My interest in this unique Japan only platformer, Youkai Douchuuki was piqued several years ago when I saw it mentioned in an article about the representations of Hell in video games. I unfortunately cannot seem to find the original article, but I think it may have been Gamesradar, and I remember it opening with a section about this game, but it being used as an excuse to promote EA’s Dante’s Inferno before release.
I recall hearing how the game was a platformer with multiple endings based on your actions in-game, and how each ending represented the player character’s afterlife. I’ve always had a fascination for game’s with afterlife settings, especially since I have a morbid curiosity regarding the concept of Hell. A place of unimaginable horrors and torment has always provoked thought in regards to what it must be like.
At the time the article was put out, the game had not English fan translation so I basically just remained curious until I recently saw that one had been released for the Famicom version, and that was what prompted me to play it. There was also a fan translation for the TurboGrafx 16 version that has been out for about a year now, and there is apparently an English prototype for the arcade version titled Shadowland, but I didn’t notice it because I have a terminal case of dumb bitch disease… not that it has any effect on my writing or anything. I should note that there are some significant differences between all three versions.
There is no English patch for the Arcade version, but I still watched a play through of it alongside with the TurboGrafx version for a point of comparison. The most obvious observation is that the Famicom version loses a lot of the aesthetic charm of Arcade version. I know that is generally a given with 8-bit ports of arcade games, but it’s especially egregious here. Youkai Douchuuki is similar to that of Splatterhouse in that the aesthetic adds to a lot of the game. Given the emphasis on afterlife and mythology, there is a bit more personality in this game than the typical platformer.
The visuals and sound design were top notch in the Arcade version, and the TurboGrafx version manages to adapt them fairly competently (although they do lack a bit of the “oomph” that the Arcade version has), but the Famicom version is an absolute mess aesthetically. I often could not tell what enemies were supposed to be in the Famicom version, and the sound design is terribly grating. The music is so poorly arranged in the Famicom version that I thought an HP restoring Inn was a death trap because the music sounded like a series of scare cords. Granted Tarosuke’s sleeping animation also looked freaky as Hell… no pun intended… so it might not be the music alone.
While the Arcade version looks and sounds the best, it is apparently so blisteringly difficult that they needed to tone down the difficulty in the TurboGrafx version. While I can’t speak on the subject of difficulty, I will just say that Youkai Douchuuki relentlessly kicked my ass on that final level in the Famicom version, so I don’t even want to know what a harder version looks like.
Despite the dark sounding premise of a young child needing to journey from Hell to Heaven to meet Buddha and determine his final fate, the content of this game is surprisingly light hearted. Granted, you will need to be familiar with Japanese Mythology to have any understanding of what is going on, but it is a compelling game for those interested.
The key problem with all versions of Youkai Douchuuki is how its multiple endings are implemented. In the Arcade and TurboGrafx versions, your ending is based entirely around how many enemies you kill and how much money you pick up in the final level. Greed and violence is not allowed in Heaven, so you need to not kill any enemies or pick up any gold in the final level.
Needless to say, artificially removing a core mechanic for the final level doesn’t exactly make the game any more fun or challenging, especially considering how the money is often placed in area will the player will pick it up by accident, and collecting even one of them means needing to commit harakiri and start the entire level again. In The Bible it was said that “it is easier for camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to make it into the kingdom of heaven,” but I think it’s safe to say that both are more likely than one getting the best ending without using save states. I don’t even want to know how the Arcade version is in this respect.
While the Famicom version loses out in presentation, it does add a bit more variety to its gameplay. Levels in the Famicom version are more open ended and give the player more than one route through a level as opposed to the Arcade/TG16 version that was just a linear side-scroller. This effectively makes the five levels a mini-metroidvania of sorts where the player will carry their own new abilities and power ups over from one stage to the next.
This is further reinforced by the fact that the player can upgrade their jump height and attack speed, as well as their piety which plays a role in which ending the player gets based on how much they have (sadly the final level still has that tedious gimmick). This is different from the original versions where those stats remained static and where there was no piety stat, although there were items that one could buy to permanently enhance their abilities.
Just like many games of the time, Youkai Douchuuki has a bad case of the illness called “Idon’tknowwhatthefuckthisgamewantsmetodo disorder, which is sadly nowhere near as cool as dumb bitch disease. It instead means that the game throws you in without any explanation of anything, and you will need a guide if you want to understand it.
I found Youkai Douchuuki to be an interesting game. I thought it did some interesting things and was enjoyable at points, but I also feel like there could have been so much more done with this premise. It’s possible that I could be missing something due to emphasis on Japanese mythology, but I likely was just expecting a deeper game. I can’t really blame the game itself though. It wasn’t even common for games to tell deep stories back then, and we still don’t see many games like this, which is the entire reason I became curious about this game in the first place.
Chances are there are at least a few people who grew up playing this game in Japan and that have nostalgic feelings for it, and I can see why. I am glad I played this game overall, but it’s no “can’t miss” classic.
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