There’s something visceral and satisfying about the real-time dungeon crawler. These are rarely simple games – you’re being put up against unfavorable odds, often armed only with what you can scrounge. It worked for Solid Snake and it often works for dungeon exploration. Hyakki Castle doesn’t do much lot to stand out, but it sticks to the genre well enough to be worth a look for serious fans, even if it’s not likely to win any converts.
Want an in-depth plot? You might want to consider something like Nioh instead, because Hyakki Castle takes a more direct route: here’s a spooky, haunted castle summoned by the grudge of deposed warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu. Get your party together and get in there to slay some yokai, find some treasure and do something about the myriad evils that infest the place and threaten to come spilling out.
If you’ve played Legend of Grimrock or Vaporum you’ve pretty much got Hyakki Castle figured out already. You’ll set up a party and journey into the unknown, fighting off classical Japanese monsters along the way. The proceedings are pretty much by-the-book real-time dungeon crawling, so don’t expect too many surprises. If you run into baddies, you’ll want to stick and move just like you did in Grimrock and Vaporum to minimize the damage you take, and you’ll want to keep your eyes out for treasure and gear so you stay on top of the power curve.
Hyakki Castle’s most obvious innovation is the ability to split your party into two separate groups and control them both simultaneously. It’s a nice idea, but, well…you can imagine how easy it is to control two parties in a Grimrock-style game. Given that, as mentioned, the genre’s typical combat style that intends for you to step away from damage rather than stand there and soak it, this isn’t even all that valuable for combat and is relegated to solving simple puzzles as a result.
The Japanese trappings are nice, for what that’s worth. Yokai have become more and more popular in the West as we’ve gotten more exposure to them, so you’re bound to see some familiar faces from other games and media. Running around in a classical Japanese castle-dungeon is interesting as well, though if you think about it for more than a second it’s just Grimrock with some rice paper stapled over it.
None of this is necessarily terrible and by no means am I unable to recommend Hyakki Castle, but altogether the various odd design decisions mean it pales in comparison to many other real-time dungeon crawlers. In particular, Vaporum went with a similar idea of “Grimrock, but with a more interesting setting” and did a far better job realizing its steampunk vision than Hyakki Castle manages to make Grimrock In Japan. If you’re hurting for some dungeon-crawling you’ll find this inoffensive, but I’d only really suggest it for genre fans hankering for some new content.