Hyakki Castle - PC Review

Hyakki Castle is an interesting title, mostly traditional as a dungeon crawler, but with unique visuals and one really quirky gameplay mechanic that defies genre norms. The end result is strange game that has some weaknesses, but plays up its strengths enough to be worth the time of dungeon crawling RPG fans.

For a game I had heard nothing about, Hyakki Castle made a fast and memorable impression on me as it mashes up RPG dungeon crawling with a unique Japanese visual style that envoked memories of Fatal Frame. If you've read my articles on horror games in the past, you know that I hold Fatal Frame up as some of the best horror games I have ever had the pleasure of playing. Certainly the games (can we please get an HD remake of these for modern consoles, btw?) have their flaws, but they are so unique visually that they stuck with me long after I put the controller down.

Hyakki Castle has a very similar visual aesthetic, because the game plays out in a first person perspective while terrorizing you with creatures right out of scary Japanese folklore. The castle is haunted and the monsters within as well as the traps (such as bloodied spikes protruding from the floor) certainly fit the dark, narrow, claustrophobic hallways you traverse. That being said, it's not a very technically proficient game. Enemy models are somewhat dated and there's not much of a soundtrack here. On the one hand, it could be argued that this helps to make things feel empty and isolated, but I'm used to scary games having fantastic audio design, and in Hyakki Castle this never really popped for me and never became as interesting to me as the visual style did.

However, what helps make Hyakki Castle unique goes beyond the graphics, but also the idea that you should split your party up from time to time for strategic reasons. So in almost any RPG or horror movie, splitting up usually means you are about to wind up dead or missing. Here however, splitting up is a legitimate strategy as you can flank opponents or lure monsters in one direction while the rest of your party (and you can do an even 2/2 split or an asymmetrical 3/1 split ) goes after treasure. It certainly changes how I thought about the game and its inherent challenges, which was really fun.

There are some pretty familiar genre elements such as the solving of lightweight elemental puzzles to continue forward, but the combat is less turn-based Wizardry and more live-action Legend of Grimrock, which works well enough, even if I do prefer turn-based combat personally. However, given the slant towards scares, I concede that live-action probably makes more sense if you want the occasional shock value. Still, the combat is a pretty basic thing where you are striking, waiting for a cooldown and doing your best to avoid damage. You gain new skills and equipment along the way that seldom make fundamental changes to the basic combat formula, but do provide better stats to help you survive the difficulty spikes often inherent to the genre.

One other concern I have is that how inaccessible this game can be at times. The dungeon crawling genre can be a tough one to get into if you're unfamiliar with it to begin with, but there's really not a lot of tutorial / explanation taking place early on. While splitting up a party does provide a unique twist on what we usually see out of similar games, it is complicated at first and I found myself fumbling with the mechanic early on due to a lack of training with it. Functionally, it all works fine, it is just unusual and takes a bit of trial and error before I felt effective in using it.

Hyakki Castle deserves a lot of credit for doing some unique things with an old genre that has seen a lot of tried and true mechanics but very little innovation in recent years. The visual style holds up better than the audio, and the primary gameplay hook is a little rough around the edges early on, but the team at Asakusa Studios has done some really interesting things with this title and fans of the genre will probably want to give this one a look.

Game Information

Asakusa Studios
Single Player
Other Platform(s):

Provided by Publisher

Article by Nick


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