themed enemies
+Audio design is absolutely superb and should absolutely be experienced with headphones
+Controls are easy to learn and quite enjoyable.
-First-person views can, at times, be overwhelming when first learning the dual-view combat screens
-A small change in scenery from area to area would have been welcomed over the course of the game
-The dual party system is unique, but isn’t highly utilized throughout the game
I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit this simple fact: I’ve been taking my sweet time with Hyakki Castle. While I promised my review would be sooner than later, a part of me felt that I’d pushed my way through the game faster than I’d hoped to have and even somehow neglected to truly enjoy the title that had been presented to me.
While I’ve certainly had quite some time with it, I do feel that Hyakki Castle isn’t just a game. It’s a living and breathing piece of art torn straight from the pages of Feudal Japan. My time with the game was quite interesting to say the least. After being quickly introduced to the events leading up to why I would be visiting Hyakki Island, the home of Hyakki Castle and ultimately the place where I would be sent in order to exterminate a powerful foe. A foe that all of Japan had come to resent for their past actions.
As a part of a specialized task force to deal with supernatural activities, your team is then sent off to Hyakki Island only to find themselves quickly tossed into the dungeons of Hyakki Castle and ultimately forced to escape your holdings. After having done so, the game wastes no time in throwing you into the wind and forcing you to rescue your fellow ghost hunters.
But if you’re like myself, you’ll start out a little confused by this opening premise. After all, I did when I first got into the game, but after a while, I really came to appreciate the hard work from the Japanese indie team Asakusa Studios. After all, their time spent seting up the initial scenario, based around true historical events, helped bring the setting, the atmosphere, and your locations to life and served as the fuel for the level of immersion you’d need in order to enjoy the game.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t fit all that well into the games overall experience. It was a scenario I’d merely forgotten as I began crawling my way through ghost and Oni infested dungeons. But once you’ve gotten past the introduction, Asakusa wastes no time in getting the party started. Your team in Hyakki Castle is one for you to create. It’s a team consisting of four members (hence the dual screen combat situations). When creating your party, you get to chose the gender, race (Human, Oni, Tengu, or Nekomata) and a job that must be assigned to them.
The jobs available are quite simple as they are designed to fit the period: Samurai, Ninja, Sohei, or Shinkan. Due to the diversity of each of the classes, each one comes with their own unique toolkits (abilities) and even their own unique base stats. Each of them coming available with 16 different presets you can choose from in their stat configurations. If this confuses you, it confused me a bit to, but with a little bit of patience, I was quite capable of figuring out just how I wanted my party members to play.
But if you’re like myself, your party is quite diverse. You’re entering the arena with one of each race, one of each job, and each with their own varied stats. Let alone do you get to go through each of these options, you also get to choose their portraiture you’ll see during your stay in Hyakki Castle itself. So if you want to make the portraits count, choose the ones that you find the most appealing. After all, you’re going to be in those dungeons for quite a while.
Sadly, you will find two things to become minor irritations. One, the options of creating a diverse party is quite limited in comparison to say Divinity: Origial Sin or even Blackguards 2. While some could find this irritating, it doesn’t make Hiyakki Castles design bad in any means. Rather, it’s unique and it does help to show that this passionate team has worked around the clock to give one of the best experiences possible. Even if the creativity level for your party make-up seems a bit limited.
Just like traditional RPGs, characters will obtain experience through your time traveling through the dungeons. Characters will game a moderate amount of EXP depending on the opponent fought. With enough EXP obtained, players can find their party members becoming more powerful with more HP, MP, Hunger recovery and skill points being readily available.
But the improvement to ones character isn’t as simple as it sounds. The game does offer a skill system for players to explore. Featuring both Active and Passive Skills, Hyakki Castle will begin to show its learning curve as players begin to explore these options. Just as they sound, Active Skills are abilities that will be linked to defensive and offensive moves. Passive Skills, as one can imagine, are just that: They are abilities that serve as augmentations to each of the playable characters. These abilities are always active once unlocked.
What’s more interesting is both offensive and defensive abilities that players will use focus upon one of the worlds natural four elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Neutral (Spirit if you want to get technical). All enemies, yourself included,, do damage based upon one of these four elements whether it’s attacking or defending. But do take note, Passive Abilities are required to be unlocked by players leveling up and meeting certain requirements in order to obtain them. This simple fact gives reason for players to dive into combat as much as possible and give every single level a run for its money.
