Though the manga only started in 2016, Demon Slayer has gone on to become one of the most successful media franchises in existence—even passing up the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog and Minecraft in raw sales. Despite this, Demon Slayer has had shockingly little presence in video games; aside from a Japan-only mobile game that still has yet to release, the only other game is Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles. This release came to other platforms just this past fall, and now the Switch version has come with all the post-launch DLC from those releases. Though it has some flaws, we found Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles to be thoroughly enjoyable and we think you should consider giving it a shot.
The story of Demon Slayer follows Tanjiro, a young man with an axe to grind with demonkind. Prior to the events of the game, a demon attacked and killed his family while he was away—one sister survived, but she didn’t get much of a better deal given that she was turned into a ferocious demon. We take on the role of Tanjiro just as he’s about to complete the final step of his training to become a proper Demon Slayer. Once he’s done so, his goal is then to avenge his family’s death by killing the demon who murdered them and hopefully to find a cure for his sister somewhere along the way.
Starting out is a bit rough for those who don’t have any background with the anime or manga, but once you get past the first couple of hours, it's an engaging tale all the way through. Tanjiro is a likeable protagonist with just the right mixture of dorkiness, bravery, and kindness to offset his anger and there’s a strong supporting cast that’s expanded on with each chapter of the story. Though there’s a bigger overarching story, each chapter is about 30 minutes long and presents its own self-contained narrative as Tanjiro travels around to new locales on demon hunting duty. Those of you who are big fans of shonen will find plenty to love here, and even if that’s not usually your thing, we think this is still a well-told narrative that’s worth experiencing.
Chapters play out across medium-sized levels that are relatively linear, but offer up some limited means of exploration via little side paths here or there. You can optionally talk to some NPCs or examine certain elements of the environment to complete side quests and little wisps of light will indicate areas where Tanjiro can flex his parkouring skills and hop over or around obstacles. This portion of the gameplay can at times feel a bit much like a ‘walking simulator’ due to the relative lack of interactivity, though the environments are well-built and you usually aren’t going very long before you run into another important plot element or cutscene.
Your progress and performance in each chapter are tracked across an achievements list that’s reminiscent of the kind featured in the last few Super Smash Bros. games. Completing various requirements—like beating a chapter with a certain rank or defeating a boss in a certain time limit—will unlock portions of a reward board that both reveal another part of the larger picture underneath while also giving you another goodie like a new piece of concept art. If any of the achievements feel a bit too hard, you can manually unlock them using Kimetsu Points, which are found as collectibles in chapters or for fulfilling repeatable mini achievements like playing as a certain character enough times. We enjoyed the setup of this system, as it sometimes encourages you to play the game a little differently than you may normally, even if the rewards for doing so often feel pointless.
Combat in Demon Slayer plays a bit like a cross between a beat ‘em up and a 3D fighter. Battles place you in arenas with one or more foes and you simply beat the tar out of each other until one side can’t go on. You have a few light attacks you can chain together into combos, a grab move, and powerful skills that use portions of a slowly regenerating mana bar. Additionally, you have a secondary bar that governs partner actions, one tap calls them in for a brief attack alongside your character while using more of the bar allows you to tag out with them or have them save you from an impending hit.
The combat doesn’t have any features that you haven’t seen in similar games, then, but it feels great in motion—kind of like a slightly stiffer version of Devil May Cry. Your rank in each fight is calculated based on parameters like how many different moves you used, how much damage you took, and how quickly you took down your foes. It’s fun to try to go for that coveted ‘S’ rank in each fight, but the only drawback is that it feels like the available pool of moves is a little shallow. The action is snappy, responsive, and thrilling, yet we found ourselves banging out the same few combos over time. Even so, you’ll probably find lots to love about the action here—the cinematic finishes to boss fights are especially a highlight.
Those of you who tire of the single-player will be pleased to know that there’s a competitive multiplayer component for both online and offline. The main draw here is ranked play, which follows the expected rule of pitting you against a similarly ranked online opponent and giving points to the winner so they can climb the ladder a little more. We’re not sure if this game utilizes Nintendo’s fancy new online framework, but we were satisfied with the quality of the connection in the matches that we played; there were drops here and there, but nothing that meaningfully affected the outcome. We’d say that the single-player offering still feels like the ‘main’ draw of Demon Slayer, but it’s easy to see how this competitive online component could add quite a bit of value to those who are drawn into climbing the ranks.
One element that we felt deserves mentioning—though it’s neither a positive nor a negative—is that this very much feels like an RPG that doesn’t have any… well, RPG mechanics. In some ways, Demon Slayer is a bit reminiscent of the latest Paper Mario games, like it’s an ‘almost-RPG’. For example, most of the fights against common demons are easy, simple, and over in a matter of minutes, but you don’t get anything other than a pat on the back for participating.
The fights are of course fun, but it feels like there's something missing when these otherwise unremarkable and unnecessary fights are basically just there for padding. Exploration, meanwhile, doesn’t net you any equipment or gold you can spend in a store, but instead gives you some optional cutscenes to watch or more Kimetsu Points so you can unlock another voice line or portrait. For its odd, quasi-RPG/beat ‘em up design, Demon Slayer is a well-executed and enjoyable experience, but it’s one of those games that feels like it sometimes suffers from an identity crisis.
In terms of visuals, Demon Slayer does a tremendous job of translating the art style of the anime into a game form, feeling a bit like Dragon Ball FighterZ in how closely it adheres to the original show. Unlike other platforms, the Switch version only runs at 30 FPS (most of the time), but we would overall say that performance felt solid, even in the busier fights, whether playing docked or handheld. Watching giant water dragons come thundering down on your foes makes for a wonderful spectacle, and we appreciated how the locales of each chapter felt visually distinct from each other.
As for sound, the voice cast does a great job all across the board, playing up all the performances with just the right amount of passion and cheesiness. It does get a little old having Tanjiro constantly monologuing in his head at every little thing going on around him, and there are occasional scenes that get close to Tidus’-laugh-in-FFX bad, but it’s all part of the overall charm. Meanwhile, the soundtrack borrows a lot from the anime and hits all the right tonal beats, although we didn’t find any tracks to be particularly memorable.
Demon Slayer: -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Hinokami Chronicles is a very solid action game, presenting a gripping story and thrilling action combat alongside an art style that almost perfectly matches the popular anime. Though combat can sometimes feel a bit shallow and the performance isn’t always perfect, we’d still give this one a strong recommendation, even to those who don’t have any background with the anime or manga.