Anime is a popular genre. However, the making of great anime games is hit or miss for the industry. Cyberconnect2 is a studio that has proved its talent for anime. They are well known for the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm franchise. Each of the four installments improved on the formula each meeting a higher bar of quality. Now, a new anime arena fighter enters the fight. Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles will take players on a beautiful ride, despite certain setbacks.
Developer & Publisher // CyberConnect2
Platforms // Switch, PlayStation 4|5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
MSRP & Release Date //$59.99, Oct 13, 2021
Reviewed On // PlayStation 4 and 5
Journey of Loss
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Demon Slayer is a simple story of revenge. It follows Tanjiro Kamado and his sister, Nezuko. The pair are the survivors of a demon attack that results in Nezuko herself becoming a demon from her wounds. In search of a cure and the death of Muzan Kibutsuji, the demon who killed his family, Tanjiro becomes a demon slayer. Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles’ story covers the first season of the anime and the Mugen Train arc.
The game capitalizes on prior knowledge of the franchise. Each story chapter is broken into several parts. The key instances from the anime comprise the story gameplay. Pivotal moments and fight scenes vibrantly catch the feel from the show. Cyberconnect2 shines at this recreation. Chiefly, the animation from the story is beautiful. Iconic moments such as Tanjiro versus the spider demon Rui are beautifully rendered. The scenes do a great job of stirring the kinds of emotional responses the anime does so well.
Background story elements (such as the day Tanjiro’s family was murdered) are not fully realized in the main storyline. Instead, they are available as memory fragments. Memory fragments are collectibles found within the linear world path. These are viewed from the chapter menu. A frame from the anime serves as a backdrop as exposition is played from that scene or fragment. Thus, the story context can stay included for those unaware. This is a nice inclusion as it enables newcomers to the franchise to have some way of staying informed. Yet, these memory fragments are in stark contrast to the fully fleshed out scenes within the main story. Those who have watched the anime prior have very little incentive to chase after the fragments. The time commitment proves more tedious when exploring the game’s traversal sections.
Slow and Steady
Players travel from fight to fight through a linear, free-roam environment. However, movement is set at a fixed pace. It feels just slow enough to be annoying after hours of play. Players can obtain currency for the game shop, side markers for unlockables, or memory fragments. This encourages exploration on the surface. Yet, this is sadly deceiving. Every side marker or collectible is easily viewable on the map. Which makes the gameplay simply running at a sluggish pace to acquire them all. These strange transition pieces contrast the high-paced flow of combat in a way that feels painful.
Demon battles will occasionally break up the mundane travel. Each nameless demon boasts a unique model and a move or two; however, these battles are straightforward. After lowering the enemy health bar, players will be prompted to perform a special finishing cut. Additionally, there is a way to decrease the already short battle even further. Performing a successful parry will stagger the demon allowing for a finishing cut. These demon battles are a welcome distraction from the free roam. However, they become boring at higher chapters, unlike the boss battles.
Blood Demon Art
Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles does the anime justice. Each boss fight is more iconic than the last. Once again, the scenes showcase the wonderful art style and graphics produced by the animation team. The game combines cinematic moments from fight conclusions with quick-time events. Although, the button presses themselves are mostly meaningless here aside from a few unlockables (pressing the wrong button changes nothing for the quick-time events unlike prior Cyberconnect2 games). Fighting the bosses are also fun.
The game expertly recreates the feel from the anime. Many of these bosses are imposing and grandiose and some even make clever use of gimmicks from the anime. The demon Yahaba used arrows to control the direction of objects. Tanjiro makes use of water breathing skills against Yahaba to save himself in the anime. This feat is recreated in game during a boss fight. Players must time their skill use when Tanjiro is caught by Yahaba’s arrow. However, this is not possible if the skill meter is empty. Managing systems like these kept fights fun and refreshing during my playtime. Yet, I never felt truly challenged.
A Familiar Fight
Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles is a familiar game akin to Cyberconnect2’s previous works. It is a 3D arena fighter that utilizes one button for combos with three different chains. Players have access to three special moves, ultimate art, and an assist gauge to call for help or switch with an ally along with a special meter for a power up. Additionally, the familiar fighting game mechanics of blocking, grabbing, and parrying are present.
The game is simple to pick up but has room for more complex and competitive strategies. There is a combo meter that appears once you connect with your opponent. This appears as a decaying circle with a color depending on your combo opener. Once the circle fully decays, your opponent will fall out of your combo.
- Blue circle: Long combo chance, is triggered with a successful parry
- Yellow circle: normal combo chance, triggered by a light attack opener
- Red circle: short combo chance, triggered by skill openers
Fighting the game’s bosses are a fun yet simple spectacle. Each boss also has a boost that triggers after taking some damage. The boss powers up and becomes hyper aggressive for a short time. However, they are staggered after going on their rampage. This can be intimidating at first but can quickly devolve into a waiting game of dodging gimmicks then going to town during the boss’s staggered state. Yet, almost every boss is so easy that I never felt the need to really study them and did not feel fulfilled after each encounter.
Devoid of Skill
The story lacks a difficulty option, thus, every chapter is a breeze. The Mugen Train chapter is the only exception. For whatever reason, the difficulty is increased for this chapter. Aside from a wonderful arc, the increased difficulty added to my personal enjoyment of the Mugen Train chapter. Here, the demon fights felt appropriately challenging. The anime pointedly shows demons have every physical advantage over slayers. I faced my first death fighting Enmu, a sadistic and frightening sleep demon, in this chapter. Players can choose to resume the fight at the cost of a lower rating or refresh from the beginning. This is true for all of the story chapters though is rarely necessary given the difficulty.
