Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle is not a game in my wheelhouse. I’m a fan of mainly turn-based RPGs, action games, rhythm games, and first-person shooters. Outside of Diablo III, dungeon crawlers aren’t necessarily the type of game I seek out. Nonetheless, I decided to give Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle a shot over the past two weeks. While I started on a positive note, my journey quickly turned into an experience full of anger, frustration, boredom, and predictability.
Your goal is simple: make it to the top of the titular Hyakki Castle. Every floor is made up of a maze that the player must navigate. You walk along the maze one square at a time. Using the left stick will move your character in the desired location. Maneuvering the right stick will rotate your characters (displayed as a totem) 90 degrees. Figuring out the movement scheme took me a while, but after a few hours, everything started to feel natural. Despite understanding the mechanics, and beginning to move without issue, navigating the mazes did feel clunky at times. There’s something awkward about moving and attacking enemies at the same time that just never felt right in this game.
At the start of Haunted Dungeons, players create four characters, each with their own race (Human, Oni, Tengu, and Nekomata) and class (Samurai, Ninja, Sohei, Shinkan). These characters will be your party for the rest of the game. You move as a group but attack individually. By tapping the R button, you can scroll through your party. Each character can learn attacks that are mapped to the A, B, X, and Y buttons respectively. Some skills don’t use stamina, while others take up magic points. In addition to magic, you need to be aware of your health and hunger meters as well. When your health depletes, your character is temporarily dead. Downed allies will be revived by walking over save points. In addition to new skills, characters can equip armor and weapons picked up from chests and assign them to members of your party.
Hunger starts to increase with every step taken and every attack you make. Hunger is essential to survival. Luckily, there are food items that will restore you to fullness. Another key benefit of having your hunger meter full is that it will allow you to sleep. Doing this will drain some of your hunger meter to replenish your health and magic bars. It’s a mechanic that I found overwhelming. I often forgot to do this and would see the game over screen shortly after.
While moving through the castle is occasionally tricky, various traps and enemies make the adventure a grueling task. Since you need to be wary of you meters, attacking enemies head-on is ill-advised. This is where splitting up your party is the key to survival. Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle allows players to take their four characters and divide them into two teams. With the press of a button, you can switch between teams. Doing this allows you to flank enemies, who take more damage from behind. While dealing more damage is common when the party is split (thanks to enemies focusing on one group at a time), I often had difficulty managing multiple groups because of the layouts of the levels.
Some sections feature puzzles or death traps that force the player to split the party up. From spikes that pulsate from the floor to pressure-sensitive switches that require one group to stand on it while the other went through the newly opened door, everything left me feeling overwhelmed. You have the option to minimize the HUD, so the screen is less cluttered. While doing this helps during spike trap floor puzzles, not being able to monitor health with a decreased HUD is a major drawback. I died multiple times because I was unaware of the team’s health.
Another issue is the tutorial section. While serviceable, it didn’t really help me learn how to play. After a few hours with Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle, I basically taught myself the mechanics and how to handle the experience properly.
Graphically, the game is nothing to scream about. There are solid textures, and the character models are great, but the environments felt bland and generic. The audio is fantastic. The lack of a soundtrack amplifies the horror aspects, and the sounds of the environment add to the claustrophobic nature of your adventure. As someone who fears getting lost, Haunted Dungeons proved to be a game that gave me so much anxiety. While not a horror game per se, something is terrifying about being isolated and feeling hopeless.
Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle is a unique exploration RPG on Switch that doesn’t live up to its concept. I wanted to really love it, but the pacing is sluggish, the combat is lackluster, the party system needs some work, the HUD is distracting, there are annoying puzzles, and the gameplay is overwhelming. Although there are some good elements (audio, atmosphere, slightly creepy), it is a forgettable game that left me more frustrated than excited. Horror fans looking for a scary experience should look elsewhere. While there is some fun to be had, Haunted Dungeons: Hyakki Castle is one place you shouldn’t enter. Turn around and start looking for something else.
A review code was provided by the publisher.
Andrew Gonzalez is the Co-Editor-In-Chief of Xbox Enthusiast. When not writing about Xbox, he’s usually reading comics, talking about Taylor Swift, and dreaming of the perfect Jet Force Gemini Reboot. You can follow him on Twitter. @AJGVulture89