Fighting games and story modes can be like oil and water. They’re a tricky thing to mix properly, probably because it’s hard to tell a story well when your main method of conversation is two characters punching each other in the face. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Hinokami Chronicles is no exception to this problem, with a single-player mode that never quite nails the balance between telling its excellent story and making that story fun to actually play. But fortunately, its arena-based combat is fast, satisfying, and strikes a nice balance between approachability and depth, especially in multiplayer.
The Hinokami Chronicles follows the same plot as the manga and anime it’s adapted from, starting from the beginning and then working its way up through the end of the Mugen Train arc. If you’re unfamiliar with Demon Slayer, it follows Tanjiro and Nezuko Kamado after demons murder their family and transform Nezuko into a demon herself, chronicling the pair’s quest for revenge and search for a way to make Nezuko human again. Much of this story is retold through immaculately rendered in-game cutscenes, all of which are fully voiced in both English and Japanese by the anime series’ cast.
The 10 Best Demon Slayer Moments
You don’t need to be familiar with Demon Slayer to become invested in the characters, their arcs, and the overall plot either. A lot of that speaks to the quality of the script, which alternates between silly, heartfelt, and serious with natural ease, but equal praise must be lavished on the voice cast – particularly Zach Aguilar and Aleks Le, who play Tanjiro and his cowardly friend, Zenitsu, respectively, and stand out even in a cast that delivers outstanding performances all around. The cutscenes can run a little long between fights, but it’s a small price to pay when the original story is being retold as well as it is here.
But when The Hinokami Chronicles makes you walk around and explore the Demon Slayer world between these familiar scenes, it becomes kind of a drag. That’s a shame, for two reasons: first, because Demon Slayer’s story is entertaining enough without these extra sections; and second, because playing the roughly nine to 12-hour story mode is pretty much the only reasonable way to unlock every playable character for the Versus mode, which is probably where you’ll want to spend most of your time anyway. You can also unlock them by grinding out Versus mode fights, but doing so would take so long that it wouldn’t be worth it, which isn’t great if you’re just here for the multiplayer.
The Hinokami Chronicles is divided into eight chapters. After an introductory series of cutscenes, each chapter will have you guide Tanjiro and friends across a mostly linear series of maps as you complete quests by talking to other characters, search out clues that will lead you to where demons might be hiding, and solve small puzzles. As you explore, you’ll also be able to collect Memory Fragments, which are short movies that combine voiceovers and stills from the anime series, and Kimetsu Points, which can be used to unlock rewards like characters, alternate costumes, quotes, art, and songs from the soundtrack.
It sounds fine on paper, but in reality, it’s mostly a slog. Characters move through the world far too slowly with no way to run faster, which is particularly frustrating if you’ve backtracked to avoid a dead-end or retrieve a collectible. Sometimes, you are forced to walk even slower so characters can deliver dialogue along the way, meaning these sections take even longer. Worse, some maps feature no interactions at all, making me wonder why the dialogue within them wasn’t just a cutscene as I waited for my character to tediously jog to the next area.
It might have been an interesting idea if the interactions or movement were entertaining themselves. Instead it’s mostly a slow, dull process that only requires you to push the stick in a direction and listen to some pretty unnecessary dialogue. In one particularly egregious example, Tanjiro has to convince the people of a small city to go inside before nightfall to keep them away from a demon that has been abducting young girls. Each interaction is exactly the same, forcing you to monotonously repeat it four times. There can be the occasional flash of something clever – one sequence involves finding your way out of a house that is constantly shifting around you, while a later chapter offers up some fun mini-games – but walking around a map is mostly something I tolerated rather than enjoyed.
Developer CyberConnect2 seems to know this too, peppering areas with plenty of fights against a handful of nameless demons to teach you the ropes of combat before throwing you into the fun stuff: the boss fights. It’s here that the story mode is at its strongest, and the fighting is where The Hinokami Chronicles truly shines as a whole. It’s an arena fighter, pitting teams of two against one another in a small, 3D environment, though the story mode often features one-on-one bouts, many of which are extravagant boss fights with moves regular characters could never have.
The combat controls are simple and intuitive. All normal attacks are mapped to one button and all special moves to another. You can vary things up by pressing the stick in a direction while pressing one of those buttons to either perform different specials or one of three unique combos: one that launches, one that keeps foes on the ground, and one that knocks them down. Each fighter can also throw, dash, perform an Ultimate Art, use heavy attacks, and activate two special power ups: Boost and Surge. Boost powers up your attacks and adds an extra combo route, while Surge gives your character unlimited meter for a short time. These techniques strike a good balance of offering plenty of interesting options for counter-play without making The Hinokami Chronicles overwhelming to pick up at the start.
In two-on-two battles, your other teammates can also provide assists courtesy of one of their own special moves at the cost of half of their assist gauge, or use it all to rescue their partner from getting beaten down mid-combo. Swapping between team members is also possible (provided you have some assist gauge left), though health is shared between characters so you never run the risk of losing your partner, no matter how dire things look.