Lack of Instruction
Training Mode is available for players to earn extra practice. However, this lacks any clear instruction of game mechanics. There are different subsets with each housing a different sensei. Players will face the sensei in a series of challenges with the team of their choosing. Yet, these challenges are all variations of the same three goals. These do not change regardless of the sensei though the difficulty increases if you do well. Yet, the increase is negligible in my experience. Overall, Training Mode fails to teach more about the game.
There is a Practice Mode inside Versus Mode. Here, players can practice combos and other mechanics. Yet, the mode also feels lacking. Frame data is not listed anywhere. Players also lack the ability to program inputs and actions for the CPU. Lastly, there is not a way to save interesting combos you may learn. Practice Mode’s main use lies in getting familiar with a character’s move set and little else. Which character should you give the most attention to? It is not hard to figure out since Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles has a small yet unique roster.
Sparse on Demons
The base roster has eighteen characters. Twelve are unique and six are reskinned characters from the Demon Slayer Academy shorts. These Academy characters play the same as their normal counterparts except their Ultimate Arts are unique. The small roster size is not terrible. It is saved by the great moves each character has. Every character, except Nezuko, fights with katanas. Yet, they each feel unique and true to their character from the anime. The animation for their Ultimate Arts is also very well done. Hinokami Tanjiro’s Ultimate Art looks even more breathtaking than his first Hinokami Kagura in the anime. However, the main issue lies in the lack of playable demons for a game about slaying demons.
Nezuko Kamado is the only playable demon. She is great and currently a top-tier pick for Ranked Matches. However, including only one demon for the base roster is a disappointing choice. Rui and Akaza have been confirmed to be the first pair of free DLC characters. The news also shows they and other demons will play completely differently. They must be played solo and have an inherent difference in their gameplay mechanics. This may explain the exclusion of other demons. Developing them simply takes more time. Yet, it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth that demons like Yahaba and Susamaru will be DLC or simply never arrive in the game.
Fight the Web
Versus mode houses offline and online matches. You select your team and preferred stage before matching with opponents. The online uses delay-based net coding, which inputs frames of input delay, when playing online. Players can rematch twice totaling three matches in ranked. For casual matches, equal to custom matches here, the rematches are infinite.
The online stability is average. In the best of conditions (both players using wired connections and close in the region), there will still be several frames of delay. Additionally, I have experienced the occasional disconnect during my online matches. Normally, this would not be a big deal. However, disconnects are recorded on your Slayer ID. This may lead to opponents not agreeing to battle you if they think your connection is unstable or you habitually quit matches.
There is also a known issue of desyncing where things get strange. Occasionally, a match may desync. Then, each player is basically placed inside their own match and continue fighting a CPU instead. This issue is most prominent on Natagumo Mountain. Cyberconnect2 has yet to implement a fix at the time of this review. The main problem lies in easy farming of rank points for Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles, especially triggering it more easily on Natagumo Mountain. That would explain the abnormally high Rankings for console players. PC rankings are outrageous due to cheaters. Another problem Cyberconnect2 has yet to address. Yet, there lies a more fundamental problem with the game regarding its longevity.
Disparity Between Platforms
Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles shows not all platforms are created equal. The PS4 version plays differently than the PS5. This does not just apply to the graphics or load times either. The game has a native input delay offline no matter if you play on a base PS4 or a PS4 Pro. This delay plagues the game while fighting and navigating the menu. Sadly, it gets worse. The delay stacks with the input delay found online. This turns a noticeable delay into a sizeable one when fighting others online. There is crossplay between the PS4 and PS5 versions of Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles. Thus, PS5 players have an inherent advantage over PS4 users. Lastly, the lack of community features for the game is disturbing.
There are only two modes for online play. They are Ranked and Custom matches. The Custom Matches are essentially casual matches and you can make the lobby private for friends. This is very sparse. The inclusion of a King of the Hill or Endless style lobby system is usually a no-brainer for fighting games. Also excluded is the ability to spectate matches. This, most of all, harms Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles.
Fighting games live and die by the community they can create. The lack of a spectator mode makes it difficult to organize online and local tournaments for the game. New characters and maps are nice. However, this content quickly withers within weeks. Only love and attention toward the online community keeps games like Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles thriving.
The Final Cut
Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles faithfully recreates season one and the first movie of the anime. The game’s visuals are top-notch. The story is just bogged down by the slow traversal in between the action. The lack of meaningful exploration is also a detractor.
Training mode is almost useless. It fails to further teach mechanics not mentioned in Story Mode. Discovering the different defense multipliers for each character or creative uses of the assist gauge should be taught here. However, you are better off discovering that yourself through experimentation or finding guides. Honestly, the game may have benefitted by a swap for an Arcade Mode here instead.
Lastly, the PS4 version needs a fix pronto. The input delay, even offline for the platform, is egregious. This, coupled with the lack of community features for online, is disheartening.
In the pantheon of anime games, Cyberconnect2 has definitely done more right by the anime than by the gameplay. Its ability to capture the anime experience remains strong, but far too little concern is there for the game and its community. Time will tell if Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles fosters a bright future for humanity or if it will leave them to the mercy of the demons.