Dead or School (PlayStation 4)

A new side scrolling adventure has just dropped on PS4 from developer Studio Nanafushi and Publisher Marvelous Inc, but just what grade does this game deserve? Let’s take a look.

The story of School or Dead sees you take on the role of Hisako, a girl who has been forced to spend her whole life living underground. The human race has been forced to abandon the surface due to a long war that they evidently lost against hordes of mutants, once proud humans who were infected by a virus leaving them nothing short of zombie like killing machines.

Bunkered down below the surface, the remnants of humanity cling to life under constant threat that they to will fall victim to the virus that ravaged the population. Hisako however has a dream and a will to break free of the dark underworld humans created, to exist and instead build a school under the vast skies where she can learn and play with friends. In a world where kids are given rifles rather than text books though, just where will her dream take her.

School or Dead’s story plays out using a visual novel style, with imagery that could have been pulled right from the pages of a manga. From the dialog to the action sequences, every part of it looks great and while there are a few text errors and some repetition to the story points with dialog being repeated not 10 minutes after you had already learned about it – I found what I played thus far enjoyable and interesting.

The visual aspects of the gameplay leaves a little to be desired. The character and foes are not what I would called detailed, but if you like these type of games then its likely not going to be a issue here. Most of the titles other visuals throughout the game I.e the stages and backgrounds, can range from simple stone to detailed backdrops of Akihabara – though there seem to be some small bugs I will point out. They are more of a mild nuisance than any type of real issue that will affect your experience, for instance character sliding or stuck at a angle. As I say it’s rare, but noticeable, and only lasts a moment or so meaning it wont effect game play all that much.

Audio for the title is limited to only a few tracks for the BGM, but I have to say it works well. For high tension battles or setting the tone of the conversations, there is just something so satisfying with clubbing a mutant over the head with guitar and drums blasting away in the background.

The game play is somewhat like what would be expected of a metroidvania with your character scrolling across the screen and taking routes to new areas as you cut your way through opponents. One of the key parts that I really liked was the fact that foes can also be set in the foreground and background, with the former jumping from the screen to engage in battle with you and the latter attacking you from a distance.

As you may have noticed above I used the word cut giving you a hint of using blades as a weapon type, however you will also have a machine gun you can use and aim with alongside a launcher again aimed with the stick. The 3 weapon types allow for a few play styles, with the durability and ammo count relying on you using the right tool at the right time, as you progress through the underground stations rescuing survivors and racking up exp and skills.

Combat in dead or school sees you take down foes with each of these weapons while avoiding attacks. If your HP drops below a certain threshold your outfit will tear and you receive an attack and defence buff. Most of the combat will be tackled in waves with you trapped in an area with enemies that require you to defeat them before you can progress.

Overall I found the combat fun and enjoyable and as I progressed somewhat challenging, Fortunately if needed you can adjust the difficulty at any time, though i did not find normal mode to be unfair and seemed balanced.

Another note I would like to add is some of the more optional areas offer some spice to this already fun little hack and slash RPG. Those aiming for full completion will find plenty to enjoy, with areas that are time limited or require solving puzzles such as playing a certain notes on a guitar. Admittedly some of these optional areas gave me a hard time but it broke up the gameplay enough to make all of it seem fresh.

Overall I have to give the title a passing grade and a gold star for enjoyability. Sure it’s a little rough around the edges, but I still wanted to get back to it when I could and the gameplay didn’t ever feel like a chore. If you’re a fan of metroidvanias then I would recommend checking this one out, with a little luck i’ll be returning myself to finish off the rest of those optional areas.

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