A dungeon-crawling survival horror and a visual novel filled with zombie waifus? More likely than you think!
This review was made possible via an early review copy from the good folks at Sekai Games. As per devs wishes, there are no major spoilers and I opted to talk about the game via my first impressions. Thank you for the opportunity!
The zombie genre in video games is one that is far from uncharted. From your Resident Evils to your Oneechanbaras, zombies have been a staple in gaming culture since forever. Zombies were always foes to vanquish. Ravenous fiends to execute with a shot to the head before you become a buffet item on their menu of human flesh.
But what if the zombies were sentient? Not just sentient, but, cute young women who you could find romance in? What if they were also the key to saving the world by reversing the damage done to the world? These are the questions that Undead Darlings ~no cure for love sought to answer.
Undead Darlings is the first game released by Mr. Tired Media, a game developer in which one of their founders, “NickyD,” had worked previously on titles such as the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. After being in development for over four years, what was once an ambitious project is now golden as Undead Darlings’ release is right around the corner. The game itself is a visual novel and dungeon crawling hybrid, taking elements from both genres and blending it together. The aim was to attract fans of both genres without skimping out on either experience.
Our story begins with our protagonist, Reggie, who has been in a coma for an undisclosed amount of time. During his unconsciousness, a zombification virus outbreak overwhelms the entire city, turning everyone into the flesh-craving monstrosities of your nightmares. You’re awakened by your childhood friend, Pearl, who seems to have been exposed to a fate that causes her to begin a similar zombification. It’s quickly apparent that her mind and body are autonomous and she’s none worse for wear despite her wrapped in bandages with pale translucent skin. Pearl and Reggie’s fathers both worked at a lab, with Reggie’s father preemptively protecting his son, knowing that a viral outbreak was imminent. Reggie’s father had long since left the vicinity alongside Pearl’s father.
Eventually, you meet a straggler, Buck, who is the only other human alive aside from yourself, who mistakes your house as abandoned. Rather than scavenge your house, he tags along with you and Pearl to discover the whereabouts of their fathers. This is adding on to finding the cure for the virus infection that sends the party on a wild goose chase throughout the city.
Along the way, they come across Pearl’s cousin, Jordan, who also suffers through the same ailments as Pearl. Throughout their adventures, they encounter other girls with similar predicaments yet different backstories. One of the girls introduced lived a sheltered life prior to the outbreak although she’s known for being smart and quick-witted. Another girl, shortly introduced after, is the quintessential tomboy archetype who has a headstrong attitude and fulfills the “big-sis” archetype.
From a visual novel perspective, I found that as the party grew, each of the girls’ personalities began to flourish in various cutscenes. The default difficulty of the game is “Funpocalypse.” As you add more girls to your party, up to a total of six, it really starts to seem like everyone is making the best time of a dire situation, much like a “funpocalypse.” The “invisible narrator” trope is played with here as the fourth wall is occasionally broken. The game is filled to the brim with pop culture references. These range from the enemies you fight, to the flavor text of the items you pick up.
This was what I loved about the dialogue. It never took itself too serious, even when situations turn sour.
As mentioned, each of the girls has their personality and it’s up to the player to give responses to cater to each girl positively. As you give a proper response, the girls’ affinity will rise accordingly. There doesn’t seem to be any consequence for giving an unfavorable response. You don’t lose any affinity points you accumulated with the girls. You simply lose out on the possible chance of earning affinity. It’s encouraged to answer how you wish, as some of the silly answers yield hilarious responses. In between each dungeon, you have a chance to further improve your relationships with the girls by checking in as they commit to their tasks or explore a new location.
The dungeons of Undead Darlings are where the game truly starts to shine in my opinion. Dungeons are based on real-life locations such as a police station, an abandoned mall, a school, and a laboratory as examples. Each dungeon also has unique enemy types specific to the locale. An example being the police station having zombie secretaries and cops while the mall has zombie patrons and zombified food.
The gameplay is reminiscent of old school crawlers like Ultima and Etrian Odyssey. All dungeon crawling is done in the first-person perspective as you explore labyrinth-like levels. Ominous music plays in the background as hallways are dark and hollow; filling up the minimap as you explore every nook and cranny.
Now would be a good time to mention the importance of Buck, a character I mentioned earlier. See, Buck doesn’t actually join you in your endeavors, but rather he serves as a locker to store your items if your inventory is cluttered. His truck makes for a location to save and repair your weapons. Most importantly, he also serves as the game’s optional tutorial.
