Friday, May 22nd, 2020

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Like I said earlier, DEAD OR SCHOOL has lots of Metroidvania elements, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a proper example of the genre. You don’t really get new abilities to help you explore. Instead, you’ll find key cards and such to unlock new areas, and you can use Hisako’s nimble acrobatics to get around. She can run pretty fast, double jump, and even cling to and swing from certain structures. You’re able to explore as much as you want to, and you are free to ignore optional sidequests. That said, it’s good to try a few, since each one will reward you with experience, and you’ll need to keep your level about even with the foes in your area. For example, when I got to the third level of the game, I quickly encountered a lot of foes at level 18, while I was only at 14. I was able to do okay initially, but then I wandered too far afield and found some level 21 foes. Suffice to say, they walloped me. Thankfully, the game is generous, and you don’t lose any experience or progress when you die (and I died a lot). The only downside is you do lose some cash, which isn’t that big a deal. All you use cash for is to buy parts and weapons, which are randomly populated in the shop you can access through the save points. Usually there’s a lot of items you can totally ignore. That said, I strongly recommend you either buy a weapon with a drone, or equip a part that provides a drone. Those little bastards saved my ass more than once, since they hover around you hitting foes with lasers. They’re not fast or super powerful, but they can hit foes from a distance, and they have unlimited ammo. Whenever I found an irritating section in DEAD OR SCHOOL, I would usually camp where a foe couldn’t hit me, and let my drone whittle their health away. Sure it’s cheap, but sometimes you need to be a bastard to get through this game.

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Overall, I do feel the balance in DEAD OR SCHOOL is mostly fair. Generally you’ll only be losing to a boss because you’re not paying attention to their attacks and avoiding them properly. Or maybe you’re not timing those dodges well, and missing out on the enemy being temporarily slowed down. But every once in a while you’ll find something that might be frustrating in this game. A good example is in Harajuku. One area had me fight wave after wave of foes and then get to two rotating gears I had to navigate. Problem was, I was instantly locked into a fight room, which was tricky since it involved moving gear teeth. Adding insult to injury, once I survived that, I stumbled upon another fight room, and once past that, it was punctuated by a terrifying slasher mini boss fight. This goes to show that though most of the combat mechanics are well balanced, sometimes the developers didn’t have a fair and balanced approach to stage layouts. It’s nothing that is game breaking, but having more save points or even less continuous stretches of mutant hordes would have definitely helped, especially considering I’m only a few levels into the game, and I can tell there’s plenty more. I can only imagine how difficult things will become later in the experience.

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It’s no secret by now that I exclusively play my Switch in handheld mode. And yes, I’m aware that doing so often means the games run less optimally or that the sound is especially muted. That’s very much not the case in DEAD OR SCHOOL. The game runs very smoothly, even with large groups of foes, and the music is catchy and does a great job of motivating you. Even the sound effects are really dynamic and attention grabbing, from the rat-a-tat of your gunfire to the shrieks of rage or pain from Hisako to the groans of filthy mutant scum. It does a great job of drawing you into the experience, and kept me entertained.

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Now that I’ve talked about the good, it’s time to unveil what DEAD OR SCHOOL did wrong. Earlier I touched upon the translation of the game, and how it has odd grammatical choices and bad punctuation. Frankly, most of the dialogue is forgettable. It doesn’t do a good job of showcasing the personalities of the characters, maybe with the exception of Yurika. She very much comes across as the mature woman trying to look professional yet being a total spaz. A bigger problem I have is understanding all the menus. Some things the game does a good job of explaining, such as the many tutorials for combat. Much as I appreciate that, I still don’t understand all the ins and outs of weapon customization, just as one example. Plus they can just be tricky to navigate, such as the parts menu. Having a way to organize or filter them all would be amazing. And while visually I like a lot here, such as the comic book illustrations, the way enemies jump in combat from the background and the various mutant designs, the models during gameplay felt constrained and small. Plus it’s just disconcerting how each foe has a wide red outline. Oh and much as I love the save points, it’s annoying how every time you use one, all surrounding foes respawn, including fight rooms that lock you in. Perhaps the wonkiest is the physics in DEAD OR SCHOOL. If you’re on anything other than a flat surface, things go to hell. Hisako slides down diagonal slants and even gets caught in stage geometry surprisingly frequently. On the plus side, the same also happens with foes, so more than once I dealt with a nasty mutant by trapping it in stage geometry then murdering it with my drone.

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All things said, I did really enjoy what I’ve played thus far in DEAD OR SCHOOL. I just worry it’ll be a challenge to beat the game given the issues I’ve covered, as well as some others, such as the game seemingly forgetting settings I input when I started the game. But despite all those rough spots, I feel there’s a really promising adventure here. Sure, it still needs work and polish, but if you can look past that, it’s a really unique title that many will enjoy. Just get ready for when Hisako has to kill a tank…

Dead or School | Combat 14

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.

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