It’s an easy combat system to learn, but there is depth for those who want it in the form of parrying attacks and chaining combos, special moves, and assists together depending on your team composition and how much special meter you have. The Hinokami Chronicles’ real strength is in its movement, and learning to move around the arena and put yourself in a good position is key to winning. Landing attacks just feels good too, with even basic combos packing a satisfying punch – and everything looks cool as well, especially the Ultimate Arts and special moves, which are beautifully animated and have that signature Cyberconnect2 touch.
Combat is incredibly satisfying, but does have a few small issues here and there. The first real flaw comes in the form of heavy attacks: since these are performed by flicking the stick forward and pressing the attack button, you’ll often get a regular attack when you want a heavy. Precision is key in a fighting game, and this is a noticeable frustration in a fighter that’s otherwise extremely precise.
Another issue stems from the combo gauge, which tracks how long a fighter can maintain a combo. The gauge exists to limit the infinite combos that plagued CyberConnect2’s Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm games, and while it’s a good balance addition, it doesn’t make exceptions for moves with multiple hits. When the gauge is depleted, a combo stops immediately, even if a character would otherwise be hit or is in the middle of move with multiple strikes. That means the time limit feels more arbitrary for some characters than others. Mistime your gauge, and a character can sometimes drop out of a combo mid-attack, recover, and punish the person still recovering from a move that would normally hit before they can do anything about it. Like the heavy attack input, it’s not a huge flaw, but certainly a noticeable little irritation.
Demon Slayer – Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Hinokami Chronicles Screenshots – Summer of Gaming 2021
In the story mode, fights are high-intensity affairs, often pitting Tanjiro, Nezuko, Zenitsu, and friends against demons with unique moves and power-ups. The fights work best when the demons you’re up against play like the characters you have access to, allowing the best parts of this fighting engine to come through. Larger, more unique bosses are still entertaining, but their moves cover so much of the arena that you’re often playing defense and waiting for an opening for a couple quick strikes. However, both types of bosses suffer from a couple shared issues as well. For starters, bosses can knock you back at will, even when you’ve got them in a combo, negating any reward you might have obtained from playing correctly.
Even more problematic is their version of Boost mode, which makes their moves substantially more powerful and also essentially makes them immune to being staggered when hit, meaning they can break through your offense at any time. That, combined with the fact that these boosted attacks will often damage you even when you’re guarding, means you spend most of that portion of the fight running away until Boost wears off and they’re stunned, allowing you a chance to deal damage. This wouldn’t be as annoying if it didn’t happen several times per fight, as it’s not particularly interesting and takes away from the ebb and flow of the positioning battle that makes The Hinokami Chronicles compelling.
That said, many of the boss battles, especially the later ones, are legitimately excellent and require a good understanding and execution of the mechanics available. Even the quick-time events, known as Final Clashes, that end the fights manage to avoid overstaying their welcome and actually add to the feeling of satisfaction that comes with finishing off a particularly intense encounter. Best of all, you can replay the encounters without doing the boring map sections that accompany them once you’ve beaten them.
Once the story mode is through, there’s not a lot of singe-player replay value unless you’d like to go collect Memory Fragments or Kimetsu you missed, try out each chapter’s Special Mission, or up your rank on certain fights. There’s a practice mode to hone your skills and work on your combos, as well as a training mode that presents special challenges as if you’re being trained by the cast. Of course, there’s also the Rewards mode with goodies to unlock, and it’s easy to spend time in the Archive looking at costumes or listening to music tracks.
Slaying Demons, Online and Off
The lasting appeal for most will be multiplayer, which supports both local and online play. The multiplayer is great, taking full advantage of all the stellar combat ideas introduced in the story mode – strategy, spacing, combo knowledge, team composition, and smart use of meter and assists.
Online play is where most of the action is unless you have folks willing to make the trek to your living room, and I’m happy to say that it works well based on my time with it. There can be pretty noticeable delay if you experience a connection slowdown, but for the most part it felt good, even when I was playing someone in California while in New York. There is still some delay even at the best of times, which can cause combos that should work offline to drop online, but a good connection should see you through most matches, whether you choose to throw down casually or go into ranked mode.
Unfortunately, playing against real people also highlights one of The Hinokami Chronicles’ shortcomings: its small roster. There are only 18 characters at launch, and only 12 of those are entirely unique – Tanjiro, Nezuko, Urokodaki, Makomo, Sabito, Zenitsu, Inosuke, Murata, Tomioka, Kocho, Rengoku, and Hinokami Tanjiro. The remaining six are the Academy versions of Tanjiro, Nezuko, Zenitsu, Inosuke, Kocho, and Tomioka. That’s unfortunate, especially when the Academy characters are essentially gags that play exactly the same as their normal version apart from having a different Ultimate Art.
The other issue is that many of the characters use the series’ Water Breathing fighting style, so characters like Tanjiro, Urokodaki, and Murata have very similar and sometimes identical special moves. Each feels different enough, but just 12 unique characters would be a small roster for any fighter, and it feels doubly so in a game built around tag battles. I enjoyed playing all the characters – my personal favorites were Nezuko and Rengoku because of their rushdown style – but the roster feels restrictive as is. CyberConnect2 has promised to add six more characters as free DLC starting with Akaza and Rui, who, like the rest of the demons in story mode not named Nezuko, are strangely absent at launch. This should help, but without knowing how the characters play or when they’re coming out, it’s hard to know how much.