Anime schoolgirls fighting monsters! Yes, it’s a trope that’s been done to death, especially in Japan, but they never stop cropping up every so often. It’s understandable to be skeptical, considering some rely on the trope, alongside blatantly obvious fanservice, rather than genuinely entertaining content. DEAD OR SCHOOL, a hack ‘n’ slash Metroidvania created by Studio Nanafushi, delivers all of this.
In the distant future (how many times I’ve recycled this opening line, I do not know nor care), humans live in underground cities and metros ever since a mutant uprising occurred over seven decades ago. Hisako, an innocent and devoted teen who’s surprisingly skillful with blades and guns, hears about the wonderful world that once was, and finds herself battling with the monsters to save the humans… and hopefully experience school-life for the first time. In any case, the predictable plot and exposition-laden dialogue isn’t particularly memorable. Simply put, it’s just a backdrop for the wacky game at hand.
And good lord, what an ugly game it is. While the rare anime cutscenes are up to snuff, the 3D graphics look like something out of a PS2 game. Not only are there numerous and pointless CGI cutscenes , they’re also blurry and unfocused. The protagonist and some of the enemies have some decent 2D artwork, but everything just looks grainy on the Switch. There’s some comfort to be had knowing that it runs well enough, and the loading times aren’t too bad, either.
Off to a bad start, I know. The redeeming feature, however, is its gameplay. It friggin’ rocks. The enemy count is pretty high in this one. Alongside the usual fodder, you can expect some proper big-uns that’ll swing like crazy, or spam the area with projectiles. Then there are things like sentient TNT barrels and oversized cannons. At times, you’ll be locked in an area and won’t be able to progress until you deal with wave after wave of enemies. Even if they break the flow at times, these counters are usually fun at first, though it can be a pain when you revisit areas and get slowed down by them again.
Since you’ll have little space to maneuver around foes at times, you’ll have to keep on your toes and dodge and leap between attacks. The combat is tight and fast-paced, where you’ll be cycling between a sword, gun and an explosive weapon to dish out damage like crazy. There’s loot galore in this one, with numerous different weapons to collect and upgrade, not to mention perks that’ll give you the edge. You can attach a maximum of two to one of your three weapons that you can carry into battle.
The difficulty tends to ramp up during boss battles and encounters with enemies that are leagues above your current level. Naturally, they’ll recite the same few attacks but at ferocious speed, and their hefty health bar will mean you’ll seldom beat them on your first try. Even if these battles feel a bit samey at times, they’ll no doubt make you sweat.
Luckily, there’s plenty of save points scattered around each level. They also act as shops, and upgrade stations, where you can sell loot for cash to spend on weapon upgrades. Not only will they repair your arsenal and top up your health bar, but they also act as fast travel points. Traversing through each of the non-linear levels is a doddle as a result. It’s especially helpful for completing the rather simple side-quests, and snagging all of the collectibles, which’ll reward you with XP and further stat points.
DEAD OR SCHOOL may be smutty and ugly, but it’s still a damn fine Metroidvania. The slick moment compliments the frantic combat, and the high number of collectible perks and weapons to snag adds a fair bit of variety to the mix. It’s by no means one of the best of its kind, no thanks to its rubbish graphics and uninteresting story, but it’s the gameplay that shines the brightest. For a game like this, that’s what matters the most. Yes, even more than suggestive content…