When it was first released two years ago, Arashi: Castles of Sin didn’t get a chance to make its mark.
By the time it was released as a PSVR exclusive in 2021, the headset had become significantly outdated and there were rumors of PSVR 2 on the horizon. Everyone could sense that PSVR was at the end of a life cycle that had already far exceeded expectations. It’s strange now to think back to games like Arashi, which have been out on headphones for the past few days and perhaps haven’t reached as many gamers as they otherwise might have.
Despite the odd timing, we still really enjoyed Arashi upon release. Our review praised the open-ended levels that granted players enormous freedom, as well as the fantastic realization of feudal Japan. That said, we’ve also found the bugs, as well as the underwhelming AI and combat, let down the game’s best moments. Nonetheless it was probably worth a try for the few people still looking for new PSVR content in 2021. Endeavor One, against the odds of creaky technology, had produced an entertaining if at times a bit clunky stealth experience.
Two years later, Skydance Interactive is working with Endeavor One to give Arashi a second chance with a new version of Castles of Sin: Final Cut, bringing the game to a wider audience than it likely ever enjoyed on PSVR.
Coming to PSVR 2, Quest 2, Quest 3 and PC VR this fall, Final Cut is billed as the definitive version of Arashi, with “improvements and updates” to the original that include “improved graphics, updated enemy and boss behavior , controls and tons of additional quality-of-life features.”
After getting to try it out at Gamescom, it’s clear that this version of Final Cut contains some solid updates over the original. However, there are also some elements that have unnecessarily stuck in the last generation, with little justification as to why.
The Gamescom demo was on PSVR 2 and featured a pretty amazing take on the game with the added power of the PS5 behind it. Even for those who haven’t played the original, the visual upgrades are immediately apparent over the footage from the PSVR original. The environments – especially texture quality and lighting – have obviously been improved, with everything looking a little less spotty.
The most immediate visual upgrade is seen in your lovable wolf companion Haru. While he’s still just as adorable, he now looks much more realistic than his PSVR counterpart, only his fur is vastly improved, and there’s so much more.
So while it’s definitely not a complete visual overhaul, it still feels like a previous-gen game with select updates, but there’s enough here to be impressive in-headset. It certainly helps that, like in the original, the presentation of feudal Japan is well done.
Graphics aside, the demo which included some exploration, a stealth section, and boss fight from the start of the campaign was overall extremely entertaining. I had a blast and am back excited to play the full game in full later this year. For those in a similar position to me, this will be a great way to recover a title that was now easily lost on whichever headset you prefer.
Everything we liked in our initial review still holds true, plus there’s been some improvements to critical areas as well. The game’s first boss fight is a good example compared to the rather slow and clunky AI of the initial release, Final Cut features a much more dynamic and expansive battle that felt really engaging to fight in.
The move from the Move to the more reliable and dedicated Sense controllers no doubt helps combat feel more responsive and snappy, but Skydance also noted that changes have been made to add more depth to the encounter. The enemy AI looked aggressive, with multiple attack patterns requiring quick and successive parries. Additionally, combat now has more phases: after being downed once, the boss will return multiple times with an increasing number of “shadow” clones acting as decoys, complicating the whole encounter. It’s a step in the right direction, whether or not it will help with the overall repetitiveness we noted in our review remains to be seen.
Sitting in the shadow of the last generation
Frustratingly though, the Final Cut demo we played also features aspects of the original that remain unchanged, representing missed opportunities to truly take advantage of the headset’s new features.
Eye tracking has been a defining feature of PSVR 2, with many titles using it to allow for fast and fluid menu selection, and games like Synapse integrating it into gameplay with telepathic-like results. Unfortunately, there is no similar support in Arashi’s Final Cut.
In the original PSVR, players made menu selections or directed Haru around the environment with a selection crosshair locked in the center of the headset’s field of view. This meant that to make any selection, players had to physically move their head to aim at the locked reticle in the center. This was a practical solution to the relatively limited functionality provided by PSVR’s Move controllers at the time. Unfortunately though, it remains completely untouched in the Final Cut of Arashi, requiring players to move their heads to make selections instead of integrating eye tracking or even a point-based ray-cast solution with motion controls.
It’s a baffling and seemingly lazy choice that yanks you out of the present and sends you back years into the past. There’s no real excuse for that either. If marketed as the definitive next-gen experience, then it’s fair to expect the PSVR 2 version to use all the definitive next-gen features wherever possible. It’s a completely missed opportunity, but ultimately also a decision that reduces the immersiveness of the whole experience.
When asked, Skydance confirmed to me that Final Cut will control and function in exactly the same way on the Quest 2, Quest 3, and PC VR as it does on PSVR 2. While eye tracking technology isn’t present on these headsets, there isn’t still reason for the game to keep the center-locked reticle selection system on those systems as well. A simple point and select system with motion controllers, as is standard in almost all other versions, would be the minimal upgrade.
This might all seem like a little nitpicking, but it ultimately calls into question the whole idea of an “ultimate” version of the game, updated for modern headsets. Also, Final Cut’s larger control scheme and button mapping didn’t feel quite optimized for transitioning from Move to motion controllers. The shrouded weapons mapped confusingly to grip buttons and required you to place your hands in specific, counterintuitive positions. Triggers meanwhile were used to grip onto ropes and other scalable surfaces, as opposed to the much more intuitive (and again standard) mapping of grip buttons.
It seems that the focus has been on updating the graphics and polishing the encounters while leaving other aspects of the game relatively untouched. It’s not that there weren’t any changes to the controls, nor was stick-based movement implemented in Final Cut, which simply wasn’t possible on the stickless Move controllers. Unfortunately it puts a damper on the experience, making it feel like a more ill-advised upgrade than it should.
Despite that, there’s still a fun game to be found here, and perhaps one that many didn’t get a chance to try when it was first released. Arashi’s original PSVR release wasn’t perfect, and it seems the same may apply to this “ultimate” Final Cut. It’s proof that, despite the disappointing hangover from the last generation, I can’t wait for the final version. Hopefully Skydance and Endeavor can make more changes before the game is released later this year.
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