Japanese folklore has been an interest of mine for years now, so I was quite excited to try out Hyakki Castle, a tile-based dungeon crawler built around this folklore. The game actually does a good job at it as well, with the setting being the game’s greatest strength. However, this comes at a cost.
The setting. Hyakki castle does a great job of building a world around Japanese folklore. All of the enemies fit within this setting, from snake-human hybrids (known as nure-onna in Japan) to demonic fire wheels (known as wanyudo), every enemy in the game is representative of some aspect of Japanese folklore. The entire game takes place in an oddly constructed castle with several distinct areas, from the basement all the way up to the castle tower, a few boss rooms scattered in-between. The castle setting is very fitting for the types of enemies found throughout, with the colors and lighting often being darker, to elicit even a little bit of fear from the player. There were even a few times where I jumped from a yokai suddenly appearing before me (like when a wall suddenly grows an eyeball with a loud audio cue). It was quite a bit of fun exploring this setting and finding new enemies.
Sense of progression. The leveling in this game is super quick, about once every 10-15 minutes. Leveling restores HP, MP, and hunger, so the super fast leveling is great. Each level adds a skill point to be used in each character’s skill tree, which is different depending on the class picked at the start. I went with three samurai and one miko (basically a priest, the one casting all the spells) and had each of the samurai go down a different path in the skill tree, with the miko focusing on healing magic. Due to the quick leveling, I never had to grind to unlock anything and was able to progress through the game without worrying about being underleveled.
The “splitting” mechanic. Hyakki Castle’s most defining feature is the player’s ability to split their party in two, exploring the map as two parties, split-screen style. The mechanic itself is great and I cannot name another dungeon crawler that does this off the top of my head, but this game simply did not utilize this mechanic to its fullest. In fact, I rarely split my party as it made the game incredibly difficult, contrary to what the mechanic is supposed to do. Ideally, the split party would be on two sides of an enemy, the front and the back, as hitting the back of an enemy deals more damage compared to the front. Unfortunately, it is simply too difficult to manage the two parties, as one would have to constantly be dodging and the other would have to constantly be attacking. It also does not help that just about half of the attacks in the game can wipe the party in a single hit on normal difficulty. As such, dodging is a necessity.
I ended up never using the mechanic for combat and only using it when certain puzzles required it (like having to stand on two pressure plates simultaneously to open a gate). In most scenarios, it was even impossible to get behind the enemy, as they would be blocking a passage that is only a single tile wide, not allowing room for players to sneak around them. The whole splitting mechanic is completely useless when it comes to combat, but it did at least allow for some interesting puzzles.
Game saving. Every time one enters a new floor, there is a designated save tile that allows the player to regen HP, MP, and save the game. Unfortunately, this is only at the beginning of each floor, so if one wants to save after exploring a floor for twenty minutes, he/she will have to either run all the way back to save or attempt to find the next floor. The problem here being that enemies often one-shot the entire party, forcing the player to continue from the last point he/she saved. This requires constant saving on the player’s part, running back to the save point several times while exploring the floor. Of course one could avoid doing so by simply dodging every attack and never getting hit, but that is incredibly difficult in itself. If save tiles could be offered maybe two or three times per floor, even without the HP/MP regen, a lot of time spent backtracking could be saved.
UI auto-hide. After a certain amount of inactivity (as in, not attacking or using any abilities), the character HUD is hidden. The player can keep moving, but the HUD would stay hidden. This was incredibly annoying, as I would often find myself in scenarios where I need to quickly be able to cast abilities or attack an enemy in front of me, but the HUD does not even show up when an enemy is right in front of the player until the screen is left clicked. Even when exploring, I want to be able to see the health and hunger levels of each of my party members, but having the HUD hide itself so often did not allow me to do so. I would usually end up just pressing tab to open the inventory, then immediately closing it to refresh the HUD whenever it hid itself. I fail to understand why the HUD even needs to be hidden in the first place. If a player wants the HUD to be hidden automatically, at least make it configurable.
Resolution lock. It is 2017 and there are still games coming out that are locked at subpar resolutions. Hyakki Castle is locked at 720p, which is then stretched when played in fullscreen. The game looks decent enough, but it would be so much better if higher resolutions were supported. A 720p PC game in 2017 is just not acceptable anymore.
Hyakki Castle looks and plays great, but simply has too many issues to recommend to a general audience. What the game achieves in its setting design and leveling system comes at the cost of a half-baked “party splitting” feature, a frustrating save system, and a 720p resolution lock. If you are a hardcore fan of dungeon crawlers, then I would suggest giving it a try, but for the general audience I would suggest staying away.
You can buy Hyakki Castle on Steam here.
I was provided a free review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.