by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
First person dungeon crawlers seemed to die out for a while, didn’t they? They exploded back on the scene thanks to games like Legend of Grimrock and its sequel, although it seems to remain an underappreciated genre. Well, Asakusa Games wants to help that problem with Hyakki Castle. In fact, it also seeks to add to it with a unique mechanic: party splitting! Boasting a cast of creatures plucked straight from Japan’s history, myths, legends, and in some cases, nightmares, does your party stand a chance in this perilous dungeon?
Edo as Edo
Set in a time after the Warring States period of Feudal Japan, Hyakki Castle’s story focuses on the onmyoji (a Japanese version of a sorcerer) Doman Kitgata, and his attempts to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate. Exiled for his crimes, he erects a giant, chaotic castle on his prison island, and once more threatens the land. Your party, given the blessing of the Emperor, sets sail to Hyakki Castle, only to be shipwrecked and caught by the wicked servants of the isle.
The story is simple and sets the tone of the game. That being said, there’s precious little story advancement in the game itself, so having even this small bit of lore goes a long way in explaining your character’s actions and motives. While it would have been nice to see a bit in the way of story scenes elsewhere, the real focus of the game is in the exploration and adventure, so it’s a minor detail to me.
Demons and Birdmen and Cats, Oh My!
Hyakki Castle has four playable races and four playable classes. You can freely choose their gender, and have four choices in voice too (four male, four female). The races available are human, the monstrous Oni, the crafty Tengu, and the devout Nekomata. Humans are the more balanced of the races, as can be expected. Likewise, Oni boast more health, Tengu more attack power, and Nekomata more magical aptitude. If you’re looking to min/max your characters, this will make a very slight difference, but you can choose your characters however you’d like.
Class wise, Hyakki Castle offers the samurai, the ninja/kunoichi, the sohei, and the shinkan/miko classes. Samurai are damage dealers, ninja/kunoichi offer damage and debuffs, sohei are the tanks and buffing class, and shinkan/miko are healers and mages. Unfortunately, I found the sohei and the ninja/kunoichi classes lacking compared to the samurai and the shinkan/miko classes. Still, feel free to form your party how you will!
One Foot in Front of the Other
There’s a very slight tutorial when you first start exploring. Since you start with one character, the game begins in its unique split party mode. This one of the main draws of Hyakki Castle versus other first person adventure games in the genre. You’re given instruction on how to move and how to interact with objects. What it doesn’t provide, however, is any sort of combat tutorial, nor any indication you can learn various skills on each character beyond their basic attacks. Combat plays a big part in the game, and skills help manage combat significantly, so having even a short explanation would go a long way.
Plundering Weird Castles for Profit
As I’ve pointed out before, exploration is a major theme of the game. Each of the floor maps are quite large, and the game boasts 15 floors to conquer. As you explore, you’ll encounter monsters, traps, puzzles, and treasures (par for the course for an adventure game!). A lot of the puzzles in the game revolve around switch manipulation or party splitting to trigger multiple pressure plates. A little more variety would have been appreciated.
Treasures, in this case, take many forms. There are health and mana potions to be found, various food items to sate hunger — hunger is important because if it drops too low, your characters will deal less damage and take more — and equipment to strengthen your party. In addition, there are assorted collectibles to claim, and finding them all will provide some nice bonuses to the party!
You Push, I Pull
Various creatures of Japanese folklore wander the floors of Hyakki Castle, and knowing how to deal with them is important. All characters have a basic attack unlocked from the beginning. Unlike other games in the genre, there is no need to worry about things like front and back row, though some classes do get ranged attacks to make things much easier.
One important thing to know, however, is it’s always wise to dodge as much as possible. Most enemies have two attacks: a single target one that is of low risk, and a party attack that does major damage. The latter type of attacks are almost always telegraphed, however, which is why learning to dodge is so important. An attack can’t hit you if you’re not there, after all.
Pointy End Towards Target
In addition to the points you are given at character creation, you gain skill points as you gain levels. You can use these skill points to unlock additional abilities for each class. For example, the shinkan/miko can get access to healing, resurrection, and elemental damaging spells. Sohei get attacks to draw threat to them, and a variety of elemental buffs to protect the party. Every class has a set of passive abilities they learn at set levels, which range from additional health or mana regeneration, increased offense or defense traits, and even some like the sohei ability to take less damage when below a certain health threshold.
Each character can equip three items: a weapon, a piece of armor, and an accessory. Like most games, equipment helps boost your attack and defense, while some raise health and mana. Others give a boost to specific elemental attacks or defense. Since some enemies resist one of the three elements (fire, water, earth), these weapons can help overcome their weaknesses in times of need.
Final Thoughts: Good (3/5)
Hyakki Castle is an enjoyable game, don’t get me wrong, but it’s riddled with problems. Exploration is its focus, but there’s very little reason to explore. There are hardly any secrets to be found, unlike a game such as Legend of Grimrock. Enemies don’t respawn on floors, so backtracking isn’t remotely threatening either. The split party mechanic, played up in promotional materials for the game, doesn’t carry the weight it should. Splitting the party in combat means the attacks you’re meant to avoid just became harder to dodge. The puzzles that involve the mechanic are simplistic in nature, too. More could definitely have been done. Class balance is also an issue I touched on previously — sohei become less important when you realize the dangerous attacks hit all party members, and ninja/kunoichi just can’t keep up with the power of the samurai or the versatility of the shinkan/miko.
That being said, the game itself is absolutely stunning, and all of the creatures have their footholds in Japanese myth and legend. Seeing them brought to life in all their creepy glory is quite a thing to behold (like the wall that opens its eye to attack you). Finding all the collectible items is also quite nice, and the fact it rewards you with some impressive buffs is also a nice touch. If you’re a fan of first person adventure games and enjoy the lore and legends of Feudal Japan, Hyakki Castle might just be worth a look. If you’re not interested in both, it just may not be worth your time.
Hyakki Castle Screenshots
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.