Review – Kwaidan: Azuma Manor Story

I just love an ancient Japanese setting. Be it a traditional feudal tale, Meiji and Showa-era stories, older periods such as the one from Ghost of Tsushima, or good old fantasy titles with oni and yokai to slice and dice. It doesn’t matter how many games set in the same time period are released per year, I still end up looking forward to each and every single one of them. Kwaidan: Azuma Manor Story is one of the more obscure feudal Japanese titles to come out in recent memory and is also one of the boldest I’ve ever seen. Let me remind you that having a bold premise doesn’t exactly mean that the game is good, as you’ll eventually find out.

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How can you see with that freaking mask covering your entire face?

Kwaidan: Azuma Manor Story‘s premise is promising, at the very least. This is a horror game set in 1930’s rural Japan. You take control of an apprentice yokai hunter who is set to investigate a mysterious manor infested with monsters and spirits. To top things off, her master was transformed into a frog by a mysterious snake-like yokai, rendering her unable to complete her training.

The game’s main sources of inspiration are very clear. This is a homage to most games Capcom was developing back in the early 2000’s, both graphical and gameplay-wise. It looks like a low budget PS2 game from back in the day, complete with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The rest of the screen is filled with a clunky dialogue box and your limited inventory, just like in older Resident Evil games. Other notable influences coming straight from Capcom’s horror franchise include (optional) tank controls, similar puzzles, a similar tone, and even having to use finite items in order to heal and save the game.

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The combat could have been decent, if it wasn’t so freaking sluggish…

But that’s not all that Kwaidan: Azuma Manor Story is trying to be. It features melee combat, and it draws inspiration from another Capcom game: Onimusha. It doesn’t mean it’s a good combat system, however: it’s clunky and it’s very slow. You even need to cycle between three different weapons in order to attack different kinds of enemies, depending whether they’re flying, on the ground, or way too short for your linear spear attack to reach them. You have one of the weirdest defense mechanisms in the history of gaming, as you’ll automatically block a hit if you hold down the same button that makes your character walk backwards.

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I understand why the developers chose to implement a 4:3 aspect ratio. It doesn’t mean it ended up being a good idea.

Finally, the game still tries to be a point-and-click adventure at the same time. Yes, not only you have to deal with cumbersome Resident Evil-esque controls, the slowest combat mechanics ever since the PS1 stopped being relevant, but you also have to deal with a freaking mouse cursor flying through your screen in order to touch objects or select items from your inventory. That wouldn’t have been an issue if I had the option of using the Switch’s touchscreen to do so, which would have actually been a cool idea. Instead, I’m forced to use the right analog stick, turning a mess of a control scheme into an absolute catastrophe. This is also the reason why you don’t have a dedicated stick to control the game’s camera. Hooray…

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Yes you can. Stop being lazy.

The premise had so much potential. Kwaidan: Azuma Manor Story is a survival horror game set in feudal Japan, full of yokai and oni to deal with. This could have been, nay, SHOULD have been great. However, it completely misses the mark due to its absolute mess of a gameplay loop. It tries to be old school Resident Evil, Onimusha, and a point-and-click adventure all at the same time. It forces the player to deal with a freaking mouse cursor onscreen at all times, has a terrible camera system, sluggish controls, and doesn’t even utilize the Switch’s touchscreen in order to deal with the point-and-click sections. I’ve played tons of games that could be considered “wasted potentials” in the past, but Kwaidan: Azuma Manor Story takes the cake. I have no idea how such a mess was greenlit in the first place.

 

Graphics: 4.0

It looks like a low-budget game from the PS2 era. It has a bit of nostalgic charm, but it’s way too undercooked.

Gameplay: 2.0

The game tries to be an old school survival horror, a character action, and a point-and-click adventure, all at the same time. The controls are incredibly convoluted, your character moves at a robotic and lethargic pace, and you have to deal with a mouse cursor instead of being able to use the Switch’s touchscreen.

Sound: 4.0

The soundtrack is pure background noise. You’ll barely pay attention to it. There is no voice acting as well, just a handful of basic sound effects.

Fun Factor: 3.5

It’s a survival horror game set in feudal Japan. It could have been great. It SHOULD have been great. Having to deal with such an appalling gameplay completely ruined my experience with Kwaidan: Azuma Manor Story, however.

Final Verdict: 3.5

Kwaidan: Azuma Manor Story is available now on PS4, Switch and PC.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Kwaidan: Azuma Manor Story was provided by the publisher.