Review: Angels of Death

The Halloween season may have long passed by now, but that doesn’t mean Playism are done publishing iconic doujin horror titles on Steam. In fact, they seem to just be getting started. Their latest release is Angels of Death, a game which is not as well known as Corpse Party or Mad Father. Despite slightly less name recognition, there’s still a lot to love. Angels of Death is presented with a dark narrative. Everything begins with a girl named Ray waking up in a strange, apparently abandoned, skyscraper. She knows she was at a hospital receiving counseling after her parents died in an accident, but that’s about all. Normally, waking up in such a manner would result in suddenly being overcome by dread. Instead, she takes this rude awakening in stride.

Things become slightly more complicated as this empty locale turns out to actually be the home of a serial killer – and she’s just rudely awakened him. At this point, horror fans are likely predicting that Angels of Death will play out akin to Clock Tower where the protagonist must run and hide often to avoid certain death. Actually, the game takes a quite different path. Young Ray doesn’t actually want to make it out of this utterly absurd location alive. With brooding thoughts surrounding the death of her parents, all she really wants is to finally succumb to death. As such, encountering a psychotic murderer is a blessing. Things get a little more complex when both characters are revealed to be prisoners of the odd building. Killer Zack wishes to leave and Ray hopes to be killed by him.

Between the two, only Ray happens to be a skilled puzzle solver. The pair end up forging a macabre deal where he will kill her if and only if the two make it out of the building. This deal between unlikely partners informs the gameplay that follows. Over the span of four episodes (all contained within the game), players must go through every floor of the mysterious location in order to finally escape. Each floor, however, features its own maniacal master. Zack was just one of many – and most others aren’t willing to listen to anything either person has to say. The easiest way to get past each guardian is simply to outsmart them. Puzzles, action sequences, and even shooting segments come into play on the varying levels of the building.

All of these divergent gameplay mechanics somehow fit in with the top down adventure gameplay. Each one also tends to come as a surprise. Just when you think you’ve got the playstyle pegged, something exciting and new takes place. It’s definitely a pleasant surprise how Angels of Death regularly exceeds expectations. Although horrific in its tale and setting, there’s actually a surprising amount of humor. The game plays out more like a dark comedy than something which is trying to truly scare the player. This works well, as both Ray and Zack have a wonderfully odd chemistry. Then there’s the guardians of each floor who also tend to be irredeemable, but somehow still charming.

There are a few occasions where the writing includes typos or goes off the screen, but most of the time everything is in working order. This allows gamers to become fully immersed in this most unusual scenario. It’s just a shame that, despite there being four chapters, Angels of Death only takes around four hours to complete. Just once you’re really seeing character development for Zack and Ray is when the game ends. Some may even feel unfulfilled by the ending. You won’t likely find much reason to replay the game, either. At times, gameplay becomes a little unfair, but fortunately the developer put up save prompts right before these challenging segments in case of very likely failure.

Angels of Death follows in the footsteps of many other indie horror titles with its pixel art. The cutesy art style ensures that things never really seem all that gory or disturbing (visually). Still, you might find yourself stirred up every so often due to unexpected scenes. For the most part, the soundtrack works well to create a tense atmosphere. There is one song which is honestly more grating than terrifying, but beyond that the included music is suitable despite its obvious indie origins. One facet of the game which doesn’t translate well from its original presentation is the resolution.

One huge difference between Japanese doujin versus indie games is that they often are presented with downright tiny resolutions. The typical PC in Japan just isn’t running with a HD monitor. As such, playing via default windowed mode results in a screen about the size of a sticky note for someone running at 1920 x 1080. Fullscreen mode adapts to this resolution as well as larger ones, thankfully. The only disappointment with fullscreen mode is its inability to scale the game appropriately. Instead of retaining the 4:3 resolution with black bars on the side, the screen is stretched for a widescreen presentation. While still totally playable, you can easily tell that all graphics have been stretched.

Closing Comments:

There’s a lot to love in Angels of Death because it isn’t yet another indie horror copycat. In almost every way it pushes toward different directions. From the offbeat storyline to gameplay which is always shaking itself up, players are in for one heck of a ride. It would have been great if something could be done to enhance the resolution of the title, but that’s hardly a killer flaw. For those who already have a taste for Japanese horror (or are simply looking for something new to try while waiting for Resident Evil 7), Angels of Death is an excellent choice.

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