PlayStation 4
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Game Info:

Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle
Developed By: Asakusa Studios
Published By: Happinet
Release Date: August 30, 2018 (PS4, Switch); November 15, 2017 (Windows)
Available On: PlayStation 4, Switch, Windows
Genre: Dungeon Crawler, Role-Playing Game
Number of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: T for Violence, Blood
MSRP: $13.99 (PS4, Switch); $14.99 (Windows)

Thank you Happinet for sending us this game to review!

I have played dungeon crawler style games for decades now. I remember playing some of the SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc.) classics for DOS when I was much younger, including gems like Eye of the Beholder and Menzoberranzan. I have enjoyed the more recent turn-based entries, like Etrian Odyssey, Stranger of Sword City, and several others. So when this game came around, I wondered if it truly brought something new to the table. Unfortunately, the results are mixed.

When I first launched the game on PS4, I could tell immediately that it was originally a PC game. (Not that there is anything wrong with a PC-style interface – on PC. I love PC games!) The interface was not controller friendly, and the text, especially the map, had tiny squares and fonts that are difficult to see from far away on a normal-sized screen. The game looks and feels clunky, and the tutorial is basic, though thankfully present.

Like the other games, this is a 3D first-person dungeon crawler, though this has the distinction of being real-time. So when enemies come for you, sometimes you have to dodge attacks and move in to strike back if you don’t want to die. This game is quite difficult, which makes the chances of that happening quite high.

Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle
Highlights:

Strong Points: Interesting idea with party splitting; dark, brooding, and somewhat unique atmosphere; neat classic Japanese-style title screen art and enemies
Weak Points: More frustrating than fun at times; very basic graphics and presentation, with a non-intuitive interface
Moral Warnings: Blood splatters in some cases; fantasy violence; lots of dark enemies, including skeletons, ghouls, and other undead; magic used by enemies and the player

With save spots being so far apart, you may end up doing a lot of backtracking. Walking costs food, which is a limited resource drop, and constantly has to be maintained. You can heal hit points and magic points fairly easily, but food quickly becomes the largest obstacle to your survival if you aren’t willing to risk large swaths of playtime without saving. Even if you are, an unexpected death may drive you to the nearest save spot anyway since bringing party members back is quite expensive or impossible without the rest areas. Visiting them is free except for the food spent going there.

When you are low on food, you do far less damage. And since enemies rarely require less of you than your best, it can be quite fatal. This cycle of healing, eating, dying, and healing again can be quite draining and frustrating. One wrong set of moves can cause you to be circling the drain – and it’s very frustrating when that happens, as there is seemingly no way out.

The combat is in real time, which works, but when enemies can kill you so quickly, my patience grew thin. I have played far more turn-based than real-time dungeon crawlers, so I may be biased. It’s not bad as is, and I could see how some might prefer it, but I am not one of those.

As you succeed in killing enemies, you gain levels, and get a skill point for each one. There are four character slots, four races, and four classes, with a clear race/class relationship. If you follow the defaults, you will likely have a well-balanced team out of the gate. What I found strange is that you can choose not to name your characters – then they just don’t have one; there are no suggestions, and the game accepts no names as perfectly fine.

Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 60%
Gameplay - 10/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 3/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 82%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The real ‘gimmick’ of this game is the unique party splitting feature. By pressing a button, you can split your party into two groups and switch back and forth between them, either attacking or solving puzzles this way. Given the danger in the castle, I never found myself wanting to take the hit to offense or defense unless I absolutely had to in order to solve a puzzle.

As you level, you choose what you want to specialize in, as quite a lot of the tree is locked behind something else. Some of the descriptions of what appear to be passive boosts are often unclear. Do you have to have the skill equipped to one of the precious four skill button mappings, or not? In order to use other kinds of skills, you consume MP by pressing the corresponding face button, and the skill triggers.

The art and atmosphere are dark and brooding, and very classic-Japanese. If you have played other games set during the Edo era, like Nioh, then you will recognize a lot of the names and enemies. Nevertheless, outside of the art on the title screen and some of the enemies, the graphics are very basic and boring. This could have easily been produced in the early 2000s.

The intro music is actually kinda cool, and what music there is, is interesting. It’s very traditional Japanese folk singing of some sort. But most of what you hear are the sounds of you hitting something, and some ambient noises to set the mood around you. It does do a great job of keeping things spooky.

In my time with the game, I noted quite a bit of magic use, and lots of strange and spooky enemies, including undead of various kinds. There is some blood and violence as well.

Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle is an interesting but very flawed game that could be much better with a little polish and rebalancing. But at the end of the day, it failed to hold my interest. Given the many higher-quality dungeon crawlers out there, I find it quite hard to recommend this one.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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