In a world overridden by a zombie plague that has forced the leftovers of society underground, a cast of self-aware over-sexualized anime-girls peruse the tunnels of the subway system, armed with an arsenal that would make Ratchet proud.
Before you’re thrust into the world of Dead or School, you have to sit through an unimaginable amount of cutscenes, dialogue, and tutorials that truly test your patience in a way that likely makes From Soft jealous after their years of perfecting the craft with Dark Souls. It’s unbelievably tedious, especially given the mediocre shlock of a story that the game sports, but once that hurdle is lept over, stumbled through or broken in half in a fit of rage, the action-packed Metroidvania that ensues makes up for the slow burner of a beginning.
Weapons are an impressive aspect of the experience, with Hisako, the lead character, sporting three types – melee, explosive and machine gun. These all have their own effects and status boosts that, toppled with the skill tree, can result in some fairly engaging and interconnected combat. Different situations push you to try different things and combining your special set of skills like the SPD Power Rangers is a capability that you have to learn fast or you’ll find yourself knee-deep in the muck as you stumble spectacularly.
The controls are incredibly responsive and the movement is fluid, so when you overcome the patronizing and intrusive tutorials that bog down the beginning, the pace picks up and the action becomes a treat, with a hook that sinks nearly as deep as Diablo (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit).
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Boss battles are well-designed and unique, enemy variety is superb and difficulty never ramps up to an unbearable amount, with a strikingly good balance brought into play. Even on the hardest option, Dead or School is fair in its challenge, which is refreshing to see in a world ridden with spongy enemies, one-shot kills and weapons that break after a few swings.
At its core, Dead or School has a very lackluster story that many other forms of media, whether TV, film or other games, have presented in a much better manner. It’s very much like a B-movie: it’s a poorly written action with horror elements that feels like a rough draft accidentally picked up instead of the final cut.
Whilst, in some instances, the humor feels self-aware and the sexual horror-action purposeful, the overall tone is inconsistent and the narrative feels like an excuse to have constant close-ups on young girl’s underwear. It’s undeniably tacky and it caters too much to the tip-your-fedora crowd for my likings. I found myself skipping cutscenes out of an uneasy feeling of cringe more than once, and the dialogue was never memorable or meaningful, and Dead or School would’ve likely benefited from simply reveling in its gameplay rather than cramming so much effort into its story.
Graphics / Art Direction
In terms of art direction, Dead or School isn’t anything new or unique, but it is well-made and slick. The anime cutscenes are animated well, have sharp edges and are professional in their standard, whilst the actual game itself, the world in which you hack and slash as you storm down the horde of undead, looks a little late PS2 or early PS3 in appearance, and it doesn’t scale up too well to bigger screens.
The menus are brilliant and modern, whilst also being intuitive and visually pleasing, but the user-interface is overly clogged and intrusive, often being more of a hindrance, even with certain elements disabled by the click of a button. It has that tacky early era gaming feel to it, like a bad Matrix game, which goes hand in hand with the story, but bogs down the experience a tad.
Music / Sound Design
The score is great but nothing standout, whilst the sound design is bog-standard. It’s nothing special, but it does the job. The weapons feel weighty, the slashes of swords are satisfying and there’s a guttural feeling to the guns that is reflected in their actual visual design.
Final Score: 60%
Dead or School is a fun time-killer, and it’s impressive that it got off the ground given that its Indiegogo campaign failed, but the cutscenes can be a little unsettling given that we’re following a cast of schoolgirls, and the overall experience feels outdated.
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