Title: Dead or School
Publisher: Marvelous Europe
Genre: Hack and Slash
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Version Tested: Switch
Dead or School is a stellar hack and slash game that wants to be something more. It wants to tell a tale. It wants to be a kind of epic story about a young girl and her misfit band of heroes fighting their way to the surface after spending decades underground.
You see, in Dead or School, humanity has lost the war against the mutants. People have taken to living underground and hoping the mutant threat will eventually go away. After just over 80 years, one young woman, Hisako, has decided she wants to get out of her lot in life and live above ground so she can go to school.
The story is one that is unique enough to strike a chord. You don’t usually see someone fighting to go to school. The coronavirus outbreak may have more kids wanting to go to school more than ever before. The problem with this title is the delivery of the story. Nanafushi did a decent job when you consider its limited budget. Dead or School is a game that tried to hit the street three years ago, but the Indiegogo funding didn’t hit its goals.
There isn’t any voice acting. The story is instead told in anime style panels with over the top, over-sexualized illustrations. There’s a good game in there, but it gets overshadowed by the intended quirkiness the developers built into the title.
The Story in Dead or School
When looking at a game like this, it’s always important to keep in mind the translation from Japanese to English could be the problem. Translation issues don’t appear to be the issue in Dead or School. The writing is merely sub-par.
To some degree, the below-average story beats can be ignored. The art and style of the game are good enough that as long as you don’t find the story all that important and are perfectly fine fast-forwarding through the dialogue, you’ll still have a plenty of good time. I’d recommend not fast-forwarding the very beginning as it does set up the rest of the game. It’s also worth seeing just how hilariously bad the writing gets.
After that first opening scene, which is a bit too long to be that bad, there isn’t much of a need to pay attention to what characters are saying. W to go somewhere or get something in a dialogue balloon, you’ll be fine thanks to the game displaying your goals on-screen at all times. It’s almost like the devs realized the writing wasn’t good enough to make Dead or School hinge on it.
The Art and Mechanics of Dead or School
While the story is sub-par, even bad, the art style and the mechanics are top-notch. Thought of as 2.5D, the graphics look as though they are hand-drawn. Not only does it look terrific, but it’s fun to hack and slash your way through hordes of monsters and mutants. The sword was my favorite weapon throughout the game, but the fact that you also can shoot your enemies down with a machine gun – or sniper rifle – and a rocket launcher is a lovely touch.
Don’t ask why Hisako knows how to wield a sword, shoot a gun, or even carry a rocket launcher. Your question won’t be answered, and it’s better not to worry about it. Just enjoy the ride as she hops, rolls, leaps and runs through level after level, mutant after mutant and boss monster after boss monster.
Along the way, you’ll have the ability to gain new powers and modify your weapons. This is where the RPG comes into play in the JRPG. It’s not the traditional kind. It’s still plenty of fun.
Finding the right combination of modifiers for Hisako and her weapons is more fun than it has any reason to be as a matter of fact.
The quirky, weirdly bad writing does find its way into the art and mechanics as well. Though in this context, that quirkiness works. Dead or School doesn’t directly go after purvos who want to see scantily clad women, but it does offer something for those who are playing it.
You see, once Hisako takes enough damage, her blouse pops open. No, I’m not kidding. Hisako’s blouse pops open, exposing her bra. Rather, it is torn open, and for some reason, this gives the character more strength. This seems to be an intentionally hilarious addition showing self-awareness that had me wondering if all the weird story beats weren’t also intentional. Is it possible the writing is better than I thought and I missed the joke? Nah.
Verdict: To some degree, the three stars I gave Dead or School is a victim of our grading scale. It’s not quite a four-star but more like a 3.5-star title. In other words, it’s a ton of fun that has some serious drawbacks. Chief among those drawbacks is a story that’s not just forgettable but, terrible. If this had better writing – perhaps a bigger budget – Dead or School might even be able to hit an 80 or 90 percent type grade.
- Art style is great.
- Hacking and slashing is legitimately fun.
- Holy cow the story.
- Can't decide whether the sexpot looks are offensive or hilariously self-aware.
Oliver has been a lifelong gamer and a writer for most of his adult life. He came to Nerdstash thrilled to be able to write about what he loves the most again. Whether it’s video games, movies, or television shows, he’s a combination of jock and nerd and the two parts of the whole have figured out how to live peaceably.