It’s a tale as old as time. You’re the goody-two-shoes daughter of a cranky village chief. Your friends never include you in their subterranean adventures. Mutated abominations run rampant across Tokyo, forcing society to scrape by for years in a crumbling subway system. Life isn’t easy for a wannabe schoolgirl named Hisako, and Studio Nanafushi’s Dead or School sure wasn’t easy for me.
Dead or School is a bizarre 2.5D side-scrolling JRPG filled with plenty of ridiculous bosses, characters, and fan service. It takes place nearly 100 years after a zombie-apocalypse leaves humanity struggling to survive underground. After hearing tales of a place called “school” from your grandmother and being gifted her old uniform, Hisako embarks on a journey to the surface, where she plans to save children and attend school. Or, she will die trying.
Get it…? Dead or…Dead or School? Ahem.
It’s a ludicrous concept and an appropriate setting for this game. Dead or School leans heavily on a lot of RPG tropes, meaning it is a game built around collecting and upgrading weapons and grinding XP or gold until you’re about as brainless as the zombies on the other side of your rocket launcher. I am usually not the person to play these games, mostly because I don’t have the patience for them. And yet, after I accepted the silly plot and completed a fairly painless tutorial, I began working my way through the game and found myself surprisingly addicted.
Dead or School’s tone often shifts from super-serious survival RPG to raunchy visual novel. At it’s best, it’s a quirky zombie story with some colourful world-building done through side quests and collectables. At it’s worst, it’s an overblown mess that you learn to ignore. The characters have fewer dimensions than the game’s graphics, and the story is filled with plot holes, but that’s not what you come to Dead or School for.
First and foremost, I greatly enjoy grinding in this game. To friends who watch me play it, I look like an insane person. To them, I’m just running back and forth between save points, selling loot, and wailing on packs of monsters until I can afford a precious skill point…okay, that is all I’m doing. But, getting stronger feels so rewarding, and having the game on Switch means I can take it wherever I go and knock out levels in bite-size sessions of 20 or 30 minutes. You are given three basic weapon styles: melee, rifle, and launcher. Within these styles are subcategories, such as axes versus rapiers, or sniper rifles versus shotguns. You can specialize in a weapon type using the skill tree, but the game frequently introduces you to new enemies, such as flying beasts or rolling cannons, which force you to switch up your style. This is where combat gets tricky.
I have only tried Dead or School on normal difficulty, but the game offers a fair amount of challenge which forces you to learn its systems. If you become good at the dodging mechanic and select the right weapon modifications, you can whiz through the levels. My problem was, well, I’m not very good at side scrolling RPGs. My strategy consisted of collecting passive weapon mods that summon attack drones, and upgrading the bejesus out of my sword because the power attack looks cool. I am not even ashamed to say I had to get my roommate to help me defeat a boss by the name “Huge Horn,” because if that’s what it took to propel me through the story, I’m okay with that.
Studio Nanafushi’s tiny studio faced intense budget limits due to a failed Indiegogo campaign that accumulated only 20% of its goal. Despite setbacks, the trio completed the game, albeit with some major flaws. Most of these concerned aesthetics.
I will forgive some of the game’s problems, such as its mediocre soundtrack and limited character illustrations, but my biggest issues are with its interface. This list of complaints is basically endless: your character is way too small, there are too many pop-up stats and indicators I can’t turn off, inventory management is a mess, and the 2.5D can become confusing to look at. The worst sin Dead or School commits is its crazy complicated HUD that makes anything around the border of the screen very hard to see. If Nanafushi did not try to show you every number involved in gameplay, which I rarely care about anyway, the game would be a lot more palatable.
The fan service in the visual novel portions of the game felt unavoidable. I do not enjoy it, but I can see what they were going for. It didn’t get in the way of gameplay except for whenever your outfit “breaks” due to damage (yeah) and you have to watch a 5-second cut scene just to tell you your health is low. There are also some quests involving tasks such as finding sexy clothes for your friends, which are just unnecessary and conflict with many moments in which the game tries to make you take it seriously.
I have a few complaints about the actual gameplay. There were a few times I got stuck on a boss and found myself sick of grinding, but I can probably chalk this up to not trying hard enough to get skilled at combat. As far as the game space goes, I think ’s platforming element is extremely undeveloped and could have offered a lot of interesting layers to combat and verticality. Too often, the map becomes a flat line broken up by the same static enemy encounters.
I have not finished the game, but I put a good 15 hours in, and I know I’m going to keep playing. There is a useful gallery of cut scenes I have been using to track my progress, and it seems that I am a little over halfway through. Despite its flaws, Studio Nanafushi has done a good job with the time and budget they were given, delivering a fun, full game.
While I played Dead or School on Switch, I don’t recommend you play it on the television, as the screen is hard to look at from a distance for long. I would recommend this be played on PC or handheld on the Switch.
Dead or School is available on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4
This review is based off the Nintendo Switch Verison of the game and can be purchased here for £24.99.
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Dead or School
Join Hisako’s fight for survival against the zombie infestation overrunning Tokyo and defend her right to a normal school life in this fast-paced 2.5D adventure. Forced into isolation underground by the zombie apocalypse, Hisako has little understanding of the world above. After hearing stories about schools aboveground, Hisako dons her grandmother's school uniform and takes up arms against the undead horde with one goal in mind: to become a school girl!
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 24.99