Read More: Our interview with director Hideyuki Shin
Last week, I flew out to Los Angeles to play nearly two hours of the final version of Let It Die, the next game from No More Heroes and Killer7 studio Grasshopper Manufacture, at publisher GungHo Online Entertainment‘s El Segundo office. I should mention from the get-go that GungHo covered my flight and stay, and that I wouldn’t have been able to afford to attend and preview Let It Die otherwise.
Let It Die, unlike Grasshopper Manufacture’s earlier games, is free-to-play. At first thought, it’s a bit of a weird combination. The stylish, story-oriented action of Grasshopper Manufacture and lead designer Suda 51’s previous works don’t seem to mix with the free-to-play model. But Let It Die was designed from the beginning as a free-to-play title, and as the first Grasshopper Manufacture title published by GungHo Online Entertainment, which acquired the studio in 2013, leverages its publisher’s know-how in that space.
I played Let It Die from the beginning. The game opens with a cinematic explaining its story. A tectonic disturbance in the year 2026 AD known as the “Earth Rage” split the planet into four territorial masses. Mankind fell into disarray as the four masses became plagued with domination, war, disaster, and famine. The Earth Rage caused the rise of a 1,686-foot tower, named the “Tower of Barbs” and located on the tiny island of South Tokyo, the top of which is said to hold the key to the future. From that cinematic, it moves to another featuring a dystopian South Tokyo and death insurance brokeer Kiwako Seto, who subtly welcome you to the world of Let It Die.
The scene fades out and into an underground subway train—Line 15—filled with premade characters, males on one side and females on the other, all wearing nothing but underwear, and hooked to tubes and wires. This is where you choose your starting character. I chose a male character. The train pulled into an overly-shiny and reflective station and I was greeted by Uncle Death, a skateboard-riding grim reaper who, even though he shows you the ropes, refers to you as “Senpai.” He hands you a Rolodex that allows him to stay in contact with you and sends you on your way. I headed out of the station and to Ikegara, the introductory dungeon.
It wasn’t long before I encountered my first enemy, who was crouching over an enemy he had already killed. Unfortunately, while he wielded a “Buzzsaw Kunckles” weapon, I had nothing but my fists. Luckily, ten or so punches did the trick, but not before rolling around and dodging his attacks. Defeating him let me loot his weapon. There are a lot of weapons to attain in the game—from fireworks launchers to guns, axes, and machetes—which can be equipped on the right, left, or both hands. You can also pick up armor from enemies, which can be placed on the head, upper body, or lower body, depending on the armor. Each piece of equipment has its own durability, which decreases the more its used. Most of the weapons I picked up during my playthrough had very low durability, which makes sense given they were in use by the enemy, but freshly-crafted weapons will start with maximum durability. Everything you pick up is stored in your Death Bag, which has a limited amount of slots. You can set up to three weapons per hand, which you can quickly shift between using the d-pad arrows. I found this method of shifting a little confusing at first, as the left arrow is used strictly to switch between left hand weapons, and the right strictly between right hand weapons, and to go back to the middle weapon from the third, for example, you’ll need to prsss the corresponding arrow twice, but it quickly grew on me during my playthrough.
There are six types of equipment: slashing, blunt, piercing, fire, lightning, and poison. You can hold up to two types of weapons at the same time, so you should pay attention to the type of armor the enemy is wearing and use the weapon types most effective against them. Defeating enemies with a specific type of weapon often enough will raise its Mastery Level, which will allow you to unlock sub-moves, new attacks, and skill boosts. The same Mastery Levels apply across all of your characters, meaning you won’t have to level each one individually.
Combat feels a bit like Dark Souls, albeit more action-oriented. Like Dark Souls, you have stamina that depletes as you perform actions like attacking, dodging, running, and jumping. Your stamina is not represented by a meter, but rather as your heart rate. You’re able to see your heart beat through your character the more it increases, and when it reaches its limit, the character will have to take a second to catch his or her breath. In addition to standard attacks, there are also “Rage Moves,” which are stronger than regular attacks. Each time you deal damage, your “rage” will build up in increase in level until it reaches its maximum amount. Your current rage level is represented by a number next to your health, and when it’s full, you can activate a Rage Move by pressing triangle. The number of gauges the move uses up depends on the current weapon. There are also “Goretastic Attacks” that you can unleash when you stagger an enemy. These are also triggered with the triangle button and vary based on the current weapon.
