I write about Katana Zero, a game about killing people and messing with time, and state my opinions on the various aspects of the game.
A few months ago, I purchased Katana Zero, an indie game that was showcased on Nintendo’s Indies Direct. The trailer showed a character running around and killing enemies using a katana and slowing down time to execute complex maneuvers, such as reflecting a bullet back to its sender using a single sword swing. Since it is currently my summer break and I have some spare time between doing work in preparation for next year, I decide to play the game I bought.
The first level of Katana Zero starts off with a phone call from your “boss”, which outlines the general “mission objective”, stating that a scientist has to be rescued from a factory hideout. The first thing that caught my attention is the use of dialog boxes which let you decide on how you respond in the conversation. When another person talks to you, there is a small window of opportunity which allows you to interrupt them and say whatever you have to say. For example, when the phone call is received, you have the option to just straight up hang up the call and move on with your mission. This dialog system massively affects the outcome of how the game’s story plays out.
Being a kind hearted person, I choose not to ignore people (and of course, because it’s my first time playing, I want to hear them out) and play through various conversations, for example the receptionist at a hotel questions your outfit, to which I state I am cosplaying as some anime character (As opposed to saying that I’m wearing a bathrobe). The receptionist goes on to state how she loves anime, but had never heard of the anime which my character is based on.
Towards the end of the mission, the hotel receptionist defends you when security guards are suspicious of the numerous killings that took place within the hotel.
When I originally purchased the game, I did not know that the game was in fact a “Mature” rated game, but I discover this very quickly as I progress through the game. The main character had to take this drug in order to use their ability to manipulate time, however it comes with the withdrawal effects of vivid hallucinations.
The use of hallucinations in this game is truly what makes it such a great game. The story line is rather vague as the main character suffers memory loss and the use of hallucinations warps the perception of the main character (implied by the dialog options you are able to choose), which has a knock on effect to you, the player as you try to unravel the turn of events throughout the game.
As an example, throughout the game you befriend your neighbour’s child daughter. Towards the end of the game, there has been a break in inside your main apartment and when questioning the whereabouts of the young child, the other residents state that “There are no children in this building” and that “The man [your neighbour] lived alone”.
This leaves a lot of the story up to you, the player as to whether anything was ever real because of the various hallucinations you have throughout the game and provides a lot for your own personal interpretation.
I enjoy games with fast paced gameplay. I like “difficult” games which have a strong story to them (Like Celeste and Hollow Knight). With Katana Zero, I found it much more enjoyable having the opportunity to “master” each level by planning out a sequence of attacks and executing them flawlessly.
In the game, any hit is basically fatal and requires you to restart the current area again. In addition, each time you restart an area the “movements” of enemies remains the same. For example, if you blow up an enemy and enemies rush towards them, you can guarantee that if you blow up that enemy again (in another attempted run), the enemies with rush towards them in the same fashion. This lets you improve your skill at evaluating situations and executing your opponents.
I also enjoy puzzle games and Katana Zero has its fair amount of puzzle moments. There are various areas throughout the game where it seems impossible to overcome, but some cunning solution is required to evade or pass an area. Throwing smoke bombs to dull the vision of your enemies, or plant explosives to blow up enemies from a distance, operate machinery and meticulously lie in wait for the best moment - there are so many ways to achieve your goals.
If that isn’t enough to satisfy “fast paced gameplay”, there’s also a timer for each section of a level, which if depleted requires you to restart the level and “be more efficient”.
Breaking the fourth wall is definitely one of the best ways to add some extra element of surprise in a game. By breaking the fourth wall, I don’t just mean specifically stating something that only you, the player would know, but also for example, an enemy that knows about your abilities beforehand.
For example, in the game Mr Shifty, you have the ability to teleport over short distances (and thus through walls). In that game, there is a point where the enemy discovers this and sets up a “prison” which completely nullifies your ability.
Or for example, in Undertale, there comes a point where an enemy states how many times they’ve killed you because you keep respawning after each death.
In Katana Zero, in addition to having the ability to slow down time, you also have the ability to respawn after death (surprise susprise). This quirk which is basically prevalent in all video games takes on a whole new meaning when you come across a boss which also has this ability. You fight a boss and beat them, thus winning the battle. However from their point of view, they beat you and won the battle. This produces a very interesting complex of “who wins” in a battle where you’re both immortal and can revive from death.
Overall, I think Katana Zero is an amazing game. The use of dialog to “play the story how you want” and having immediate consequences gives it a very personal touch. The use of breaking the fourth wall and having the hallucinations makes you yearn for more in order to understand the game in more depth, as well as give way for lots of room for making theories about the game in general (I would look forward to say The Game Theorists making a video about it, although it’s not well known). The only downside about this game is that it’s quite short and I managed to complete it in around 6 hours (mostly because it was too intriguing to put down).