The massively popular anime series, Demon Slayer, now has a game to give fans the chance to perfect their breathing techniques and slay some Demons.
Developed by CyberConnect2 – who also produced the Naruto Storm fighting games – and published by SEGA, Hinokami Chronicles is a 3D Arena fighter that covers the first season of the anime and the Mugen Train movie.
Arena fighters aren’t exactly held in the greatest regard, and so, despite being a big fan of the anime, I went into this game with tempered expectations.
Was this going to be a hastily made cash-grab to capitalise on the popularity of the anime? Would there be a genuine competitive fighting scene that could sustain itself beyond the initial fanfare? And what level of Arena fighter ‘jank’ was I going to experience?
The Hinokami Chronicles:
As mentioned, the story of the game covers the first season of the anime and the Mugen Train movie. Now, this is of course a condensed version of the series, but I was pleased to see scenes recreated in full within the games engine (which is faithful to the excellent Ufotable anime style). In comparison to another Arena fighter – My Hero’s One Justice 2 – which primarily used stills from the anime for cutscenes, this was a good start. All the voice actors are involved, and whilst not a direct replacement for watching the anime, the story itself does a good enough job of giving context and an overall picture of the narrative. Additional collectable “memory fragments” also add extra scenes for players that are not included in the main mission itself. I especially enjoyed some of the fragments that reflected the “Taisho secret” skits at the end of each episode.
I really liked this approach; it kept the story moving at a brisk enough pace for the gaming medium, whilst also contextualising each mission and developing the various characters.
The overall presentation is excellent, however, the gameplay structure is more of a mixed-bag. Each mission is divided into small hub areas, with different collectables to find and a boss battle at the end. This structure is fine for this style of game, but there are a couple things that make each mission a bit of a slog. Tanjiro, who you will be primarily controlling, is so slow. Navigating through each area is tiresome because of the lack of speed, and add to this the fact that every collectable is immediately signposted onto the map – ala Ubisoft – and exploration is just not very satisfying.
Collectables and “side-missions” – which is a very generous use of that term – are not integrated into the game in an engaging way. It all just feels like busy work that prolongs the interesting stuff, like the boss battles. To be more specific, one side mission consists of talking to a select number of NPCs who are out when they shouldn’t be – exhilarating stuff. Each unvoiced conversation ends with Tanjiro telling them to go in doors and the interactions themselves lack any sort of personality. This doesn’t add any value to worldbuilding or the gameplay, but it is something you will be encouraged to do to unlock the panels for each chapter. These panels are another aspect of the game. Using the game’s currency, Kimetsu points, you can unlock panels for each story chapter (and for a few other things). Unlocking panels will give you quotes (for multiplayer), costumes and music. This in of itself is a decent incentive, however the activities in the main campaign used to do this are frankfully dull and feel like a waste of time.
Occasional enemy encounters are welcome, but the majority of each mission consists of just going through each area check-listing every collectable on the map before moving onto the next cutscene. I think it would have been much better for the designers to integrate these collectables into mission rewards and battles, where the game is strongest, because the pseudo-open world gameplay isn’t great.
Thankfully, for fans of the series, the game delivers on capturing the thrill of each demon encounter. Boss battles took me by surprise: they are engaging, unique and faithful to the anime, which with particularly unique Demon’s such as the Drum Demon, deserves high praise. Each encounter has a few unique mechanics in play, and this made me look forward to every boss. The anime encounters were always hype, and the game does a great job of re-capturing this.
In the end, story mode does a decent job overall. In terms of capturing what makes the anime great, the story is excellent. Attempts for optional content; not so great. Nevertheless, it is how you unlock each character for versus and multiplayer, as well as additional costumes and other collectables, so you’re going to want to play it.
I think the most important thing to deliver for Arena fighters is a combat system that is approachable at any skill level, whilst having just enough depth for more seasoned players… and just a little side of fanservice. Ultimately, the primary demographic of Arena fighters are the fans, not necessarily fighting game aficionados.
Hinokami Chronicles, in my opinion, delivers on this front. The combat system features a few fundamentals, such as a throw, guard, dodge, jump, parry and, of course, basic combos. There is a bar that charges that enables you to deliver a super, or in this case, “Ultimate art”. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, but with the prominence of swords and a universal control scheme, it is not too difficult to pick up a particular character. Crucially, maximising combos, using boosts and certain skills in a sequence is important. Some skills end combos; others are great for starting combos, and high-level play encourages learning these systems.
Matches take the place of one v one encounters, with each player having a support character (unless you’re using a Demon). The support character can be swapped in and out of combat, as well as be called upon to support your combos or save you from an enemy’s onslaught. In certain encounters – such as against Yahaba and his zoning arrows – your support is a crucial part of your toolkit and a necessary method to break the enemies defence.
This is all good. It also helps that movement feels fluid and responsive (on the PS5, I know PS4 unfortunately has serious issues with input delay). Animations for each super and form are very faithful to the anime and, as a fan, hard to not geek-out at. Whether unleashing water breathing’s 10th form, or zapping into the sky with the thunderous sleep-walking Zenitsu, it is almost impossible to not be stylish. The lack of haptics or any sort of rumble (at least in my experience) on PS5 is disappointing, as I personally enjoy the “feel” of each hit.
The roster itself is definitely on the smaller side; owing to the relative infancy of the anime. At the time of review, the roster features 12 slayers and four Demons (with two more to arrive as free dlc). There are also six additional “academy” versions of some of the cast, but mechanically they play the same aside from having a different super; some of which are absolutely hilarious. This is cool but they are absolutely not different characters. There is already a confirmed season pass which will introduce new characters, and I think the support this game gets will determine how worthwhile the experience is in the long-run.
The combat system has undeniably been created with a lot of love and the animations, fluidity and systems all provide a genuinely fun experience. That being said, a threadbare roster, online play locked at 30FPS – even on next-gen consoles and a subpar netcode do make me concerned for the longevity of the game. New characters will certainly help diversify the roster, with the free dlc Demons already adding more unique playstyles. But, at the moment the online experience is very mixed and this needs to be improved upon.
Hinokami Chronicles is certainly a promising game, but still far from a complete package. The gameplay is fun, intuitive and easy to pick up. The style is beautifully lifted from the anime, and the story, whilst lacking an engaging open world, does manage to exceed when capturing the most pivotal moments. But, right now the longevity of the experience will be heavily based on A. how much you enjoy the characters and seeing hype animations and B. the level of support and patches this game gets.
I hope this game is supported by SEGA as whilst the game fails to justify full price – even for a huge fan like me – there is still a lot to love here.