Castle Morihisa Review (Switch)

Castle Morihisa Review: Slay the Spire By Way of Feudal Japan


Castle Morihisa | Featured

I’m thankful that before starting Castle Morihisa, I was able to experience Slay the Spire. Because while it’s true that title has inspired many subsequent rogue deckbuilders to varying degrees, I can tell it really inspired the folks behind Castle Morihisa. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, Slay the Spire was well received by many gamers and is still heralded as one of the best examples of the genre. The question then is, can we say the same for this latest card focused rogue-like? That’s what this Castle Morihisa review will endeavor to answer.


Choose Your Hero


Castle Morihisa | Classes

Much like Slay the Spire, Castle Morihisa features multiple playable characters with distinct styles, several of which you have to unlock first. They range from the defensive Monk to the magical Onmyoji, the stalwart Samurai, and the evasive Ninja, plus one more class that’s well-hidden. Each class has a unique hook, such as how the Monk can meditate, gaining passive defense boosts and occasionally playing attack cards for free; to the Onmyoji, who summons powerful shikigami spirits to do a variety of useful tasks at the end of each turn. I appreciated the variety, even though the game doesn’t do a great job explaining each class’s pros and cons when you select them.


Dead But Not Forgotten


Castle Morihisa | Fallen Heroes

At the start of each run, you select your class and then pick from one of three fallen heroes. Their heroic spirit essentially gives you an uber ability you can only use a handful of times. These range from automatically killing enemies with a set amount of HP to boosting your attack cards, enhancing your defense, and much more besides. In general, I preferred the more aggressive options, mainly because Castle Morihisa is not an easy game. You can get wiped out quickly if you’re not paying attention, often within a few short minutes. To help even the odds, at the end of each successful combat, you’ll earn more coins to buy more cards from the shop, as well as your free choice of 1 of 3 random cards from your class. You’ll also come across chance events and artifacts that lend a helping hand, though those primarily boost your attributes or enhance your cards. They’re nowhere near as game-changing as some of the artifacts found in Slay the Spire, which could totally alter how you play.


Map Your Way To Victory


Castle Morihisa | Map Icons

As you make your way across vast maps, you’ll have your choice of which icon to select. Some indicate standard battles, while some are for battles against Elite foes. They very much live up to their names, and many are even more challenging than the actual level bosses. They have lots of HP and can rapidly wipe the floor with you. The only reason it may be worth taking them on is the rewards. Not only do you get coins, cards, and talent points (more on those later), but you also get quest scrolls. By fulfilling the conditions indicated on the scroll, you’ll get a random reward. These are often underwhelming, but some, such as fully healing your character, can make or break your run. Just keep in mind that if you’re not confident you can defeat an Elite foe, it’s often best to skip past them. And don’t miss the chance to rest at the camp, which lets you either recover some health or upgrade a card in your deck.


A Talented Bunch


Castle Morihisa | Talents

One thing that can really aid you is the use of talent points. You’ll get one each time you move farther across the map, and sometimes you’ll get extra from defeating certain foes or encountering chance events. Talents you can pick from are randomized each run, but they will be specific to your selected class. Additionally, there are multiple tiers of skills. Each progressive tier will cost more talent points, and the farthest tiers require selecting certain nodes on the tier grid first. I should point out the game didn’t explain that part, but I was able to figure it out after trial and error. I really like the talent points and how they are randomized, but often it’s hard to know when to actually acquire them. You can do so at any time on the map, but it’s a balancing act between waiting to earn more points for higher-tier talents and using them earlier to help you survive challenging battles.


Pretty Yet Horrifying


Castle Morihisa | Corpse Worm

Visually, I actually prefer Castle Morihisa to Slay the Spire. The feudal Japanese vibe results in some really delightfully horrifying foes, from hideous spider-women to demonic umbrellas and even darker creatures. Even the basic enemies are creepy, such as mutated and deformed villagers. I like the little touches, such as how a Japanese screen closes and opens at the start of each battle. Musically, the game features many fitting classical instruments, and it’s urgent yet mysterious. It’s an attractive package that looks great on the Nintendo Switch.


Room For Improvement


Castle Morihisa | Quest Scrolls

As hard as it can be to fulfill quests, you should probably get better rewards.

Now, while I enjoyed a lot about Castle Morihisa, there’s one key thing that kept it from a higher score – the difficulty. I struggled with this, since Slay the Spire was also notoriously difficult. But I felt the balance in that game was stronger. I floundered just getting past a couple of bosses here, and have yet to unlock all the different classes. While it’s true this version of the game was a bit fairer than the Steam demo I played months ago, it’s still incredibly challenging. I feel that a few easy patches and some rebalancing would really go a long way to making this a game that’s more approachable.

Castle Morihisa | Card Rewards

Pick a card, any card. Just pick the right one, otherwise, you might quickly regret it…

Additionally, Castle Morihisa also needs a much more accurate translation. Though much of what’s here is understandable, aside from the odd missing letter or awkward phrasing, there are some areas I was totally in the dark about. One boss has an ability that says it negates the activation of your first card each turn. I quickly found out that it only applied to attack cards, and then only ones that were aimed at that particular boss and not his allies. And on the topic of bosses, far too many rely on summoning more and more foes to wear you down as opposed to challenging your tactical wit with dynamic attack patterns.


The Path to Victory is Lined with Corpses


While I can see what Castle Morihisa was going for, and appreciate many elements of the game, the overbearing difficulty kept me from enjoying it more. It may have mimicked the style of Slay the Spire, but it’s a long way from reaching the lofty heights of that game. But if you don’t mind an ego-bruising challenge and enjoy rogue deckbuilders, I’d still check the game out. Unfortunately, for everyone else, it’s probably going to prove too frustrating.

Final Verdict: 3/5

Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Thermite Games; Developer: Smokingbear Studio; Players: 1; Released: February 10, 2022; ESRB: Everyone 10+ – Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood; MSRP: $14.99

Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.

Josh Speer
Got my start in the industry at oprainfall, but been a game fanatic since I was young. Indie / niche advocate and fan of classics like Mega Man, Castlevania and Super Metroid. Enjoys many genres, including platformers, turn based / tactical RPGs, rhythm and much more. Champion of PAX West and Knight of E3.

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