Sep 5, 2016Vampire Hunter D, a late release PS1 survival horror title based on the book and anime film series of the same name, can best be described as a middling experience. While we have the hammy dialogue the genre is known for, some fairly great artistic direction, and a moody, ambient soundtrack, Vampire Hunter D just feels lacking, in comparison to genre forerunner Resident Evil, or itsVampire Hunter D, a late release PS1 survival horror title based on the book and anime film series of the same name, can best be described as a middling experience. While we have the hammy dialogue the genre is known for, some fairly great artistic direction, and a moody, ambient soundtrack, Vampire Hunter D just feels lacking, in comparison to genre forerunner Resident Evil, or its arguably better genre follow-up, Silent Hill.
For starters, although the game uses a tank control scheme mimicking the ones found in the likes of most survival horror outings of the time, the player character, D, moves significantly faster than anyone in RE or Silent Hill. As a result he feels a little slippery and imprecise. Mix this with (albeit seldom) platforming sections and fixed camera angles, and it doesn't make for a game that controls smoothly. Especially so when it comes to combat.
Although you do acquire ranged weapons and explosives such as wooden darts and flashbangs, a great majority of the combat is handled through a clunky melee system. D has a small handful of sword strikes at his disposal, and a largely slow and useless blocking maneuver. Double tapping D-pad directions will make D evade in that direction, and while you have a seemingly large number of defensive moves here (at least large for the genre), none of them are all that practical. A handful of times the dodges can be useful, but the blocking is almost never useful, outside of one or two boss fights throughout the game.
If the control or combat didn't already turn most players off, then the inventory system likely will. In theory, the inventory mechanics are decent. D can collect a number of different health potions, blood pills, antidotes, etc., but the most interesting item D can use is his own left hand, which can devour enemies (given they've taken enough damage), cast a powerful attack that will take out all enemies in a room, or heal D to full health. The hand runs on a limited meter and its mechanics work well enough, but not necessarily in conjunction with the other items. You see, the hand and items take up the same inventory slot when equipped, and use the same button to initiate. Meaning that if you're not careful and don't actively switch to the hand after every time you check your inventory screen, you can easily waste health potions and the like. This is hands down the game's biggest issue and the largest example of flat out poor game design, even for the time.
The level design doesn't fare much better, either. While the castle and its surrounding areas you explore are well designed from an artistic standpoint, the floor plans are incredibly symmetrical and predictable. Vampire Hunter D just doesn't have the same compelling level design that something like Resident Evil pulls off so well. It's much simpler in its structure, and you'll find yourself engaging in some lengthy backtracking segments late-game through some very long, empty hallways.
There was one mechanic in particular I wasn't clear on through my time with Vampire Hunter D, even after I had finished it - the "VP" (or Vampire Power) meter. It's a meter under D's health bar that seemingly didn't do anything. That is until I read later that it actually increases D's attack power and grants him more health when using blood pills. It would have been nice if this mechanic were made a little more important or clear to the player.
With all of these negative aspects noted, however, I don't think Vampire Hunter D is a terrible game. As mentioned before, the art design isn't bad at all. There are some fairly faithful representations of characters and environments to be found here for its time, and some of the enemies actually have very interesting and cool designs. Vampire Hunter D isn't technically impressive, by any means, but it doesn't look outright bad. The soundtrack here is also a high point. While it doesn't add to any sense of tension, what we have instead is a slow paced, moody, electronic soundtrack that fits the aesthetics of this series incredibly well.
The story here is also worth seeing through. It's not an incredibly work of fiction, but the universe that this series inhabits and the overall tone of the game make it interesting enough to see you through it, if you can look past the game's faults. It's also all delivered in that incredible, poorly acted survival horror manner that we come to expect from the time. The dialogue and cutscenes can be outright laughable, but it's part of the appeal.
It's a shame that all of the positives this game has to offer are surrounded by such dull and confounding game design. Vampire Hunter D is absolutely recommended to die-hard fans of the series, or even die-hard survival horror fans that maybe think that they've played everything. It's worth a look, at the very least. But it's a necessity that you be prepared to look past some truly terrible design elements to get any enjoyment out of it.… Expand
Daily RadarAlthough this game does have a couple of decent aspects, such as the eerie music and the story, these two major problems create so much frustration that players will probably quit after only a half-hour of play.