RPGs can come in all shapes and sizes, whether they be real-time, turn based, or even grid-based. Every variation can be enjoyable in their own right, so they’re all worth checking out. Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle falls into the grid-based RPG, and it has been an interesting ride.
The Shogunate’s life was in danger because of an assassination attempt by the evil Kigata Doman. After his failure, he was imprisoned on an island, but it wasn’t long before a package with a note made its way to the Shogunate. The package contained three severed heads and a note allegedly from Kigata. Four warriors were sent to check on things, but find a mysterious castle has appeared on the island. This is where the story begins.
When starting the game, you choose the difficulty and your team of warriors. There are four races and four classes to choose from. The races are human, oni, tengu, and nekomata, while the classes are ninja, samurai, sohei, and shinkan. You can make any combination of the two in order to create each character, and you can reuse them as much as you wish. If you want a team of four samurai onis, then go for it. I personally included a bit of everything in order to branch out my team’s abilities and fighting strengths. You can also name them, choose their gender, and pick from a group of images to use as their individual character portraits. These aspects are all purely aesthetic, but I appreciated the options.
The races and classes affect the gameplay, influencing attack power, defense, health, mana, and skills they can learn. Each character has their own skill tree to unlock moves as they level up and spend skill points. Unfortunately, you can only have four moves equipped at a time for each character. That means you’ll have to decide which moves work best for you as you play. You map the moves to triangle, square, circle, and X, but they can be swapped out at any time by pausing and going to the skills menu. This helps alleviate the four moves restriction by giving you the option to rework your characters as you see fit. For example, the shinkan class offers multiple healing moves, along with some ranged charm attacks. The ninja has some sword slashes and can throw shuriken. As strong as these moves can be, they require mana to use and have cooldown, so you have to watch your usage. Their starting attacks cost nothing, but still have the cooldown.
The gameplay itself is first person and has you moving on an invisible grid. You can move in four directions, but not diagonally. The movement slides you from space to space, only moving one at a time. It doesn’t feel clunky at all; in fact, it feels pretty smooth. Dodging is done just by moving sideways or backwards right as an enemy is about to attack. If you move too early, they’ll just move closer in order to attempt an attack. There’s no block button though, so dodging is your only way to reduce damage if you’re not using the split function.
The split function is a unique and clever aspect of Hyakki Castle. It enables the player to split their group into two teams with the press of a button. By pressing L2, the game goes split-screen, placing your first and second characters on the left, and the other two on the right. You only control one team at a time, but the inactive team uses a technique called “Ishin no Ofudo,” which turns them into stone and boosts their defence for the time being. This is perfect for flanking the enemy, because they may focus on the inactive team, allowing the other team to strike some critical hits from behind. Pressing L2 again while the teams are in separate locations lets you switch between teams. For flanking, swapping back and forth opens up the chance to take down an enemy from both sides while not leaving yourself wide open. You’ll also need to use this ability in order to solve puzzles and deactivate some traps, which are pretty fun to figure out. When you’re ready to merge the teams again, set them on the same spot and press L2 again. The splitting and merging is incredibly quick and seamless, making me want to use it again and again.
In addition to health and mana that you have to keep an eye on, there’s also a hunger meter. The hunger depletes as you move and fight, causing a decrease in stats when it gets too low. You’ll need to eat food that you collect in order to keep your team full and strong. It’s an interesting feature, but it does get annoying at times. Sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough food around in order to fight off the hunger. Since the floors of the castle are like mazes and require you to move around a lot, the hunger meter drops fairly quickly. If the meter didn’t drop as fast or there was a lot more food to be found, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem. That being said, it doesn’t ruin the experience, just adds an annoyance.
The difficulty isn’t too challenging, although the game forces you to fight carefully. Fights with fodder enemies can take longer than expected if you can’t get a strategic advantage. Boss fights are the same way, but boss attacks are way more devastating if you get hit. The floors themselves are interesting, although they aren’t that exciting. The same enemies show up a fair amount, but they all have their own charm to them. The only sounds are from attacks and ambience, with no background music, which isn’t bad until you start to pay attention to it. I was too focused on fighting and puzzles to notice it most of the time though. All in all, Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle is a unique RPG dungeon crawler that brings an interesting combat system to the forefront.
Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle
Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle is a clever twist on the traditional dungeon crawler, with a focus on the split-team function. Learning to work with separate teams can be tough at first, but it's well worth the effort. The combat is otherwise simplistic and easy to pick up, making it easy to jump in for hours at a time.