Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle is a retro-styled real-time action RPG from Japanese publisher Happinet. Set in a fantasy world during the Edo Period in Japan the game centres around a team of four secret agents who find themselves on Hyakki island. The Island has become home to many exiled criminals, the agent’s mission is to conquer a mysterious castle filled with puzzles, monsters and cunning traps that all lead to the evil sorcerer Doman Kigata.
After playing the tutorial, which is completely optional but advisable as it consists of a hand holding tour of the first area, you then get to set up a team. There are four different races of character to choose from, Oni, Tengu, Human and Nekomata. Each can be assigned a class giving unique abilities and a diverse skillset. Additionally, there are a number of other basic setup variations for each character ranging from gender to loadout.
Where Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle attempts to set itself apart from the norm is via a system whereby you are encouraged to split the team into two parties. A simple click of the left trigger splits the team, two on two or three on one, depending on what you feel appropriate at the time. The screen instantly splits down the middle providing a viewpoint from both perspectives, in handheld mode naturally this makes things a little on the small side. The idea behind it though is to use one team to open a locked door by pulling a switch, or standing on a block while the second party passes through the door to get an item or simply progress. Once reunited another click of the trigger rejoins the two parties and the screen. This game mechanic works well and can be similarly applied for strategically defeating enemies, an attack from behind causes massive damage comparatively.
The usual RPG and dungeon crawler elements are implemented here, defeating enemies increases XP leading to a boost for your character’s stats. Items can be collected along the way allowing for health to be regained and ailments to be cured. The key is working out which weapons and upgrades provide the greatest yield for each of the different races. Characters suffer from hunger if not fed regularly and as a mechanic wore thin quickly, it was just another thing to keep on top of. This type of game is all about exploring and retracing your steps so really you can put in as much time as you are willing too. Dungeons are hard in places and I died a lot – standard fare for me but there are multiple save points scattered around levels that prove invaluable if wanting to beat the game. The occasional boss fight made for a nice change in pace and offensive tactics really come into play.
Visually it is much a tale of two halves, menus and the basic cutscenes are presented in a mock-up of the traditional Japanese art style made popular by painter and designer Sōtatsu. Using vibrant figures, monsters and motifs set against dull toned background detail. The game itself plays from a first-person point of view, the movement can be slow, rigid at times and reminded me of the very first pixel based shooters I played in the early 90’s. Dungeons are dark, dingy and very samey with little variation from one room to the next. This does improve as you ascend towards the top of the castle but it is never inspiring. Disappointingly when you split into teams it becomes apparent that the player models are little more than bland chess style pieces. It seems a lazy move and would have been nice if the developer modelled detailed representations of each race, as they have done with enemies. For the console release of Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle the UI has been tweaked giving an improved experience using the limited button combinations available. It works well if still a little clunky and it would definitely benefit from using a keyboard and mouse setup. The soundtrack is non-existent, sound effects are functional but as a whole, the audio is one of the weaker areas of the game.
Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle is an ok experience, enjoyable in places but has a limited scope of appeal. Controls take a little while to get the hang of and the game is visually bland for the most part. It can be frustrating in places although puzzles often have an easy solution. If you are a fan of this grid-based RPG game then it is worth a look but maybe once on sale as there are better offerings available.
Beard Score: 5.5/10
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG
Publisher: Happinet Corp
Release: 30/08/2018 (Switch)
Format: Steam, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Download link: Nintendo eShop