There are a lot of intricacies that make the game work. All of which the game doesn’t immediately show you. As you enter the first floor of the first dungeon, you’re sent with little to no battle experience; forced to make do with makeshift weapons you find on the ground as you figure out your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses. Therefore it’s imperative that you give Buck’s in-game tutorial a read over at least once. Doing so can mean the difference between success and a swift Game Over.
On its normal difficulty, the game’s various enemies surprisingly pulled no punches. Enemies generally hit harder than you by default and aim to exploit your own weakness, forcing you to make use of all of your character’s specialties. Some characters are suited as the support of the party, healing and buffing others. Other characters are more suited to dishing out raw and heavy physical damage. There are characters who are glass cannons, able to nuke mobs while being fragile themselves. You can offset each character’s weaknesses by equipping them with armors and accessories you find on the floor as well as swapping your party members around.
Having a rough time fighting enemies whose attacks deal piercing damage and having your brawler succumb to a quick death? Swap her out with a party member who has a resistance to it. Need to exploit an enemy’s weakness to increase your damage multiplier? Make adjustments as you see fit.
The core mechanic of this game’s battle mode is a multiplier that increases as you attack and exploit an enemy’s weak point. The more you attack an enemy’s weakness consecutively, the higher the multiplier increases. You can bank the multiplier at any moment into a single attack, dealing damage exponentially according to how high your multiplier reaches. Be careful, as hitting an enemy’s resistance and neutrally hitting an enemy resets the multiplier.
Some enemies are even tricky, having the amount of damage you deal reversed, as hitting an enemy’s weakness will deal less damage than if you hit an enemy’s resistance. You can deal with trolling enemies like these by having weaker party members exploit the enemy’s weakness while having your strongest party member bank the multiplier with their strongest attack.
Enemy encounters are random, with pre-determined battles indicated by a green cupcake icon. The cupcake icons respawn every time you return to the floor they appear on. Different colored icons ensure a difficult-than-normal fight but unlike the green cupcake icons, they do not respawn. If you are ever lost and you see a different colored cupcake, chances are you are heading in the right direction.
There are other dungeon crawling staples, including a limited inventory and weapon durability. Initially, you’re only allowed to carry ten items and if you pick up an eleventh, you’re forced to discard an item in your inventory. Your weapon lowers in durability by one point every time you attack an enemy with it. Using weapon skills will cost durability points equal to the amount listed. If you have less durability than the ability you wish to use, you cannot use said ability. Also, once your weapon reaches zero in battle, it automatically breaks while in battle.
Broken items can turn into treasure, however, as broken weapons turn into scrap. You turn in the scrap for various enhancements including repairing your weapons (especially useful for rare drops) and increasing your inventory capacity. However, Buck’s truck is the only location where you can turn your unwanted equipment into scrap, so be mindful when it comes to inventory management.
Your health only heals via items and restorative magic as well. You can refill your SP (your magic stat) with items you find on the ground as well. There are no shops. Every item has to be scavenged within the world map. Just like the green cupcakes, items respawn on the map as you reenter the floor.
Another way that your health and SP fully recovers is through sub-events. Highlighted by a pink exclamation-point, sub-events are initiated depending on the party members within your party. Much like other visual novel portions of the game, depending on your answer, you can increase a party member’s affinity stat. Most of the sub-events relate to the dungeon you’re currently in. An example would be topics relating to mall food within the mall while other subevents revolve around the dynamic that two party members share.
There’s a sense of strategy involved in sub-events. If you’re crawling, you need an emergency heal, and you know a sub-event is nearby, you can leave a sub-event alone until you need the health and SP restore.
All in all, the gameplay is surprisingly in-depth. As light-hearted the game is with the number of jokes and its poppy art style, the contrast of the gameplay balances it out. The game can be frustratingly brutal while the sub-events serve as a graceful break from the intensity of zombies ripping you to shreds. That said, for newcomers of the dungeon crawling genre, the game can appear daunting. However, once you embrace the survival horror mentality, including preserving your items and fighting enemies strategically, the gameplay is rewarding.
As this is also a visual novel, the characters are all charming in their own way. The dialogue sometimes embraces modern slang and reference, yet with an all-star cast of voice actresses, everyone does their role convincingly enough.
Undead Darlings is a game that, on the surface, appears to be a zombie girl romance yet its surprising depth and thoughtful gameplay is enough to attract even the hardened dungeon crawling vet. It’s a refreshing experience that demands time and effort to understand the gameplay. The rewards for understanding how the dungeon crawling works as well as the personalities of your fellow potential love interests is a surprisingly refreshing blend. Hardcore dungeon crawlers and love-centered visual novels go hand-in-hand with each other more so than I thought!
The Lost Summer recommends! ✔️
Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ swoons onto Steam on September 28th!