Demon Slayer? I barely know her
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba has been riding high over the last year, but The Hinokami Chronicles represents the series’ first real foray into the realm of video games. I started getting excited when it was announced CyberConnect2, the studio behind the beloved Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm series, would be developing. What I found was a game that didn’t necessarily live up to my expectations, but one that’s a fine anime brawler nonetheless.
The Hinokami Chronicles fits neatly into the genre that anime games love so much, arena fighters. With that in mind, multiplayer is obviously a major component of the game, although there’s also a lengthy story mode. In each match you’ll pick two different characters to play as, going up against two opposing characters.
If you’ve played CyberConnect2’s Naruto games, or Asura’s Wrath, you’ll immediately be able to grasp The Hinokami Chronicles’ system, as they’re strikingly similar. Combat is surprisingly simple and easy to grasp, although there’s a fair amount of depth once you learn the systems. Essentially each character has a variety of basic and special attacks, as well as ways to defend. There’s a massive emphasis put on movement and the timing of attacks, and battles feel like an intense back and forth as each player looks for the right opening to launch into a combo. One of the more interesting elements is a combo gauge that lets you unleash whatever damaging combo you want while it drains, but once empty your combo will automatically stop, giving the opponent a chance to recover.
The lifeblood of any fighting game lies in its roster, and that’s a bit of a touchy area with The Hinokami Chronicles. Most of the major characters from season one are represented, and the majority of them feel nicely varied with different strengths and attacks. One strange element, however, is the absence of any villains and demons on the roster, even though these characters are confirmed as DLC. This is especially problematic when all of the “Water Breathing” characters share similar attacks that have minor variations.
One of the other strange choices is the fact that you have to play through the entire story mode to unlock the roster of characters, so anyone looking to jump into a few quick matches will be locked to starting characters. This seems like an especially questionable decision with the insane popularity of the Mugen Train film, as players won’t unlock the ability to play as one of the film’s major characters, Kyojuro Rengoku, until the very end of the story.
The Hinokami’s Chronicles’ story mode follows the same template as CyberConnect2’s Naruto games, taking players step-by-step through season one of the anime and Mugen Train. There’s a huge amount of cutscenes that recreate the anime, interspersed with boss battles and exploration segments.
The exploration sections have you wandering around self-contained maps, with a few optional objectives scattered along the way. They aren’t anything overly complicated but along the way you can pick up Memory Fragments that unlock an anime scene as well as Kimetsu points, used to unlock bonuses in the Awards section of the main menu – things like titles, music, playable characters, stages, etc. Interestingly, the story mode doesn’t recreate every beat of the anime, as a lot of side scenes are relegated to the Memory Fragments that can be viewed from the story selection screen. The collectibles and exploration honestly feel like they’re mostly there to pad out the playtime, but it is interesting to see the world of Demon Slayer from a new dimension and wander around a bit.
The boss battles, however, fare a bit better, as many employ unique mechanics and attack patterns. A lot of the boss battles do a fantastic job of recreating the epic battles from the anime, really making you feel like you’re stepping into the shoes of Tanjiro, Zenitsu, and the rest of the gang. What’s baffling, however, is that the story mode also introduces a few unique ideas, only to drop them directly after. One battle had me going up against multiple demons at once, which was a surprisingly fun challenge. Unfortunately, the story mode never really returned to that idea again. The same can be said for some one-off minigames later on as well. As much as I enjoyed a lot of the boss battles, a handful feel less climactic, and battles that should be epic struggles end up feeling all too easy. CyberConnect2’s trademark quick-time events return, capping off the biggest boss battles with button presses that result in bombastic animation.
Don’t go into The Hinokami Chronicles expecting a lot of new content, as Demon Slayer fans will find themselves familiar with nearly everything. That being said, I’m not sure if this is the ideal way for a newcomer to experience the series either, as the story presentation with segmented memory makes everything feel a little choppy.
After years of playing dozens of anime games I find myself craving experiences that add to the source material, rather than just rehashing it. The Hinokami Chronicles definitely falls into that latter category, and while the story mode is certainly fine and serviceable, I just felt myself constantly wishing there was more to it.
What I can say for The Hinokami Chronicles, however, is that it absolutely nails everything about its presentation. The cel-shaded style is utterly gorgeous and matches the anime nearly perfectly, especially when you see the jaw-dropping finishing attacks play out. There are some impressive details packed in too, like big attacks leaving lasting scare on the battlefield, or massive cuts forming on character’s bodies as they fight longer and take wounds. The impeccable soundtrack of Demon Slayer also goes a long way to make battles feel memorable.
Phenomenal presentation aside, what frustrates me about The Hinokami Chronicles is that mechanically it feels like so many other anime brawlers out there. It’s a tough position because the game doesn’t do anything poorly, per say, but it also doesn’t do anything to stand out above the rest of the pack as well. It feels like the same game I’ve played before, just with a different series. Anyone aching for an extra dose of Demon Slayer might be perfectly fine with that, but for myself I just wish The Hinokami Chronicles had gone a bit further to become something truly special.