Dungeons of Yokai.
It’s no easy feat to try and break into a well established genre with an original IP. This bodes doubly true for a developer without any other games under their belt. So, for the folks at Asakusa Studios, they were in for an uphill battle even before their first game was released. However, with the first-person dungeon crawler “Hyakki Castle”, it felt as though they had some tricks up their sleeves, positioned to perhaps knock the venerable “Legend of Grimrock” series off their high horse as the best offering in the genre of recent memory.
Played: 6~ hours
After a quick bout of character creation and suffering through a lore dump that is neither necessary or welcome, the player is thrown into the depths of the castle dungeon. Quickly escaping from the dungeon confines, they begin their quest to climb up the perilous death trap in order to locate and assassinate their target. As far as the setup goes, it’s about as original as milk and sugar in a cup of coffee. Instead, what sets Hyakki Castle apart initially is the setting of Edo Japan and the many inspirations to the rich culture of folklore- especially to Yokai which can be classified as ghosts and/or monsters.
Or at least, it seemed that way at first as it felt like the game was trying to carve out an identity of its own but as I progressed through the game, outside from the visual set dressing, there wasn’t much creativity to the monsters or the level themselves. After my first encounter with a monster, I was quickly able to figure out the handful of attacks they had at their arsenal and after that point, it was a simple matter of being patient and going on the offensive when the opportunity presented itself. The levels, while some of them had some interesting gimmicks here and there, felt generic with a ton of dead ends and meaningless areas with nothing to do littered all about the place, so much to the point that I would have believed that half the game was procedurally generated if I was told as such.
Luckily, there were a handful of clever puzzles and obstacles that required out of the box thinking to overcome but those were few and far between the mindless lever flipping and stepping on pressure plates. The biggest selling point of the game revolved around the ability to split the party into two groups so that they can move independently of each other but outside of puzzles, this feature was criminally underused as it was impractical to juggle two different parties at once in combat.
Unlike the tried and true method of turns where the enemies move only when the player does, in Hyakki Castle, they move and act without any regards to the character’s actions. Due to this fact, it made dodging enemy attacks quite easy to do as I no longer needed to time my movement or pay attention to the direction the enemy was facing to try and get side attacks without fear of retaliation. By removing the strategic element to the combat, it felt like I was overly relying on hit and run tactics, especially since most of the enemies had attacks that could cripple my entire party with a single hit which made certain that standing toe to toe with an enemy was almost never an option.
It’s really quite unfortunate as I feel as though if the game was balanced using the turn-based system, the two party system could have worked beautifully as while the player would be left more vulnerable by splitting up, by utilizing double the turns, they could outmaneuver the enemy for pincer attacks greatly increasing strategic possibilities.
Even though the combat was a bit dull due to the mandatory usage of hit and run tactics, the character progression was rather quick as I was gaining levels/skills at a much quicker pace than I was used to for a game in this genre and I found myself fiddling with builds, so much to the point that an hour in, I decided to reroll all of my characters again to try and put together a more potent party after learning that tanks are generally kind of useless.
Lastly, when I first booted up the game, I was surprised to find that the game lacked even a simple resolution setting and assumed that I was looking at the wrong place. After looking into the matter, I learned that the game had only one locked resolution of 720p. While I understand that the cutting edge visual fidelity isn’t the selling point of a game like this, for a brand new 3D game to be released on the PC in the year 2017 to only feature one selectable resolution is rather mind boggling.
Hyakki Castle is a game with some clever ideas but falters in execution and implementation- leading to an experience that feels serviceable but decidedly bittersweet as I’m left wondering what could have been.
Fun Tidbit – First person dungeon crawlers are generally very difficult and Hyakki Castle is no exception as I perished many times, losing 10-30 minutes of progress each time.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.