Oh, to be an anime protagonist. You could soar effortlessly through the open air like the wind itself, slicing and punching your way through trees and buildings with grace, and screaming when you need to take things to the next level and become even more powerful. That is not Tanjiro Kamado in Demon Slayer.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles’ protagonist isn’t the embodiment of every anime protagonist over the last 20-or so years, but rather the direct antithesis to everything you’d expect an anime’s leading man to be. He’s weak, he’s young, he’s full of doubt, and he regularly struggles against the things he can’t control in life, namely his entire family being butchered at the hands of his newly-demonic younger sister.
Tanjiro Kamado was never posited as invincible in author Koyoharu Gotouge’s epic manga series, and the new brawler from CyberConnect2 plays into this. The Hinokami Chronicles functions as a 3D arena brawler, pitting our heroic Tanjiro against friends like Zenitsu and Inosuke, mentors like Urokodaki, and foes like the sadistic Rui, all within the confines of an action-packed arena, where teammates can tag in and out at the switch of a button through 2-on-2 battles.
Tanjiro is on a very level playing field with friends and foes alike. Every character has the same few attacks and abilities in their arsenal: there’s your standard quick attacks to chain together, breathing-based techniques which vary in aesthetic but not practical usage between each user, a quick dash-strike technique, and finally the deadly and flamboyant ultimate ability. The Hinokami Chronicles having relatively few abilities for players to master not only makes it feel a lot more accessible to the wider Demon Slayer audience (and hey, there’s a lot of them), but also thematically levels the playing field with Tanjiro regularly being an underdog against more powerful foes.
Fearsome foes and precise parries
Where things get a little more intriguing is the parry system. This system requires you to push against everything you instinctively want to do when faced with an incoming attack, standing your ground and quickly tilting an analog stick in perfect synchronization with the right bumper, to pull off a last second deflection and leave your foe open to a counterattack. It’s surprisingly hard to nail down, and functions as a lovely little bit of depth for veteran players to try and properly master.
It’s almost a shame there aren’t any demonic foes to take for a spin in The Hinokami Chronicles. You’re limited to playing as Tanjiro and his allies, but even then the game’s roster is nearly exclusively limited to sword-wielders like Rengoku and Tomioka. Tanjiro’s adventures have some whacky allies among them, including characters who can wield telekinesis and regrow limbs on the fly, and it would’ve been incredible fun to play as demons like Sasamaru Temari, lobbing lethal volleyballs through the air, but unfortunately they’re all absent from the playable roster. It’s worth noting that playable demons like Temari are coming to The Hinokami Chronicles post-launch, but for now this roster feels a little barebones.
Outside the realms of the chaotic arena fights though, The Hinokami Chronicles lets players explore small open-ended levels with branching pathways of optional content. You’ll be given a checklist of optional areas upon entering an area, like the Northwest Town that falls victim to the “swamp demon,” for example, and it’s up to you to determine whether these leads are worth pursuing or not.
One lead might task you to herde carefree citizens off the streets and into the safety of their homes, or another might have you finding every wounded Demon Slayer Corps tryout on the Wisteria Mountain. These aren’t missable options with dire consequences should you abstain, but rather points of intrigue that unlock cosmetics like profile pictures or slogans for your online Hinokami Chronicles. Tying in-mission objectives to cosmetics like this is a neat little move, and really encourages those steeped in knowledge of Gotouge’s saga to seek out every extra.
Endearing in-game collectibles
The Hinokami Chronicles actually offers variation in the way of narrative design. Rather than reveal everything to the player in the chronological order of the Gotouge’s manga, CyberConnect2’s brawler cuts out flashback scenes and inter-stitches them as collectible items within every open-ended level, showing events that are alluded to during the main story. It’s just another great reason for those who want to see and experience everything The Hinokami Chronicles has to explore at every opportunity they’re given.
It also helps that The Hinokami Chronicles literally teases these unlockable story scenes in the main story menu. Tanjiro’s journey is carved up into arcs, just like it would be in manga chapters, ranging from the tragic and gruesome discovery of his family’s demise, all the way to the events of the Infinity Train arc. Every arc has its own dedicated screen with a central narrative pathway, but branching off of these are the locked memory-centric scenes, which add a lovely little extra backstory to Tanjiro and his comrades.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles is shaping up to be a perfectly capable arena-based brawler for the hordes of hungry Demon Slayer fans out there. While the roster feels a little limited in scope right now, it’s nice to know playable demons are guaranteed further down the road. There’s a lot to like in the way the Hinokami Chronicles presents its story, even to veterans of Gotouge’s manga saga, and the final package is sure looking like a nice way to while away the hours until the anime’s return later this year.