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In Dead or School you play as Hisako, a young girl living underground away from the danger of mutants, who after being told of the surface by her grandmother and the wonders of school up there will stop at nothing to retake the surface from the mutant hordes and finally be able to go to school for herself and make plenty of friends. Her journey takes her to various train stations as she liberates the people trapped in different states of siege from the mutants on the surface, but the further she goes, the more she learns that her goal of getting to go to school might be more difficult than just fighting mutants when she discovers not only dangerous plots but also that mutants may not be her greatest threat.
Dead or School takes place in a number of different areas all of which have a metroidvania style layout, while the map looks like it goes all over the place the game actually plays in a side-scrolling fashion with the occasional time taking you up or down. You fight enemies with a vast arsenal of weapons consisting of melee weapons, firearms and launcher weapons and while all the weapons are covered by the simple terms like sword, gun and launcher, the weapons you get to use are incredibly varied. Under the sword category you can get traditional blades that are quick and easy to use but they also don’t have too high a damage output, whereas weapons like hammers and axes are slow to use but also deal a relatively massive amount of damage. Guns are just as varied as the swords and like you might expect but where melee weapons all have pretty much the same basic function, this category encompasses weapons such as assault rifles, shotguns and other small arms of that nature. While these weapons are all classified as guns due to their nature they are all much more different than say the difference between two melee weapons, one gun might fire in a straight line while another might split off into the three different directions. Lastly there are the launchers and these are as different from one another as the guns are, essentially they are guns but due to the massive difference in power to the guns and their area effects they are much more than simple firearms. As such because of their power output, you don’t get much ammo for these weapons as you do fro the guns so you have to pick the best moment to use them rather than just blasting away willy nilly.
Having such varied weapons gives Dead or School a unique feel to it and because the weapons are so different it means that you can pick some and have a certain play style for one loadout and another for a different set of weapons. For example if you have a samurai sword, a shotgun and a grenade launcher you might want to get in close to your enemies and destroy them that way and use the grenade launcher to give yourself an edge against bosses, whereas if you had a hammer, an assault rifle and a hellfire cannon, you might want to keep at more of a distance since the hammer is so slow you might only want to use it on those enemies you’ve gotten good at dodging an know you can get in close and use the assault rifle to pick the others off from a distance and you could use the hellfire cannon’s area of effect ability to take out groups of enemies at once. Odds are though that you’ll discover which weapons work for you and just upgrade to the better version of the same one when you get to the next area. The firearms do have ammo counters you have to watch out for though and the melee weapons have a durability counter which while it doesn’t render the weapon useless, it does drastically reduce it’s effectiveness. Everything has to be recharged at save points, with the exception of stamina, if Hisako is low on ammo and life and her melee weapon has lost all of its durability then you have to make due until you can make it to the next save spot. If you think after you’ve just cleared a wave of enemies that blocks you in that you can just go and recharge at the save point and continue on then you’ll be forced to face the same enemies you just defeated because the enemies come back every time you access a save point. While they do come back, if you can manage to get to the save point after them, you won’t get blocked in if you go back that way even though the enemies respawn.
As well as the weapons you can also find items that give you added effects such as allow your back attacks to deal more damage or give you more life and stamina, you can have two of these equipped per weapon type but to stop you from having too much power, Dead or School uses a weight system to force you into having a certain set up. Say you’ve just entered a new area and the weapons for that area are better than anything you have, you may not be able to equip them all immediately forcing you to have to defeat some of the enemies first to level up and earn the right to use those weapons as your weight limit increases. As you explore you’ll also find souvenirs and refugees that will give you a small boost to your stats, they’re easy enough to find since they’re marked on the map but the hard part is actually getting through the enemies to reach them, though at a certain point you won’t have to be skilled at combat to reach them since the areas shift more to a puzzle solving environment, these means that you’ll have to master platforming and timing to get to the end. One puzzle might have you doing what is essentially river rafting while another might have you making a mad dash towards the ceiling to avoid an enormous buzzsaw that’s following you up the screen. These puzzle elements are a change of pace that, while not impossible, do test the limits of your patience, especially if you’re not particularly skilled at platforming. Among the things you can find while exploring the world of Dead or School are red chests that give you a pile of loot when you break them open but most often they are a pain to get to since there are usually tough enemies lurking around it tends to mean that the contents of the box aren’t worth fighting for, especially if you need to have more than one attempt to get it.
While Dead or School can be difficult sometimes, namely in the times where it feels like your enemies are never ending, the challenge isn’t so much that it’s insurmountable. Dying isn’t the major downside you think it might be since the game will only relieve you of about 10% of your money and though you may have to trudge your way to get back to where you were, the amount of items and money you’ll receive along the way will more than make up for what you lost, add to that the fact that you can fast travel between save spots and navigating the game world isn’t nearly the chore it could be. Sure you may die over and over again but you’ll keep any items and experience you’ve managed to collect before you died which means that not only will you most likely learn enemy patterns and gradually improve but it may actually get easier between each attempt if you level up during your struggles. There’s also a skill tree for each of the weapon types Hisako can use to make things easier on a core level by allowing her to move faster, deal more damage or use less stamina when doing certain moves. You’ll get a skill point every time you level up but you can also be granted them by finding certain refugees or souvenirs.
The money you find in game is relatively meaningless in that there’s a way you can get all you need without much effort so you don’t really need to sweat about it if you lose some from dying, since you can pick up a seemingly limitless amount of items and weapons and then sell them, that is likely where the majority of your money will come from. The money is used to improve the effectiveness of your weapons but they can only be improved up to a maximum level of 10, with the upgrades being more expensive depending on how powerful the weapon is. As you explore you’ll also come across modification gears that allow you to add effects to your weapons such as making them deal a certain percentage more damage to an enemy or granting you more experience when you defeat them, a weapon can be modified as many times as you like so long as you have the gears, the only drawback is that the modifications are random and you can only have one at a time since they will replace the current one so if you’re holding out for a good one it can be a bit of a gamble.
Dead or School is a side scrolling hack and slash shooter combo with a lot of promise and though it’s not the prettiest game by a long shot and the story isn’t the best considering Hisako’s flimsy motivation, personally I would have thought retaking the surface would be enough but all she cares about is going to school and that’s why she does everything she does. The game itself is one that’s fairly decent, enough to make most who play look past the rough edges. There’s a lot of little annoyances but there aren’t enough to detract from the fun of the game, what does get annoying however is the way the game feels as though it’s been artificially lengthened by bombarding you with inescapable enemies at every turn, the last level for example is a veritable who’s who of most of the game’s enemies and bosses. Often throughout the game you’ll be set upon by hordes of enemies in the most inconvenient places, such as right before a save point which means that if you get defeated you have to go through all of those enemies again.
I’d recommend fans of side-scrollers to give this one a go and for those of you who like your trophies you’ll be glad to know that obtaining the platinum for this game is a relatively easy task, in that you only really have to play the game as you normally would, which means if you’re a bit of a completionist like I am then you won’t have to go out of your way to get that coveted platinum.
If you want to get Dead or School then you can find it at the links below or if you want to learn more about it you can find more information here;