Introducing: DEAD OR SCHOOL review
Who has ever wished for going to school? Well, you didn’t? No wonder, you probably don’t live in the underground of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo as Hisako does. 78 years ago a virus caused humans to mutate into mindless killing machines resulting in a war between humans and mutants. Humanity lost and was henceforth banished into the underground as living on the surface was too dangerous. Hisako, a young girl born and raised in the tunnels wants to change that after her grandmother gives her an old school uniform. Now Hisako’s on a mission to find friends, reach the surface, wipe out the mutants and finally go to school. Oh, and also find out why most of the people have lost all memory of their past before the apocalypse.
DEAD OR SCHOOL is a 2D action RPG with platforming elements. You control the heroine on her way to the surface and rescue others. You’ll find valuables, level up and modify your weapons. Speaking of weapons, your arsenal consists of three types: swords, machine guns and launchers. You always carry around one of each and can modify them with reinforcement or modification gears as well as attachments. With two attachments per weapon type and each weapon type with a skill tree of its own, there are endless ways of fine-tuning the combat necessities to your play style. And just in case something goes wrong, the skill trees can be reset so you don’t need to fear wasting valuable skill points.
This is not the Tokyo you were looking for!
Completing your mission means traversing through different parts of Tokyo. Each of them is filled with mutants you need to kill, refugees you need to find and objectives you need to clear. The levels themselves are rather straightforward and linear. Sometimes you are forced to take detours or return back to a certain place at a later time, but the mini-map on the top right corner of the screen will always be there for you. Refugees, loot (called souvenirs in the game) and objectives are always clearly marked as are the save points. Here your progress is saved, your weapons are replenished and you have the means to customize your weapons and skills.
It can be tricky to reach them sometimes, because the mutants usually ambush you by blocking both ends of the screen so you can’t run away. The blockade will only vanish after you defeated all the waves of mutants coming at you. How many of them are out for your flesh can be seen in the bottom right corner of the screen. The game is usually fair with what it sends at you, but I did have the bad luck of needing to finish off a level 45 mutant with me being only at level 11 once. The boss of that stage was at level 14, so I have no idea what was going on, but finetuning my weapons and working on my attack patterns did the trick. Got some nice XP and gear from that opponent, so it was worth the fight, too.
Apart from side quests and exploring all nooks and crannies of the levels, there isn’t much to do. Don’t worry, the platforming sections will keep you on your toes, simply because jumping from moving platforms to moving gears while still fighting mutants is both tricky and immensely rewarding at the same time. The game is not too punishing and never unfair. All the souvenirs you find can be viewed in a train wagon and you can rematch the bosses of the levels, too, if you are so inclined.
It’s dark out there, take care!
Taking place in tunnels, it is no wonder that the game looks dark and gloomy. Mixing this with an anime aesthetic during conversations, it is nice on the eyes. There is a bit of fanservice at times, but it’s neither the main part of the game nor is it too much. It actually quite fits the over the top narrative of wishing to to to school after an apocalypse. The music being dark and heavy accentuates the style of the game. It’s pleasant without being distracting.
Where are you?
Where am I? That’s a question that you’ll be asking yourself quite a lot when you play DEAD OR SCHOOL. Not only because of the sheer number of mutants on the screen, but also because said screen is crowded with unnecessary stuff. No one needs a permanent portrait of the heroine in the upper left corner. While the overview of selected weapons and available ammunition is a must, it doesn’t need to use that much space in the bottom left corner. With the mini-map placed in the top right one, you end up with a green arrow to help you find your character on screen a number of times. Additionally, the font used to list your objectives is too tiny.
While all of this is tolerable on a large TV, it’s worse when you play handheld. The objectives aren’t decipherable any more unless you glue your eyes directly to the display. That’s a shame and should have been avoided.
Other than that, DEAD OR SCHOOL runs well on the Switch.
DEAD OR SCHOOL is an interesting entry in the action RPG category. While not perfect, it’s well made and well written and can delight you for hours with its carefully thought out skill tree and weapon customization options.
- Dark atmosphere and slaying mutants
- Weapon customization and skill tree
- Over the top writing of the story
- Wasteful use of screen real estate
If you have a penchant for fighting mutants in a 2D environment and are in for a game with deep customization options, DEAD OR SCHOOL is the game for you.