Having played plenty of games such as Demon Gaze, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on and just what I could look forward to doing. Luckily, I wasn’t forced to return to an inn in order to unlock new skills, level up or heal my party members as I proceeded through the game. Instead, this time, we get a solid look at what a 3D action-lite dungeon crawling title finally is. If you haven’t, I would suggest giving Legend of Grimrock a solid try if you give Hyakki Castle a whirl and decide you like it.
Just like any dungeon crawler of this time, players start out at the lowest level of the dungeon-esque tower itself. Over the course of the game, players will explore dungeons themselves that aren’t – thankfully – procedurally generated, giving you a solid idea of what is going on as you explore. Just as you would expect, each level comes with its own threats in the form of uniquely designed enemy encounters. Each of them coming with their own approach to how players will combat against them, but at the core there is a single key gimmick that is always put into play: splitting your parties into two teams of two.
To get things started with how combat works, we have to discuss just how the teams themselves work since there are two individual teams, each one consisting of their own makeup. Team one, as you will imagine, is our lone party member whom has remained free of capture. Team two, the heroes you have to save, are locked away in a distant prison cell starting out. The screen is split in order to allow players to navigate both teams in combat in real time. Unfortunately, this approach to combat only happens when one of the teams is safely out of sight from any enemies, which takes away from the promise of utter chaos.
Once together after being rescued by Team 1, both teams can reunite for one gigantic team, allowing for fans to find their adventure a bit easier than before. But don’t fret. You can separate both teams at any given time in order to explore a bit more quickly and can even be reorganized to how players want their teams to be. But lets be honest. Keeping the two teams separated is an interesting approach to an RPG of its type. Plus, this two screen approach is a huge part of Hyakki Castles promotional materials.
But if you do play this way, you may want to take note of one simple fact: you need a lot of dexterity to control both teams at once. Flanking foes can be an extremely good idea due to the fact that you will take multiple approaches to the exact same fight. You’ll even need extra dexterity in order to dodge oncoming attacks for either party. The extra dexterity even comes into hand completing puzzles that require more than a single party to solve. But sadly, many of these puzzles aren’t as mind blowing as originally expressed.
Many of them consist of standing on a single pressure switch. Others would then navigate players through a once hidden or locked path where they can continue on. Even though this seems like a minor irritation, it doesn’t do much as I’d initially hoped, and even left me curious about what the team plans to do with this system in the future. After all, I was hoping for combat that would require one team to complete specified tasks while another kept a bosses attention. I’d even hoped for that traps wouldn’t just wipe my entire team more often than they did.
But luckily, that wasn’t just the sole focus of implementing puzzles and traps the way Asakusa Studios did. There were times when I would send a scouting team on ahead only to find a set of spikes lead them to an untimely death. Followed up by my main team going and reviving them from their untimely demise, it was quite interesting to see just how handy having a secondary team became.
To be honest, this is the best way to explore the dungeons within Hyakki Castle. Just as anyone that plays the game will tell you, this is highly effective and works out for the best throughout the games entirety. But it is something you will find hard to appreciate until you trek through the game for a few good hours. But there are some minor issues we need to discuss in the next few seconds.
Even as someone who loves Hyakki Castle, the game still feels like an Early Access title on Steam. Even though Asakusa Studios has been hard at work improving the overall experience, I can’t help, but find myself slightly annoyed with the fact I’ve already received five, perhaps six major updates since the games release. Some include rebalancing fixes, some even have to do with how the game looks aesthetically, and even having the bosses toned down a bit so that they aren’t just slaughtering players.
The team has even gone as far as to add some much needed tutorials for players, giving them a bit more idea of what to do, where to go and how to go about what they are doing. While I do appreciate the team at Asakusa getting a jump on these minor irritations and improving their game with quality of life updates. Some of my irritations resonated with the fanbase on the Steam forums.
Hyakki Castle – PC
Developer: Asakusa Studios
Publisher: Asakusa Studios
Release Date: Available Now
Why was I restricted to not using the Esc key to close the game’s menu instead of using my mouse and keys? Why was I forced to navigate each of them in the initial launch before turning back into my time with the game? It’s simple things like these that fans could lament over no matter how hard they tried. Even now a few remain such as minor frame rate drops, static health bars and energy bars. Let me not forget that while I do appreciate the feudal Japan aesthetic the team provided, I did grow tired of staring at the same wall designs over and over again.
I felt that the team could have pushed even further had they spent just a bit more time on environmental backgrounds and designs. After all,I know I was pushing through a castle, I know I should expect moderately similar designs. While these minor irritations sound detrimental to the overall experience with Hyakki Castle it doesn’t mean this game is by any means a bad game. It just means that post-release the game does have some growing to do and that Asakusa should take full advantage of this while the title is still young.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the games publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.