by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Storming The Castle
It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game like Hyakki Castle. Though The Legend of Grimrock came out just a few short years ago, my last expedition into a first-person tile based RPG was back during the SNES era. I’m not sure how many of you remember a little game called Dungeons and Dragons: Eye of the Beholder from way back when but I remember as a kid fumbling my way around and never making any headway. I mostly played it for the music, to be honest. But, it’s the closest thing I’ve ever played to Hyakki Castle.
Set in feudal era Japan, the most romanticized piece of Japanese history through various forms of fiction and nonfiction, Hyakki’s castle is a dungeon crawler that takes a unique twist on a party lineup by splitting the main character off from the group and having you control them independently of each other. This opens the door for various puzzles of logic and timing, as well as aims to make combat a two-pronged offensive against the various denizens behind the dark walls. It all looks good in theory, but how does it actually play out? Diving into Asakusa Studios’ maiden voyage of a game I truly didn’t know what to expect.
A Feudal Backdrop
Against the backdrop of various murals, a story is told of the brave Shogun and the struggles against a powerful sorcerer. The artwork in this opening is a great visual set piece to the era, and the accompanying music really sets the tone of the game to make sure the aesthetic of a Japanese dungeon crawler is really driven home.
Before beginning the game, players will pick the race and class of their main character and party characters. For races players will pick between Human, Oni, Tengu, and Nekomata. Classes, or jobs, are divided between the options of Samurai, Ninja, Sohei, and Shinkan. It’s important to have a balanced party, so I’d highly suggest making each character one of the different classes. Races play a small impact though; even with the base stat differences, it never felt crucial to take too much time on deciding the races to pick from. With your party ready to go, it’s time to storm the castle!
Not Quite The Darkest Of Dungeons
As the game begins, the first thing you’ll notice is that your viewpoint is split between two screens. One, the view of the main player character, while the other represents what the other three characters are seeing. You begin the game separated, and must move each independently of each other until you reunite. But you’ll often WANT to split up to tackle more powerful enemies and puzzles in more efficient ways, which is what makes Hyakki Castle really stand apart from the aforementioned Eye of the Beholder from earlier. While characters have been moved separately in turn-based games like this before, in a real-time RPG setting it’s quite a bit of fun to toggle back and forth as quickly as possible to brave the challenges that await you.
But, there are some very noteworthy drawbacks. The game is as barebones as possible in the tutorial department, and while normally I do feel that the less tutorials, the better, in this game it’s a bit of a hindrance. There were other menus not made readily apparent that are utilized for character advancement and assigning other abilities; which would’ve been useful to know before I found myself struggling to stay alive against what turned out to be a rather easily defeated enemy once I could take them on.
Flawed But Fun
Hyakki Castle isn’t for everyone, that much is apparent. I’m not even sure if I’d necessarily say it’s a game I’ll get the urge to play often in the ever growing landscape of various dungeon crawlers. But, its setting and its approach to the party system were intriguing enough to keep me hooked for the time being. For Asakusa Studio’s first outing into the gaming world, I think they have a solid product on hand even if it’s a bit flawed in the aspect of keeping players in-the-know. If you’re a fan of The Legend of Grimrock, or Eye of the Beholder, then Hyakki Castle may be worth your time.
Great setting, interesting take on a party system.
Leaves newcomers a bit aimless, races don’t have as big of an impact on stats as one would expect.