Two horror themed reviews in a row? This isn’t October!
Yeah, I know. Don’t blame me though, since the publishers decided to put both of these on a deep sale now instead of during the Halloween season. I’ve had my eye on this game for a while now, since the Resident Evil gameplay with it’s weird Japanese Folklore aesthetic is something that resonated deeply within me. The price, however, did not.
Anyway, I’m getting slightly ahead of myself now, so let’s dive into Kwaidan (I’m not saying the full name every time), and see what it’s all about.
The story kicks off with the protagonist, Haruka, training to be a Hososhi – someone who is trained to ward off evil spirits. As you go about your training, it is rudely interrupted by a snake demon, who promptly turns your teacher into a frog. Turns out all hell is breaking loose at Azuma Manor, so you set off to save the residents and to seal away the evil spirits. It’s a simple story, but it’s told well throughout the game. It may not have all the twists and turns as some staples of the genre have, but it’s certainly compelling enough to keep you interested – with a satisfying conclusion.
OLD SCHOOL OR OUTDATED?
As you boot up the game, two things will be immediately become present: the graphics reminiscent of the original Playstation, and the mouse cursor, which you weirdly control with the right stick. Both of these set the scene for the rest of the game. Kwaidan is styled after old survival horror games, particularly Onimusha and Resident Evil … but with a twist: puzzle and inventory is managed via point and click mechanics!
The visuals are pretty much on point for the era it is styled after, with monster and environmental designs to complement it. The Yoki that inhabit the game are based off of the Yokai from Japanese folklore, which are pretty bizarre looking creatures. Whilst their derpy nature means that the game lacks any kind of fear factor, they are pretty faithful to the source material; whether or not the lack of horror bothers you will be a personal choice, but I can’t personally criticise any of the designs and actually found them rather charming.
The graphics are given a much more pleasant shine in Modern mode, which adds a layer of cel shading to the game. It works well to make the visuals more pleasing without losing that retro feel. It’s such a shame that everything is squeezed into a 4:3 ratio. Whilst part of the reason is due to the inventory space at the side of the screen, there’s also a large chunk dedicated to the film reel border. Whilst it does add to the style of the game, it’s unfortunate that it takes up so much space.
The audio design, on the other hand, isn’t quite as appealing the retro visuals. The sound effects mainly do their job, and the music is … pleasant. None of the music that plays throughout the game is bad; in fact, it tends to fit the environment quite well – it’s just not particularly memorable.
Many Yoki will try to stop you progress through the Manor. Here are a few, along with the Yokai they are based on.
Yokai images courtesy of Yokai.com
Very quickly you will find yourself in the titular Azuma Manor, where you will spend the rest of the game.
At first you start outdoors, but you gradually open up the house and eventually the various floors. Best spend time to get accustomed to the haunted Manor!
PUTTING SPIRITS TO REST
These supernatural creatures need to be sealed away once more. What better way to do that than smacking them in the face?
Let me introduce you to the tools of the spirit hunting trade
Anyone familiar with old school survival horror games will be able to guess the setup before the game even kicks off: with a limited range of attacking weapons, you explore the Manor solving puzzles; health packs can be picked up to heal you on your way, and there are consumable items used for saving; items and weapons are generally limited, so you need to be careful to conserve what you have. It’s the format for most old school survival horror games, and Kwaidan follows it almost to a T.
That isn’t to say that the game doesn’t do its own thing from time to time. The divisive tank controls that are typical of the genre are completely optional, with full movement stick controls offered to you at the start of the game. You also start with every weapon, three in total, and they are used to attack either low, medium, or high. Your medium attack utilises a bladed staff, which is free to use, but the other two require aura to use. This can be refilled by blocking attacks and killing enemies. Blocking is something you will probably not bother with early in the game, as dodging many attacks is pretty easy to do. However, you will want to get the blocking down as soon as possible. I didn’t bother until near the end of the game, and things became pretty hard until I learnt how to utilise it properly. In reality though, it’s actually pretty straightforward to use and doesn’t require any timing to block successfully – you just need to be holding the button to move backwards when an attack comes in.
The other part of the game is the puzzling which, as aforementioned, is styled after point and click adventures. Use the right stick to move the cursor, and the RT button to select it. It may sound weird, but it’s not that difficult to use. That doesn’t mean its good though, since there are multiple problems with the system. The main issue I have is that it adds nothing to the experience compared with the alternative – it actually only worsens things. A large chunk of the screen is taken up with inventory, the cursor speed is not particularly fast and often gets in the way of the gameplay, and – worst of all – you have to be right next to objects in order to interact with them. This latter point emphasises just how ridiculous the whole system is, offering no advantage over being next to an object and pressing a damn button like in every other game!
I’m being critical over this gimmick (which is exactly what this is), but truth be told it doesn’t spoil the game too much – it’s just pointless. The puzzles themselves are mostly pretty decent; much like in the games that inspired Kwaidan, none of them are particularly taxing. Some may require you to be observant, but you are unlikely to get stumped. The only part of the puzzling I did not care for was when the game introduces a first person mechanic. This is learnt halfway through the game and suddenly give you more things to interact with – the problem is that there are key items that can only be found using this viewpoint, and in places you don’t expect. I will warn you now to investigate NPC characters whenever you can. Often they are holding key items that aren’t visible when looking at them normally. It feels like a cheap way of confusing the player.
MIND YOUR MANORS
As with the Resident Evil games, Kwaidan spends the vast majority of its time around one location. As you progress through the game, new parts open up – along with shortcuts that will make future navigation much easier. It’s pretty well done; you will know the Azuma Manor as well as you know the Spencer Mansion by the end of it. The creatures that dwell in these halls respawn pretty regularly and can be a nuisance, so its important to be able to navigate your way around efficiently. Occasionally you will also get stopped by a larger boss creature. There are only three boss Yoki in the game, which you will fight twice each. The fights aren’t particularly spectacular, but they are enjoyable enough; I did not care for having a boss rush at the end of the game though. It felt forced, particularly as these are made more difficult by having normal enemies pester you during the fight. Despite this, I had a great time fighting the final boss; he has some interesting attack patterns and was quite enjoyable to fight. After getting annoyed during the final section, this battle really helped to end the game on a positive note.
Kwaidan ~Azuma Manor Story~ is not a game for everyone. In fact, I would say that the target audience is very niche. If you like old school survival horror games, then you’ll probably dig this. It has tank controls for those who want them, but modern controls for those who have lost the muscle memory to use them properly. The game has a lot of charm and is mostly well designed, barring some obtuse first person ‘puzzles’ and the occasional mediocre boss fight. The game takes about four hours to beat, if that, and it feels just the right length for this kind of experience. It’s just a shame that the price is a little on the high side; especially considering that you can buy any of the Resident Evil games on the Switch for less than this – it’s a real hard sell. If you want more survival horror action, however, you can’t go far wrong with Kwaidan – but maybe wait for a price drop.