Note: Review Code provided by Marvelous Games.
Teenage schoolgirls vs monsters is not a new concept in Japanese media. Seeing cute and sexy maidens fighting off abominations is usually guaranteed to be a fun time for people who are comfortable with such series. This next game is another example of such but there is bit more to the game than what I just described. Find out what I mean as we take a look at Dead or School (No relation to the Dead or Alive franchise), developed by Studio Nanafushi and published by Marvelous Games.
Platforms: PC (Steam), PS4, Nintendo Switch
Genres: Action, Ecchi, Hack n’ Slash, Horror, Platformer, Metroidvania (-ish)
Length: 20+ hours
Plot Summary: Due to an unknown virus that hit Japan humans turned into monstrous Mutants wreaking havoc on the surface. Survivors retreated underground but the Mutants found their way down over time making the survivors’ daily lives worse than it already was. Hisako, trained by her mother and grandmother to be a great warrior, had had enough and made it her ultimate goal to go to school after hearing about it from her grandmother. School was a place everyone could learn and play together. Hisako sought this paradise determined to save and recruit as many allies to her cause and slay all Mutants that get in her way.
Dead or School in one sentence is The House of the Dead Meets High School of the Dead with a dose of Metroidvania and Hack n’ Slash gameplay. The story is a simple concept with some surprise reveals here and there. We see how life underground affected the people, living in constant fear, relying on rations and drugs to cope. As Hisako and her team make progress they find remnants of the surface world such as clothing and plastic models of food items like ice cream, fueling their curiosity and desire to take back the surface and taste the real thing. Their journey takes them to other underground stations across Japan facing stronger Mutants and eventually dealing with unexpected revelations.
The presentation is solid for an indie game but there is one noticeable hiccup. That being the English translation. The best way to describe is an English translator trying to explain as best as they can what a Japanese person said at that moment in time. I am not at all saying the translation is difficult to understand. I do not want call it “amateur” either as I have no experience in Japanese-English translation. Just keep this in mind going into the game.
The character designs and art look nice. Hisako and most of the teen to adult women fit right into an ecchi anime/manga series, which was what the developers were going for. The guys range from simple, shady to a certain token tough and buff old man with a heart of gold. There are a few noteworthy ladies Hisako meets but I will leave that for interested players to meet themselves. A very nice touch is the manga/comic style presentation of cut scenes. Not quite like in Gravity Rush or Folklore (PS3) but still manga-esque. The new Mutant breed introductions are like manga style Bayonetta baddie intros but not as grandiose. While the in-game graphics look like they are from the PS2 or early PS3 it does not matter too much because the action is fast paced and hectic most of the time. When Hisako takes 3/4 damage a brief scene of her school uniform getting torn is shown. However, because the camera is zoomed out it is not very noticeable during combat or exploration. Only in the brief scene and Hisako’s character portrait. As for the soundtrack it does its job fitting the mood. Expect basic but effective rock tunes every time Hisako combats waves of Mutants. Nothing groundbreaking but still solid.
On to the gameplay. As mentioned the game is a mix of Metroidvania-ish platforming and exploration, House of the Dead bestiary and High School of the Dead ecchi(-ness). Players take Hisako throughout various underground cities under attack by Mutants. Each one having their own motif, be it plants and roots or even lava. The cities are separated by stations which our heroine and allies traverse by subway train because that’s how Hisako’s group lived in their district, inside subway trains. Each city follows a linear path with some detours for optional side-quests to rescue people or obtain additional weapons, accessories and “Souvenirs” (Collecting them reward players with additional status gains). Oftentimes the side-quests either have larger waves or stronger Mutants shrouded in a smokey aura. Players are free to tackle them right away or come back later when stronger.
Hisako can Double Jump, activate time slowing dodges like in Bayonetta and Witch and the Hundred Knight and other means of getting around or avoiding enemies. When it comes to Mutant types there are not many. What I mean is expect to see several limbering zombie-esque Mutants, just with different attacks. Basic ones will try to smack Hisako. Others use firearms or throw projectiles. Then there are the different kinds of large/fat Mutants and the “Frogmen”. That is what I meant. Limited variety in designs but different kinds of attacks.
To combat the Mutant threat Hisako carries three types of weapons:
- Swords (For example, katanas and axes)
- Machine Guns (machine guns, rifles, shotguns etc.)
- Launchers (bazookas, rocket launchers, grenade launchers etc.)
Each weapon Hisako finds comes with their own perks and additional ones via attachments such as increased damage, less stamina, more durability, grenade addon, etc. However, there is a catch. Each weapon and attachment has their own weight and there is a limit to how much she can carry. Go over the weight limit and it’ll drastically limit Hisako’s performance and stamina consumption. This naturally increases as Hisako levels up. Another thing to keep in mind is weapon durability. Hisako’s blades and firearms have limits before they run out of ammo or rust. Firearms become useless and blades are weaker. Fortunately there are enough Save Points between areas for Hisako to heal herself and restore her weapons. Speaking of durability Hisako has a Stamina Meter. Everything except walking uses Stamina (Jumping, dodging, attacking) and when it runs out she can only run till it replenishes by either standing still or ducking (which is the quickest). This was the greatest challenge for me, keeping Hisako safe from harm and not wasting my weapons before reaching the next Save Point. Furthermore there are certain traps/enemy wave points that respawn even after clearing them. Say you overcame a difficult trap killing many tough Mutants and need to go back to the nearest Save Point to replenish yourself and your weapons. Consider yourself lucky if the trap or elevator battle does not reactivate or the Mutants reappear but the trap does not. Otherwise be prepared to take on the same trap again.
Besides shopping and upgrading weapons Save Points also serve to increase Hisako’s personal Skills using Skill Points acquired leveling up. Points can be used to increase her stamina, Hit Points, abilities or weapon skills. Should players not be satisfied with how they spent their Skill Points they can talk to Yurika to reset the Skill Trees and spend points differently.
As for yuri there is some potential.
Overall Dead or School is a fun and challenging action platformer with decent presentation, a passable English translation, a cool and sexy protagonist and enough interest to help her save the day. If readers found the review interesting then give the game a go.