How bad do you want to go to school today?
- Developer:Studio Nanafushi
- Publisher: Studio Nanafushi/Marvelous
- Release date: 13th March 2020
- Genre: 2.5D Side Scrolling Adventure
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
- Reviewed on: PS4 Pro
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Dead or School was originally released on Steam back in 2018, with a console version following in 2019, however, only for Japanese systems. Thanks to a global release on the 13th March 2020, Western audiences can finally get hold of this surprisingly fun action game, and what a treat they are in for.
Don’t you just love it when games don’t take themselves too seriously, and just want the player to have mindless fun? There is nothing groundbreaking or particularly special about ‘Dead or School’, except they have crafted great elements together for one complete, excellent package.
Visuals really popped out from the get-go. The opening menu screen of our superbly drawn main protagonist, in a very authentic anime/manga style, will get fans of the genre salivating immediately. The character designs are so impressive, it would be very easy to see the same art style in a 24 episode anime series, and you have to pinch yourself that, have I not seen that character somewhere before?
The only downside of the character visuals is that, especially in today’s modern society, it is a little cringeworthy how much each of the female characters are overdeveloped in the chest area, which is exacerbated by the slightly creepy drawings of young girls in vulnerable positions showing a lot of cleavage. Thankfully nothing is too uncomfortable and is more titillation than outright obscenity but it certainly warrants the 16 age rating.
That aspect aside, the underground setting, themselves, although technically very basic with low-resolution detail, have made up for this in outstanding art style and colourful interesting environments. Anyone who has played or is familiar with the Persona series will get a familiar feeling as vibrant, exciting fonts flashing across the screen. Similarly here in Dead or School, a “rat ta tat” explodes across the screen when you fire your gun, presenting a comic book style textual accompaniment to the on-screen action. Not all weapons do this, though; A melee weapon just slices, and the launchers just lob explosives. Chainsaws that are unlocked later in the game, however, are hilarious fun as the whole screen shakes as you cleave a mutant into a bloody mess.
The graphical movement of a character across the screen is a little stiff, but the controls are accurate, so it’s easy to position and express what the player wants to do with ease. Enemy types are fairly basic, but the blood splatter and particle effects when slicing and dicing enemies is gratifying.
The story itself is different, engaging, but ultimately not very deep. After spending 78 years below the surface of Tokyo, a girl has a dream of one day going back to the surface to start something she’s heard of called a school. She believes schools are all about learning, making friends, and having fun (My experience of school was nothing like that). After she is given a school uniform from her grandmother, who’s last memory was of being in school, she sets off to find a team to help her fight the mutants to get back to the surface. It is amazing how quick characters she meets are willing to drop everything to join her quest, but it still makes for a means to get our main protagonist into a school uniform and slaughtering zombies.
Voice acting was more than passable, but the dialogue did border on becoming tedious. However, players never spend too much time being drowned in mindless exposition, and you’re never far away from the action.
The mechanics are simple and effective, and that means great gameplay. You can carry up to three weapons which are easily changed, and movement is simply traversal to the left or right across the screen. A jump or dodge gets you out of tricky situations, and when timed right, slows time down for you to inflict extra damage.
Switching from a melee weapon to a ranged weapon is simple, and aiming is performed by simply moving the right stick in the direction you want to fire.
As you progress, enemies drop items, and you collect money and materials to upgrade your weapons and your skill tree. It’s a fairly basic, standard system, but does encourage experimentation with the variety of weapons available.
When you put it all together it starts to become rewarding and fun. For example, I upgraded Hisako’s ‘backstab’ ability as soon as possible, so when I timed my dodge roll to perfection to slow down time, and then slashed enemies in the back, they fell quicker because of the extra damage inflicted and it felt utterly rewarding.
Game progression revolves around exploring a network of tunnels surrounding a station to search for survivors, and a means to get to the next station. You may have to find keys, unlock doors, and in your quest to do so, fight mutants. Then when you’re near your goal, the difficulties of the enemies ramp up with an end of level boss fight against something you’ve not seen before. It’s a very simple formula but it works oh so well. Save points, side missions and other collectables can all be found in the level as well, so exploration is encouraged. If you die, you go back to the last save point you were at, but anything you collected is saved, so nothing is lost.
The difficulty was excellent, I started on normal but changed to easy mode, as it was more fun to slash my way through enemies to understand the systems as soon as possible, although even on easy I only just survived the first boss fight.
Audio-wise, the music and voice acting were excellent. The music ranged from full-on energetic rock music to a piano concerto, with all kinds of techno variants in between. Sound effects of the monsters were average and not very inspiring or threatening, and although environmental noises were good, there were only a limited amount of variations.
The only real negative the game had was just a slight lack of polish here and there. When music tracks ended, or at the end of a scene they didn’t fade out, they just cut off, as though the game had broken, and changed to a new one. Also, some of the aforementioned gratuitous animated visuals played the same still image for too long, with nothing happening, again, giving the impression the game had frozen.
Apart from that though, it did what it said it would do on the tin, nothing more, nothing less, and was executed well, and ended up being a solid game.
A slight lack of overall polish and fairly simple gameplay visuals are the only real negatives with this game. There is a design whiff of Persona, Chainsaw Lollipop, The Last of Us, and your favourite anime all rolled into one here and it works, just don’t expect anything too deep or taxing. Dead Or School is greater than the sum of its parts, however, and the combined elements make for excellent entertainment across the duration of its fifteen-hour campaign.
So, will you get to school, or die trying?