When I started playing this game, I had the lowest of expectations -- not because it looked cheap; on the contrary, it looked beautiful. I just did not expect to be completely enthralled by the game's art and story like I was. The second I picked up the controller, I was hooked. I practically had to force myself to go to bed, so I could wake up, go to my second job and earn that low wage paycheck to scrape by. But in the end I get to come home and be a time-bending weeaboo samurai that kills corrupt businessmen, watches old samurai flicks and babysits a child while discovering his dark past all in one sitting. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Katana Zero, and it is a MUST play.
You play as a bathrobe waring weeaboo named Zero who lives in the third district in a dystopian city. Zero has no recollection of his past, only that he served in the army in some war that his side lost. To make ends meet he works as a hitman for some rich guy who practically doubles as his psychiatrist. After each meeting he is given a dose of some drug that supposedly gives him his time warping abilities. Af first this seems like just a gimmick but everything ties in to the overall narrative in the story.
While playing you will be constantly wondering if what you see and the things you're doing are even real. This is the first time a game really gave me that feeling of disconnect with the reality I'm playing through. One moment I'm slashing through enemies, dying, reversing time and trying a different route, and the next moment I'm sitting with my employer/psychologist, wondering if the things that are coming out of his mouth are even what he's saying.
As things progress you soon meet the antagonist of the game: another psychopath who revels in the pain of others. In the game you meet others like Zero, and this tale is a narrative rollercoaster with twists and turns that never come off as cheap. I won't give to much away, but this is a game where the story carries the player to the very end. This is, without a doubt, a wonderfully written story.
This game uses a pixel art style, and it not only nails it but makes it a piece of art. This game is not afraid to use colors in each level, with a lot of animation and attention to detail in every set. It is clear that the artists and developers had loads of fun when making this game. The animations are smooth when they need to be and snappy in combat. When you take into account the slow time feature, it works wonders. The only issue that I had was trouble seeing some pickup items, bullets, and some enemies during combat. This is partially due to the small screen I was using, but overall this game is beautiful. They designers added several effects to augment your visual experience for maximum effect.
Like a lot of games I love, the gameplay was both the best part of playing and the most frustrating part. The controller is mapped out wonderfully. Accessing all of Zero's functions is not a problem. However, when in combat, the slowdown abilities can be delayed. I'm not sure if it's because you can't activate it during an attack, but it killed me several times.
Speaking of being killed, I spent a lot of time being killed. Each story mission you are sent through is a gauntlet of stages before you reach the boss or target. Every time you die, you rewind time to the beginning of the current stage. This is very annoying but when you finally kill everyone, it is SO satisfying. The only time-altering ability you have is the slow down time aspect. When you do this, everything slows down, even you. But you are able to make more actions than normal and see incoming bullets much easier, so you can roll dodge away from them. Overall the gameplay is solid, and it's not all just running and slashing. Some sections require you to wall jump and others require a motorcycle. The gameplay does not get stale here.
The game's music tracks are Synthwave, which is all the rage in the online music scene right now. It has that retro console sound and feel to it that really sells the dystopic cyberpunk vibe. There's no voice acting, so you will have to read, which is okay by me, but I understand how some people feel about too many words. The sound effects are good, too. They sound a bit bit-crushed, but that's more to fit with the aesthetic. Put it all together in a cutscene with the flashy anime-like effects and you really have something amazing on your hands.
Conclusion (play this game, play this game)
Play this game. I can't fit enough words in front of your eyes. This game is an absolute must. The best part is that the game left on a cliffhanger, so I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel in anticipation. As of writing, it's on Game Pass for Xbox. Pick it up and give it a go. You won't be sorry.