Developer: Studio Nanafushi | Publisher: Marvelous | Release Date: March 13, 2020 | Genre: Action/RPG | Reviewed On PS4 Pro
Review Code Provided by Marvelous
Dead or School is an indie Action/RPG from Studio Nanafushi and is published by Marvelous. It is set in an apocalyptic Tokyo overrun by zombies. You play as Hisako, who lives in the underground ruins of Tokyo and hears stories from her grandmother about school life in the remains of modern-day Japan. She gives her a school uniform from when she was a child. She then ventures with a female Civilian Investigator that tries to recover the lost knowledge of civilization. They venture along Shinjuku, Asakusa, Akihabara, and Roppongi to rediscover the world that was destroyed and the origin of the mutants that ravaged the settlements.
The first thing you will notice about Dead or School is the anime art style which sports a 2.5D look. It has sprites for characters with 3D polygonal models for the background and various stage hazards. It’s very similar to something to the looks of Dragon’s Crown, but a little less refined since it comes from a smaller team. The animation is fluid, and background does give the dismal vibe of the world mixed with the over the topness you’d expect from an anime-styled game. You also get some mild fanservice thrown in as well.
The game is played as a 2D sidescroller, but not in the sense of a Metroidvania since you don’t gain abilities via in-game pickups or gating areas that can be only unlocked with certain abilities. The main gameplay loop involves loot drops for weapons that have various perks. You can also get perks via killing enemies or the in-game shops at save points. This is where the satisfaction in the game comes in creating a build for specific enemy types.
There are three different weapon types which include a sword, a mid-range rifle weapon, and a heavy weapon you use against bosses. You also have to account for stamina to go with the post-apocalyptic survivalist aesthetic, but it does feel at odds with the fast-paced action. It causes it to become awkward at times with you constantly resting, and then attacking.
The moveset you have is a double jump and roll. When you roll and do it the instance an enemy is about to strike, time will slow and down and give you additional time to attack enemies. The game’s levels are split into various sections of Tokyo from the electric town of Akihabara to the fashion mecca of Shinjuku, you explore various ruins and take out enemies from zombies to malfunctioning mechs.
Each stage ends with a boss fight which ranges from a body horror influenced blob of human corpses to a malfunctioning Army Tank. These bosses have various patterns and set pieces to deal with. Before the boss battles, you can explore the world, but you are often locked in a room to attack various hordes of enemies. The game loves to do this, and it does get a bit repetitive. Another issue I have with the game is the HUD which can get away with seeing enemies on top and the boundaries of the screen. This can be alleviated somewhat by pressing up on the d-pad to minimize the HUD.
I did wish the devs added more variety to the mainline missions. As a stark contrast, the side missions have more interesting designs such as trying to move a bomb to destroy a wall. These side missions usually culminate in getting a lost item from the present day. It recommended you do these to get extra ability Points which unlock weapon abilities and experience.
The story involves themes of discovery, nostalgia for a lost age, and does throw in some twists to keep it interesting. It does feel secondary to the hack and slash gameplay. It does fulfill giving the actions in the game context and takes a decent stab at the postapocalyptic/zombie genre.
Overall Dead or School is a solid Action-RPG with some somewhat annoying design choices, a decent plot, and plenty of loot to experiment with. It also clocks in around the 20-ish hour mark and costs $27.99 on The PlayStation Store which does give it a great value/cost proposition. It’s worth it if you like the art style and subgenre, but the repetition of encounters may wear on some.