“A First Draft, Not A Final Cut” – Arashi: Castles of Sin

2023 has been a big year for VR stealth games, with major franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Vampire: The Masquerade entering the space to create some generally solid experiences. Stacked up against this kind of competition, it’s easy to miss a title like Arashi: Castles of Sin – Final Cut, a re-release of a PSVR game that’s finally available across a more complete spectrum of platforms. Developed by Endeavor One and published by Skydance Interactive, Arashi has its fair share of attractive elements, but it’s ultimately weighed down by problems that feel like they should have been fixed before it returned to the market.

Arashi: Castles of Sin is a VR rendition of a classic ninja fantasy, putting players into the shoes of a rogue operator seeking to take down an array of corrupt bandit lords abusing their power across Japan. The set-up and structure are simple, assigning all the villains thematically appropriate sins and placing them in castles that must be infiltrated to seize the opportunity for assassinations. Of course, the grounds of every castle are crawling with guards, posing a familiar sort of challenge that involves plenty of sneaking and slicing alike.

Equipment Options Are The Highlight Of Gameplay

Holding a shuriken while looking at a guard in a cave area in Arashi: Castles of Sin.

The gameplay of Arashi: Castles of Sin is fairly basic on most levels, but the big dose of complexity comes from an array of tools that outdoes most competing VR offerings. A katana and tanto serve as the primary weapons, but it doesn’t take long to start unlocking alternate options, which quickly fill up slots on the player’s chest, hips, and back. What’s even better is the inclusion of a wolf, who will happily restrain enemies, dig up treasure, and play fetch in the brief bridge segments between levels.

Arashi‘s array of equipment is generally well-thought-out, with a variety of advantages and drawbacks that make smart gameplay rely on choosing the right tool for every scenario. Putting this knowledge into practice, however, can be a little more challenging. Swapping between the katana and grappling hook that decorate the player’s right hip feels more finicky than it should, and the way the game reads pointer controls for directing the wolf feels fundamentally strange. This feeds into some general accessibility concerns, as Arashi lacks alternative control options. Sitting down doubles the difficulty of grabbing anything, making standing play with full mobility the only reasonable option.

Levels And Enemies Are More Routine

The process of actually sneaking through a level is reasonably fun, as is the decent swordplay, but it doesn’t take long to see the limits of Arashi: Castles of Sin‘s ambition. Verticality seems like a consistently interesting option, but it’s only inconsistently provided, requiring the use of specific grappling points that can be few and far between. Layouts can feel samey, as there are never any real reinventions, although the overall quality does pick up toward the end. Enemies completely fail to evolve, and the regular guards, archers, and samurai that appear near the beginning of the game are identical to the ones that populate the final levels.

Arashi: Castles of Sin’s boss fights do manage to carve out a little more distinction, as each lord will interrupt his typical attacks with a unique move several times throughout the fight. These are perhaps best left unspoiled, as having some kind of gameplay surprise becomes increasingly welcome as Arashi goes on, but they’re also imperfect. Bosses are often invulnerable to standard attacks while performing their special moves, and one lord getting stuck in that phase created a fundamental stalemate that forced a restart of the fight.

A Story Sliced Too Short

Parrying an attack from a boss in Arashi: Castles of Sin.

The bosses also provide the principal bright light of the story — more accurately, they provide just about the entire story, as Arashi: Castles of Sin is fairly light on plot. This isn’t necessarily a problem for what it is, and most of what’s there is presented reasonably well. Each boss has a unique personality and memorable style, and animatic cutscenes between levels sum up their crimes and fates. Arashi sticks to Japanese audio for all the characters, with strong voice acting that should help win over the subtitle-shy.

Things fall apart toward the end, as the story never mounts to any particularly engaging climactic point and ends up feeling increasingly rushed as it approaches the credit roll. The final main level is the shortest, and the ultimate boss of the campaign is the least interesting or challenging of any. A quick gameplay sequence works as a basic epilogue that leaves everything with a bit of a “to be continued” flavor, but it feels more like a flop across the finish line than an interesting sequel tease.

Final Thoughts & Review Score

Every problem with Arashi: Castles of Sin amounts to the same fundamental thing — it feels like a first draft, not a final cut, and its limitations are hard to forgive when it’s being repackaged as the latter. Perhaps the most shocking oversight is that selecting a smooth turning option makes headlook not affect movement direction, which renders the game almost unplayable without any explanation. Anyone who picks smooth turning on startup is likely to think the game doesn’t have a proper movement option at all, and it’s almost absurd that something like this hasn’t been addressed by now.

The list of problems with Arashi: Castles of Sin is long, but beneath them all there’s a solid experience that can be genuinely fun to play. In a market with a surplus of better options, however, it’s hard to say that Arashi‘s limitations are worth dealing with. Arashi: Castles of Sin – Final Cut is a frustrating package of a potentially good game, and by the time things come together in a way that’s exciting enough to make its sins forgivable, the credits are already rolling.

Source: Skydance Interactive/YouTube

Arashi: Castles of Sin – Final Cut is available now on PlayStation VR2, PCVR, and Meta Quest 2, 3, and Pro. Screen Rant was provided with a Steam code for the purpose of this review.

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