Continuing my way through the introductory dungeon, I came across my first mushroom. Mushrooms have many uses in Let It Die, but in this instance, I learned their role as a food item. Straight from the mushroom encounter, you can choose whether to eat it or to store it. If you store it, the mushroom will be placed in a “Flick Box” at the top right of screen. You can ‘flick’ through the Flick Box with the touch pad and consume the mushroom later by pressing the right side of the touchpad. Some mushrooms will heal you, while some can have other, perhaps negative effects. On that note, while the right side of the touch pad lets you consume a mushroom, pressing the left side enters a throwing mode that allows you to toss your mushroom at the enemy by pressing X. The first mushroom you encounter is a healing mushroom, which eating briefly puts you in a yoga position while your health restores.
Continuing on, I came across my first treasure chest, grabbed the gear inside, and moved forward. I found a woman trapped under a gate, begging for a mushroom to get her out of her predicament. I threw the mushroom at her and her vitality miraculously returned. She lifted the gate, allowing me to pass. She actually becomes a valuable asset to players after the introductory stage. Past the gate is a staircase, leading to a room with more, higher level enemies. Unfortunately for you, as soon as you kill them, a cutscene triggers and you’re killed by a sniper. The game lets you die, and the title logo appears.
It’s at this point the game is flipped on its side. When you come to, you’re in an arcade. Sitting across from you is Uncle Death, who tells you that he thought you deserved a break from the “Death Drive 128,” which is a game console within the game that you were playing. Uncle Death reminds you of this in case you forgot. You were playing “Let It Die,” this “hack-and-slash rogue-like kind of a thing” that’s supposedly “the best console game ever.” From there you head back into the game. You’ll eventually be able to return to the arcade from the in-game game at any time, where you can do things like get tips from a local pro gamer or take on quests.
Jumping back into the game, you’re greeted with a proper title screen, which is very old school and Doom-esque, and where you can see the latest game-related announcements. All that was there for me at the time was a notification that service for Let It Die had begun. Which was clearly a lie, because the game isn’t out yet. (Shame on you, GungHo.) Hitting “Game Start” brings you back into the train, where you select a character as if you’re starting from the very beginning. But this time, rather than run up the stairs into the introductory dungeon, a previously closed off area is opened, for the first time granting you access to the “Waiting Room,” your base of operations.
The Waiting Room is your hub, situated right under the Tower of Barbs. There’s a lot to do here, so here’s an overview:
- Mushroom Club: Remember the woman I mentioned saving earlier? Her name is the Mushroom Magistrate and she runs the Mushroom Club in the Waiting Room. Here you can buy and attach Skill Decals to your character’s body. Each has its own style and effect. Once you attach a Decal, it will disappear if your character dies or if you decide to remove it. You can also sell Decals you own or trade “Skillshrooms” for Decals, as well as spend Kill Coins to drink the Magistrate’s special stew and get a premium Decal.
- Grill: Here you can grill the mushrooms and beasts you encounter and grab in the Tower of Barbs.
- Choku-Funsha: The equipment shop. Here you can bring in blueprints and materials you find in the tower and have the shop owner develop them to sell in the store. Developing the blueprints you bring him will take some time, which you can shorten by spending premium Death Metal currency. You can also sell any items you may have in your possession for Kill Coins.
- Storage Chest: Here you can store any of the gear and materials you may find throghout the Tower of Barbs to clear space in your Death Bag.
- Rewards Box: Here you can pick up any rewards you earn from completing quests, as well as login bonuses and other presents.
- Uncle Prime: Clearly a play on Amazon Prime, this is a box delivered by Uncle Death with random free goodies for the player. After you open it once, there is a timer until you may open your next Uncle Prime box.
- Elevators: There are two elevators: a janky-looking regular elevator that you can pay Kill Coins to access floors you’ve previously visited, or the pristine “Royal Elevator” that users with an “Express Pass” can use free of Kill Coin charge.
- Fighter Freezer: This is where all your fighters are stored. There are eight fighter types in the game, each with its own number of Skill Decal and Death Bag slots. You can access this freezer to switch between characters or send them on expeditions to attack other players. The eight fighter types include:
- All-Balance: All abilities are balanced. Each attribute can be raised equally.
- Striker: Specializes in close-range attacks. HP and STR are prioritized.
- Defender: Specializes in defense. HP and VIT are prioritized.
- Attacker: Specializes in attacking. STR and DEX are prioritized.
- Shooter: Specializes in shooting. HP and DEX are prioritized.
- Collector: Specializes in collecting materials. Death Bag capacity is high.
- Skill Master: Specializes in skill expansion. Has many Skill Decal slots.
- Lucky Star: Specializes in Fate increase. LUK is prioritized.
- SPLithium Tank: Whenever you defeat a “Hater,” which are the reanimated corpses of yours and other players’ defeated characters, you receive an energy called “SPLithum.” The SPLithium Tank is where that energy is automatically stored each time you return to the Waiting Room. SPLithium is used for research & development and expanding facilities at your base.
- Buffalo Bank: The bank that holds Kill Coins you obtain in the tower. Like the SPLithium Tank, your Kill Coins are automatically stored each time you return to the Waiting Room.
- Metro Front: The player-versus-player hub. Here you can join a team, set up your base’s fighter defenses, and invade other players’ bases. If you choose to invade another player, you’ll take the train to their base and by taking down their defenses, you can steal break their SPLithium Tank and Buffalo Bank to rob them of their stored SPLithium and Kill Coins. You can even capture one of their fighters and bring them back to your base. Invading another player will get you on their Revenge List though, so it’s best to have your own base prepared.
Then there’s “Direct Hell,” an insurance company that offers “special services” to support players. Using these services requires premium Death Metal currency, which you can acquire in the game or with real money via the PlayStation Store. Death Metal can also be exchanged for Kill Coins through Direct Hell services. Another of the insurer’s provisions is “DH Express,” which grants you an “Express Pass” to use various services, such as receivng a “Limited Decal” as a daily login bonus and accessing to the Royal Elevator. The first time you die, you’ll be introduced to Kiwako Seto, Direct Hell’s insurance representative. She loves thinks it’s fantastic when you die. She’ll revive you once for free, but requires a single Death Metal each time following. If you choose not to be revived, you’ll return to your base with your carried gear gone and a reanimation of you—a Hater—running wild in that location.
After browsing around the Waiting Room, you can take a staircase to access the area you let your first character die. You’ll find your previous character there, reborn as a Hater. They’re stronger than average enemy characters, and defeating your own Hater allows you to recruit them as a fighter. You’ll be able to differentiate between these enemies and average enemies easily as their names are colored orange.
Moving on, we’re introduced to “Beasts,” which aren’t as cool as their name makes them out to be. No, these beasts consist of animals like frogs and rats. You can catch them by sneaking up on and grabbing them, then either eat or store them. Beasts have a variety of effects. Eating a frog, for example, will heal you. By storing a beast, you can later grill them, or you can throw them in fire for the same effect. Of course, you can also choose to kill a beast, which will cause mushrooms to sprout from them. These mushrooms vary based on the beast killed.
After making your way through a floor in the Tower of Barbs, you’ll eventually come across an elevator. By activating the elevator switch, you’ll be able to return to the floor again at any time by spending Kill Coins. If you ride the elevator back down to the waiting room, you can store the Kill Coins and SPLthium you gained on the floor in your bank, as well as expend your experience to level up your stats.
The basic flow of Let It Die consists of taking the elevator to the latest floor you’ve reached, working your way up to the next floor, activating that floor’s elevator to create a new checkpoint, and returning to the Waiting Room to expend your stats and enhance your fighter. I continued this flow for a few floors until I eventually reached a mid-boss—the same mid-boss in the “Bloody Tour” developer diary. Luckily, I had watched the developer diary early that day and knew the trick to defeating him. “Coen” is blind, but can detect standard movement. But if you move around quietly—crouching—he won’t be able to hear you, allowing you to sneak up on him every so often for a few attacks before rolling your way back to safety. He’ll scan the environment every so often to find you if you’re being too quiet, but you can quickly move to a new spot when he knows your position. Defeating him unlocks the gate to access that floors elevator, saving it as a checkpoint you can access at any time from the Waiting Room.
Unfortunately, between taking in all the information this game presents you from the early stages and my interview with the director of Let It Die, Hideyuki Shin, this is as far as I got in progressing the Tower of Barbs. I really enjoyed it though. I was worried about the free-to-play concept, but in-game purchases are never thrown in your face from what I played, and Shin-san told me there will never be any pay-to-continue-playing kind of situation. The game’s floor-based, elevator-checkpoint structure allows you to play the game in short bursts—as you would expect of a free-to-play smartphone title, which is great if you don’t have too much time—or for longer periods if you’re looking for a lengthier session. My only real gripe is that a couple of areas on some of the floors I visited were the same or similar to one another. But these similar areas really only made up 10 percent—maybe less—of that floor, so it’s nothing to get crazy about.
Let It Die is coming out this year. Shin-san told me so. We don’t have a date yet, but it’s free-to-play, so if you have a PlayStation 4 and a network connection, there’s no reason not to give this a shot. (Unless you’re a child. You know, lots of blood and stuff.)