Title: DEAD OR SCHOOL
Developer: Studio Nanafushi
Publisher: Marvelous Games
Genre: Action, Role-Playing
Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 13/03/2020
Price: £24.99 – Rapid Reviews UK were very kindly provided with a review code for this title
There are children the world over who begrudgingly make the short journey to school each week, daydreaming of the day they no longer have to. How different would it be if they hadn’t experienced school at all? Would there be a burning desire to do so? That’s the belief of Studio Nanafushi and Marvelous Games who have created a plot centred around the desire to get to school – no matter the obstacles or traditions that are in the way.
Hisako, the female protagonist from underground Tokyo, has dreamt about what school may be like after a passing comment from her grandmother. Having spent her life in underground shelters after zombies ravaged the land above, Hisako takes an underground train towards ‘freedom.’ This is where your story will begin and it doesn’t end until mental monsters, negative naysayers and predictable puzzles have been overcome.
Armed with a sword, a machine gun and a grenade launcher, Hisako sets off for ‘adventure’ with just her school uniform for protection. Indicative of many a plot from across the pond in Japan, the storyline is creative and thought-provoking, if a little bizarre. It is told through the exploration of a side-scrolling 2.5D environment that is brimming with enemies both barmy and bonkers. Unfortunately, whilst an abundance of creativity is on display throughout, its delivery is lacking in almost every department.
Upon loading DEAD OR SCHOOL for the first time, there is an air of optimism about the proceedings. No sooner does the game begin before disappointment sets in. The game just does not look as good as it either could or should. The visuals are a little blurred and the side-on view means that finer details are lost. Through the anime art style that has been employed in marketing materials, there was a suggestion that this game was going to be quite the looker. Instead, the dark and dreary environments are grainy and, at times, unsightly.
The same can also be said for the combat itself. With the choice of hack and slash, run and gun and all-out warfare, DEAD OR SCHOOL caters to a variety of different playstyles. What it doesn’t do, unfortunately, is offer the kind of enemy that makes all of this enjoyable. The manic monsters have a one-track mind, seemingly unaware of the player’s position as they blindly swipe or flame throw into the ether. All too often the enemy will march their merry way off a cliff with no regard for their own safety. If they aren’t doing that, the predictability of their movements mean that combat is more proactive than reactive, I.e knowing the enemies next move allows you to position yourself in advantageous places. A healthy mix of the two would have been much more beneficial to keep players interested.
Much like a maths teacher who wants to challenge their children will just ‘make the numbers bigger’, it seems Studio Nanafushi has taken the same approach with the enemies. The more enemies on screen at any one time, the more challenging and enjoyable the game will be. Of course, this is to the detriment of strategy and fun, with button mashing being the only course of action. This is a great shame as the enemy designs are interesting and with a more intuitive AI, the combat could have been great.
Alongside the poor visuals and uninspiring fighting sequences are localisation problems and an all too heavy reliance on text to advance the story. Unsurprisingly, these two issues play a major role in the success and failures of a storyline, and DEAD OR SCHOOL disappoints in this regard. It is all too easy for immersion and investment in a game to be lacking in recent times and both grammatical errors and poorly written sentences can ensure that this is the case. Couple this with the long and laborious discussions between characters that, whilst an excellent demonstration of superb artwork, aren’t all that interesting to read, and you have a game that fails to capitalise on a promising premise. If these had been given voiceovers, it would have gone some way towards developing the personalities of the characters and increasing engagement with the story itself.
On the subject of audio, the soundtrack is very much a mixed bag too. Oftentimes, the music doesn’t compliment the atmosphere being created and ultimately makes a mockery of what could otherwise have been an engaging plot. This is symptomatic of much of DEAD OR SCHOOL whereby one element contradicts or hinders the impact of another element.
For all that doesn’t quite hit the mark in DEAD OR SCHOOL, there are fleeting moments of quality that show how capable Studio Nanafushi are as developers. The tutorials are spot on, demonstrating key information through quick and easy to access videos. There is also a depth to the skill trees and customisation of weapons which is brilliant. By levelling up, you can make adjustments to your weapons and use skill points to purchase perks. With the three aforementioned options of playstyle, and the ability to switch between them on the fly, this is an excellent way to provide player personalisation.
DEAD OR SCHOOL is by no means a bad game. There is some fun to be had if you are willing to overlook its shortcomings. Naturally, some are harder to overlook than others, but there is a game here worth playing if visuals and strategic combat are not your bag. Personally, I found DEAD OR SCHOOL to be disappointing, more so because I had hoped it would be more than it is. At its current price, in its current state, it doesn’t do enough to justify its price tag. It may be one for a sale, but by then, the slew of releases on the eShop will have continued and there’ll be something else demanding your money. For this assignment, more revision was needed to achieve a better grade!