Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle aims to deliver a fast-paced, challenging, mysterious, and suspenseful single-player role-playing experience utilizing smart tactics and quick thinking to defeat enemies in real-time. Set during the Edo Period of Japan, Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle is based on the eerie and terrifying Hyakki Island, a place where prisoners are sent to live in exile. A mysterious castle suddenly appears on the island bringing a slew of creepy monsters, such as the “Yokai” (NOT THE CUTE NINTENDO ONES!) of ancient Japanese literature. The island imprisons a cunning rebel mastermind who seeks to overthrow the Shogun order and assassinate its leader. Players play as four special agents of the Shogun order, specializing in Yokai and monster slaying, to investigate the island’s mysterious Hyakki Castle, and to eliminate the rebel mastermind manipulating the Island and its inhabitants. Featuring a unique approach to the traditional real-time dungeon RPG genre, Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle encourages players to split their party with its exclusive 2-party system, a feature not yet seen in real-time dungeon RPGs on consoles, making strategic fights easier. Players must use unique skills and move-sets in destroying monsters with distinctive attacks and behavior, while executing pincer attacks, flanks and more as you progress upward in the mysteries castle to defeat the rebel mastermind causing the extraordinary events on the island.
So with the description and set up out-of-the-way, let’s get into what this game is all about. Let’s address the elephant in the room right off the bat, visuals, well…..they aren’t exactly the best, but as a Nintendo fan I’ve grown to overlook such things so it doesn’t really bother me (while I did play this on a PS4 and not on the Nintendo Switch). Movement for this game can be a little jarring at times, think Wolfenstein or Doom (not their current forms but their original iterations). But I will give kudos on the game mechanic design (although it is a bit strange, it was also oddly satisfying at the same time).
The game starts off with the narrative story given through a slideshow of beautiful traditional Japanese art, which I LOVE by the way and as what originally caught my eye with this game. After that you set up your party of brave adventurers to set out to fight the forces of evil, because the menu system is a little odd, I just settled with the default party as I didn’t really get a feel for what the differences were between them until i got much later into the game. Then you are tossed into a tutorial dungeon to explore that explains the different mechanics and things you will encounter throughout your journey through the castle. There are enemies to fight, traps to disarm, treasure to find, and food to eat? (Yep, a brother has to eat, even in a haunted dungeon it seems) seems pretty straightforward, and it is….. to start.
What you quickly realize as the game unfolds as you go floor by floor through these dungeons is the Yokai are different and have different quirks about them (attack methods, ways to defeat them, elements they are weak against) some even making you use the much hyped split party system where your team of four splits up (it never worked out well for Shaggy and Scooby either, don’t worry) and move independently and have to flip back and forth attacking your enemy from behind as it moves. This is where unfortunately the game seems to fall apart for me a bit, it’s almost as if the team behind it had too many good an innovative ideas but couldn’t quite execute on any of them perfectly. I will say though for some reason the constant pushing of buttons and different ones sucked me in for quite a while, as each of your party attacks they have to cool down before using them again, so I had to button press to switch members, then a different button to attack or heal, so on and so forth. Once I managed to get the hang of this it was oddly satisfying and soothing.
As you move on and on throughout the dungeons, they certainly get a bit more creative with enemy and secrets placements, and the traps become more and more bothersome (which is the point really). Unfortunately the wall and floor design of the dungeons partnered with the staggered movement can make them seem very dull at times because everything looks the same.
Overall, I did have a good time playing this game (maybe it doesn’t seem like it off the comments above), but I really applaud a designer when they go for something a little different or bring back something from old with a new twist and they certainly swung for the fences on this one, so I will be keeping an eye out for what they have next up their sleeves. I would not recommend this for a casual gamer at all, but fans of the old school dungeon explorer games on PC might have a fun time with this, especially partnered with the portability of the Nintendo Switch could be a very satisfying romp.
If you want to see more, check out my initial gameplay here: