Swordsmanship, government agents, drug dealers, and a fractured psyche work well together in Katana ZERO, a pixelated neo-noir thriller that takes you for one hell of a ride. Smooth mechanics, beautiful visuals and fast-paced combat make for a great hack-n-slash, and a deep story brings a far more cerebral experience as well.
Katana ZERO was released on April 18th for the Nintendo Switch and PC. I picked up the game on May 30 for the PC. To say the game is bingeable is an understatement. Unfortunately, the game is also short — I completed the base storyline, with two different endings, in about five hours. It’s left me wanting for more out of the game that I know Askiisoft and Justin Stander, the developer and programmer, can definitely provide. There has been news that free DLC is coming, which should aid in resolving the many loose ends left at the end of the story and set the stage for future content.
However, the replay value of the game is fantastic — different actions in-game can lead to different endings, secret fights, and unlockables. An update also gave the game “Hard Mode” and “Speedrun Mode” which enhance the gameplay experience by giving players different goals to strive for. The two modes in and of themselves are pretty self-explanatory.
The game’s visuals matched its fluid combat and sublime scenery — the pixelated graphics lent themselves well to the theme of the game. I have an average computer, not meant for gaming, and it ran with no problems on the base settings. I also didn’t experience any dips in frame rate. The bright, neon hues of the game’s setting, New Mecca, were gorgeous on my computer. The city was a character in and of itself, animated by the grumpy, loud, and unforgettable minor characters within.
The game is also relatively bug-free. There were moments when my cursor hovered over a certain section on one side of my computer, I would glitch out of the in-game cursor. As a result, I would be unable to attack, parry or throw anything, which killed me more than once. However, I would like to state that this was pretty rare, and it didn’t affect my experience overall.
Aside from that, I found that the game was challenging in a very rewarding way — I’m a novice at PC games, so learning the controls and adapting to the game’s rapid playstyle took me a while, and I definitely felt frustrated at times by certain enemies (looking at you, riot shields). However, no enemy, boss or otherwise, was ridiculously difficult. The game is unforgiving — one hit is all it takes to lose your progress. Most of the enemies follow these same rules. The difficulty will not coddle you, but PC veterans may find this game a lot easier than I did. Enemies don’t, however, have access to an ability integral both to your character and the plot — precognition and time manipulation.
Yes, that should work (Mechanics)
One of the game’s coolest mechanics is the protagonist’s ability to plan out the way forward — upon “dying”, you restart at the beginning. When you pass, he says “Yes, that should work,” whereupon you watch the security tape of the main character passing through the level in the same way that you did. Combine this with the protagonist’s master swordsmanship and incredible agility and you’ll feel like you’re superhuman as you dart through the levels, cutting down every opponent you see. The protagonist is also able to perceive time slowing down to a crawl, giving him time to deflect bullets back at enemies as they fire them.
Design and Story
On the audio side, the soundtrack is beautiful, filled with lo-fi anthems and music chosen specifically for each level. The game does a great job of integrating the music into the experience. I felt like the cutscenes meant something, rather than being another boring obstacle to get through. I was heavily invested in the story’s outcome. The game does a great job getting you hooked by throwing you right into the fire. Immediately, with little context and even less information about your first objective, you’re forced to learn about the world.
The story itself is a masterwork in plot development. Askiisoft does a great job at assembling a story around you instead of sitting you down and telling you what happened. You don’t just passively consume it — you actively learn many details as you progress through the story.
The dialogue really impressed me. It never ever felt forced. Each character seemed very much alive and unique, each with their own voice and goals. This game had some of the most unique and unforgettable characters I’ve ever seen in a video game. The game also does a great job of really messing with your head. Unfortunately, I can’t get into examples without spoiling plot elements.
If you’re looking for a hack-n-slash with a great sci-fi plot and unique premise, then I’ve got something for you. Aside from the appearance of a frustrating bug every so often, Katana ZERO runs flawlessly and looks beautiful. The story is one of my favorites in a video game ever. I promise that you’ll find yourself wanting for more after finishing.
KATANA ZERO [PC]