I’m personally a big fan of developers bringing back the classic first person dungeon crawling titles. It always sat well with me as not only one of the few FP genres that didn’t make me sick, but also added to the fantasy immersion that makes gaming enjoyable. It’s a game approach that’s impossible to mess up and one that’s flawless to execute, as long as you have some decent maps on hand and some solid combat behind it all. With that being said, Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ has a decent presentation behind the dungeon crawling aspect of its game, but it’s the secondary part – the visual novel and writing aspects – that make the whole package come together.
From the drop, you get the feeling that Undead Darlings will either be glorious or grating, depending on your opinion of meta gaming. You play Reggie, a dude who awakens from a dream that may or may not have been about zombies to find his best friend and definitely a girl he could crush on Pearl, looking distinctly…undead. The plot is then hurriedly and almost sarcastically explained: there was a zombie apocalypse, Reggie was drugged by his dad to sleep through the worst of it, and now more than a few people are zombies. We bury the lead by casually mentioning that Reggie’s last name is Happenstance, which what the hell, and his father is the good Dr. Happenstance who is now MIA and looking for a cure or some kind. Pearl is a zombie, but has maintained her humanity through the purity of her heart, and it looks like there could be a cure that will hopefully bring her back to human. That is, as long as she still maintains some aspect of humanity within her. The apocalypse has also unleashed a number of ridiculous fantasy and horror monsters that now roam the earth, so you might need to fight through them in order to get to a cure. Thankfully, there are other not-fully-zombies that you encounter, and, oh look, they’re all cute anime girls. Except for Buck. Buck is a dude.
Mr. Tired Media (great developer team title, by the way) attempts to marry two unlikely genres with Undead Darlings by combining visual novel elements with first person dungeon crawling. While we recently saw some variation of this with Moero Chronicles, it should be noted the important differences between the two games. Firstly, Undead Darlings has straight up visual novel portions, where you read and hear a long series of chatter between yourself and the female zombies of your party, occasionally having Buck jump in with some words. Buck is basically the fixture at the campsite who holds onto your stuff and gets you ready for combat, but he still will occasionally throw in some comments towards the girls. The choices you make between different phrases will build your affection and relationship with each zombie girl, eventually setting you up with a potential match once you eventually get the hell out of dodge and find the right antidote. So no, you’re not just lewding a bunch of anime misfits in an attempt to see suggestive poses, you’re actually constructing connections here, which, for some, might be more boring than Moero Chronicles.
Also, Undead Darlings only has English voice acting, which, I gotta say, is pretty solid. Mr. Tired Media did a good job of vetting some strong performances for all the characters, particularly Kairi (who became a mainstay for my party as soon as I was able to decide). The voices only come for larger, more plot based moments, so I do wish more of it had been voiced, but that’s just a small irritation in the grand scheme of the outline. The writing of the game is incredibly referential and aware, not with a ton of outside nods to existing titles but more the very clear realization that “we are in the apocalypse we all always imagined.” It’s not a bad thing, and I found it more funny than anything else, but it can be a bit tiring just for everyone to constantly be like “Let me guess, now this is gonna happen?” It’s not always accurate, but it is more often than not.
Now, if you’re here only for visual novelization, I’ve got really bad news: Undead Darlings has a LOT of dungeon crawling. The way forward is fairly straight: you walk around and find different things scattered throughout the dungeon, from dropped items and rare treasure to random encounters, targeted encounters and modules to open/close certain areas. The dungeons are huge, particularly due to the way that they’re designed and formatted. The developers have spared no expense in making the landscape a bit on the nose for this anime zombie game, so you’ve got a lot of darkness, a lot of shadows, a lot of long hallways, narrow passages and potential dead ends that serve no purpose other than to trip you up. If you’re not used to navigating this sort of world, it can be arduous, so be sure to take advantage of Nintendo’s sleep pause feature to walk away from the game on occasion. You won’t lose your place and you might save yourself some eye strain as a result.
The combat is very, very straightforward, and that’s both a blessing and a curse. You’ve got items and regular attacks, and each zombie girl ends up with skills that she learns through levelling up that can be defensive, healing, offensive or status affecting. Different enemies have elemental damage weaknesses and resistances, and you’ll figure them all out in due course. Occasionally, hitting upon an enemy weakness repeatedly will increase a damage multiplier that will culminate into a super attack that coordinates the zombie girls together. And I particularly liked this aspect of the combat. It not only made sense, but it also proved to be rewarding for players who were paying even the slightest attention to what they were doing. Sure, you could just mash attack and call it a day, but doing this little extra bit of care resulted in stronger hits and ending battle faster, increasing the chances of loot dropping. Plus, it helped deal with the super annoying fact that many, many enemies healed themselves and healed fellow monsters, which makes sense from a combat perspective, but not from my “I wanna beat everything to death” perspective.
I hate breaking weapons. I absolutely despise it. It happens in Undead Darlings, and I didn’t enjoy it whatsoever. Since you have a limited inventory when in the dungeon, bringing two or three spare weapons just isn’t feasible, and the possibility that my super rare weapon with a built in skill might break is terrifying. Buck can repair weapons (for a price), but he’s back at base camp and I can’t just run back there every single freaking time. I mean, I can, but it can be repetitive since getting called out of the dungeon means restarting from a certain point and trudging back. You need to learn to play one of two ways: fast and loose with no regard for if all your stuff breaks or super conservative, ready to use your Vaudeville Hook to pull back to safety at any moment.
Truth be told, I adored the humour of this game. Not just the writing, we’ve established that Undead Darlings is clever and snarky without being too on the nose. I loved the enemies. I thought that all the weirdness of monsters was spectacular, from traditional looking Japanese ghost girls with knives to a dude whose head was a dunking bird from an office table. There was a never ending cavalcade of original oddities for me to fight against. Even though the “tutorial” of the game was over an hour long when all was said and done, I was here for it from start to finish, loving the well designed sprites, the good soundboard for grunts and effects and the spooky, satisfying music that played throughout. Plus, we have the stereotypical big chested, big hearted girl who adds the slightly charged comic relief throughout once you find Cici, so all is right with the world.
Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ walks a very tenuous line that needs to sit just right with the right player. It’s too active for visual novel only approaches, and it’s too invested in correct choices for dungeon crawling by itself. Replayability is a must if you wish to unlock all the endings and all the pictures for your collection, and exploring nooks and crannies in the dungeons gets you the best equipment to guarantee the best results in the boss fights. You get all the tropes of a small harem squabbling and getting along while also figuring out the best combat combos to lay enemies low. It’s a brutal mix, but it works shockingly well, and I had a grand time with this Sekai published project. If you’re willing to put a bit more work into your courtship rituals, Undead Darlings is a ghoulishly great choice for October.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Undead Darlings ~no cure for love~ Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
Brains! And heart! And long conversations about our feelings! And maybe a bit of turn based combat with elemental damage configurations. But also brains!