Developer: Irem Publisher: Irem Release: 10/23/87 Genre: Action
The Famicom Disk System is a fascinating piece of hardware from a historical perspective. In Japan for a while there it completely overtook the Famicom and nearly all releases were disk system games. Titles like Castlevania, Zelda, Jackal, and Metroid all had to be essentially remade for their cartridge release in the West. But while many titles are familiar there are plenty of gems awaiting discovery. Youkai Yashiki is almost one such title, a rare horror game that has a myriad number of flaws that sap the fun out of the game.
Youkai Yashiki was originally a MSX title in 1986 and remade the following year for the FDS. The most immediate improvement is the graphics. The backgrounds were mostly black space in the original. Here the art is fantastic and the Famicom’s power sells the horror theme beautifully. The bosses have also been redesigned and look significantly better although they are still frustrating to fight. Aside from the presentation however there are a few mechanical changes to the gameplay, some for the better and some worse.
Your flashlight is your only offensive weapon. The power of the flashlight is presented as batteries which also double as your life bar. With every hit you take the flashlight becomes weaker. Early on one or two hits are enough to reduce your light to a meager blip that travels a few centimeters. However you can find batteries that extend the meter up to eight. This makes the game less of a hassle overall but getting to that point will confound you. The secondary power-ups like freezing time, invisibility and invincibility are rare. I would have liked another weapon or something to spice things up but I digress.
The goal of each stage is to find five talismans and then the boss room to complete the stage. Unlike most games Youkai Yashiki does not scroll. You explore room by room and the game has a handy auto map to chart your progress. The maps are new and much larger although that is not necessarily a good thing. There are two key changes in the FDS game. There are no longer any secondary items from your sister. The game now follows a strict level by level format rather than allowing you to warp all over the place at your leisure. On one hand collecting talismans from any stage you want was cool. But keeping track of it all was a nightmare. These changes should make the game simpler but it is anything but.
Irem made the maps larger but did so by copy and pasting rooms all over the map. Entire sections of each level repeat three or four times. As you can imagine it makes navigation a chore. Even with the in game map chances are you will get lost. There is a greater emphasis on using the warp wells to get around. But these dump you in a random part of the map with no rhyme or reason. The levels loop around, a fact that you will need to take advantage of to find all of the talismans on each stage. Eventually you can cotton on to the game’s tricks at which point it becomes enjoyable. But the levels should have been better designwise.
Youkai Yashiki is not difficult so much as it is frustrating. Chances for healing are few but you will not need it most of the time as enemies do not actively pursue you. The game begins to pull some mean tricks like the invisible ladders in stage three or the false floors in the last stage. But exploration remains the biggest issue. I cannot count the number of times I wandered through the same rooms repeatedly until I found the “trick” needed to progress. Unless you look at a guide it is near impossible to find the boss room on your own. Speaking of bosses, I love their redesigns. But unless you enter with a full battery supply they can be almost impossible to beat. I cannot help but feel like there are some good ideas in this remake but they needed more play testing to iron out the flaws.
I am torn on Youkai Yashiki. There are many aspects of the game that I like. The youkai theme and general gameplay are unlike most titles on the NES. But the numerous flaws bring this one down. If you stick it out there is some fun available. But it lies behind a mountain of frustration. You should not have to force yourself to have fun with a game.