If the concept of free to play games, especially on consoles, leaves you feeling a bit icky, you’re not alone. I too usually cringe at the idea of enjoying what is essentially a demo of something before the hard sell kicks in, and am left wondering why there wasn’t an option to just buy the thing outright rather than shell out for it piecemeal. Of course we know the answer, horror stories about children spending hundreds of dollars of their parents’ money on micro transactions in hot garbage like Candy Crush or Game of War have been Internet legend ever since the advent of downloadable gaming, and the idea of otherwise responsible adults mindlessly doing the same thing isn’t completely outside the realm of believability.
Fighting games like Killer Instinct and Dead or Alive 5: Last Round have done well with having disparate all-inclusive and free to play options, though Namco’s last round of Tekken and SoulCalibur installments were clearly intended to be purely money grubbing and soulless affairs, and deservedly received a less than warm critical and commercial reaction. My brief time with those left a sour taste in my mouth, wishing for an actual new game in the franchises and not an obvious quick and dirty cash grab, which led me to swear off anything free to play in the future. But could an actual free to play experience, one without a fully paid element actually manage to suck me in, and even have me participating in a few micro transactions without feeling like I needed a bleach shower afterwards? I didn’t think so. Until now.
Let It Die is the latest magnum opus of action game weirdness from Japanese developer Goichi “Suda51” Suda’s Grasshopper Manufacture. Best known for off the wall hits like Killer 7 and No More Heroes, the boutique developer was quietly acquired by Japanese mobile giant GungHo Online Entertainment, they of Ragnarok Online and Puzzle & Dragons fame, in 2013. So it’s no surprise that the first GH game to emerge afterwards has gone the mercenary, free to play route, what is a surprise though is how much of Suda’s batshit insane id has come along for the ride.
The Jackals are akin to the NPC Hunters in Bloodborne, though they appear to be completely unkillable without glitches and a considerable amount of effort.
First of all, yup, from a bare bones gameplay standpoint Let It Die is pretty much a Dark Souls clone, and a kind of floaty, spazzy one at that, lacking the impressive heft and weighty tactile feel of Bandai Namco’s medieval moneymaker. Click in R3 to lock on, shoulder buttons perform various attacks. Both melee and ranged weapons hit hard and there are plenty of them to choose from, though there’s no magic or anything like that to fool with. Face buttons handle jumping, blocking and rolling but other than that if you know from Souls you’ll know this.
LID eschews the Souls series’ Berserk inspired blood soaked dark ages milieu for a more modern, urban one of industrial concrete. In some nebulous near future post apocalypse, a “Tower of Barbs”, has appeared in the center of the world, piercing the heavens, causing survivors to fight their way to the top of it to become “closer to God”. Or something. It’s all part of the game’s wacko “gives no fucks” aesthetic that sets it a cut above your typical Japanese 3D hack and slash shovelware, and it all begins with Uncle Death.
You’ve seen Uncle Death haven’t you? For me this game’s skateboarding grim reaper mascot brought to mind visions of a different enterprise altogether where you took control of said character in some unholy mash up of Dynasty Warriors and Jet Set Radio. The fact that this game isn’t actually that and I still cared enough to put some solid time into it is a testament to just how charming of a motherfucker ol’ UD is. Arcade dwelling, foul mouthed, vaguely Mexican? Uncle Death is your extremely friendly tour guide (screaming encouragement at you through the controller’s speaker) throughout the unforgivingly violent world of Let It Die, and he’s a winner, so much so that if the fabled game I’ve described earlier where you actually control him isn’t already in early development at Grasshopper as we speak then the Japanese development scene is in even worse shape than everyone constantly says it is.
The aforementioned Arcade comes into play in LID’s game within a game, where you can take on specific missions, gain tips, fool with the game’s soundtrack and view hilariously 80’s retro videos explaining the game’s lore. The typical gameplay loop is your usual roguelike dungeon crawler, your character constantly leveling up and progressing through the Tower while looting and killing everything in sight and trying not to die themselves.
Uncle Death will offer encouraging commentary throughout your entire bloody run. The game boasts extremely well done full English voice acting featuring ringers like Steve Blum, Fred Tatasciore and Mark Hamill.
Speaking of dying, that’s where the free to play aspects come in, and they’re refreshingly subdued. True, if you try to cheese dick your way through everything and go ham on high level enemies (not to mention the game’s gruesome spate of Resident Evil-style mutant bosses), you won’t last long in the Tower. But even extremely half assed Dark Souls players (raises hand) should be able to have a good few hours of fun with the game before it ever asks them for a dime.
Is it perfect? Of course not. Even Suda’s best games have always been somewhat beautiful disasters and of course Let It Die fits right in. The soundtrack is a big bone of contention with me, including literally hundreds of Japanese metal and hard rock tracks… that can only be played randomly in the game’s menus and hub. Seriously? The in-game soundtrack is perfectly serviceable techno industrial stuff for this type of game but being able to make playlists of the licensed songs to listen to during the actual gameplay would go a long way towards extending the game’s longevity, especially when grinding through previously traversed floors to gain items and experience for the higher, harder parts of the Tower.
But being rough around the edges has never been a deal breaker in Grasshopper’s canon though and it’s not about to start being one now. This isn’t Kojima we’re talking about here, this is Suda51, and Japanese game development’s red headed stepchild is back in fine mind fucking form. GH has managed to create not only a free to play game that doesn’t suck, but also a Dark Souls clone that isn’t completely shameless when it comes to wearing its influences on its sleeve (looking at you, Lords of the Fallen). Beyond even that though, Let It Die’s got personality. Gory, hilarious, retro obsessed, pro wrestling inspired, meta video game nerd personality. And personality counts for a lot.