22nd Apr2020

‘Dead or School’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Phil Wheat

Dead or School is the latest hack ‘n’ slash title to come out of the Far East, and yes it does involve schoolgirls in peril (when DOESN’T it?). Hence the title… But this one is a little different than the rest. Conceived as a side-story to director and artist Mokusei Zaijuu’s self-published sci-fi manga Machine Doll Nanami-chan, the game was successfully crowdfunded and launched on Steam in 2018; before hitting the Switch and PS4 in Japan a year later. And now we have a Western release of a game that – for all intents and purposes – feels very much like a simpler (if that’s possible) version of the Onechanbara series.

The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo where humans live in isolation underground in fear of the Zombie infestation above ground. After hearing stories of high school life above ground from her grandmother, our protagonist, Hisako, dreams of experiencing this mysterious and energetic lifestyle for herself; wearing her grandmother’s old school uniform (any excuse) Hisako ventures into the zombie-infested Tokyo in order to reclaim the city and go to school – travelling through locations such as Shinjuku, Asakusa, Akihabara and Roppongi Dead or School sees players attempt to defeat the zombie infestation overthrowing the city.

Essentially a 2.5D adventure that is part Castlevania, part Onechanbara, Dead or School is the kind of pick-up-and-play title that Switch was made for. Only… The graphics, at times, are so small that playing it on the Switch is like squinting at someone in the distance whilst trying to control how and where they move. Honestly, this is definitely a game that plays better – at least in terms of actually being able to see what’s going on – in docked mode. With a huge TV. OK, OK, so I might be over-exaggerating slightly but the graphics are – at times – tiny. Yes, I get that the developeers are trying to show a sense of scale and allowing players to see what’s up ahead – but having your game zoom in and out just so players can see when they’re in the midst of battle surely has to be questioned? Right?

That quibble aside, I actually enjoyed Dead or School quite a lot.  now mind you I love [mindless] hack & slash games so your mileage may vary. Though this isn’t as mindless a games as you’d think. There are a myriad of upgrades available to aid Hisako in her quest for an education – weapons can be upgraded for even more destructive force while hidden collectables will reveal more about the truth behind the zombie apocalypse. And it’s this upgrade system that gives Dead or School a little more depth than one would first imagine. Decisions about what weapon to upgrade, when to upgrade it, etc. can really alter how easy or difficult this game can be – outside of the traditional difficulty settings that is. You can spend ages upgrading your sword only to find you need a high powered gun to easily make it through a wave of enemies and vice versa. It’s an interesting RPG-like touch built into what is a more traditional side-scrolling hack and slash title.

With plenty of areas to explore and plenty of missions to take on – and a system that does NOT favour you going in all guns, or swords, blazing – the stamina bar is a killer at times – Dead or School is well worth the time (this is a 30-40 hour game folks!) and money if your a fan of quirky Japanese games and hack/slash titles.

Dead or School is available on the Nintendo eShop now.

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