Angels of Death is a horror adventure game, driven by its haunting narrative. Originally released in Japanese as freeware in late 2016 using the RPG Maker VX Ace engine, it’s often cited as one of the best RPG Maker-made games. So hugely popular in Japan it has already garnered well-received comic book and an anime adaptations. Let’s see if Angels of Death has truly earned its reputation and accolades.
Waking up, trapped, in an abandoned building’s basement 13-year old Rachel Gardner is desperately trying to find a way out of her confinement. Searching for an exit while contending with amnesia she becomes acquainted with a young murderer, wrapped in bloodstained bandages, named Zack. While helping each other escape they make a sinister promise that’ll follow each of them to their graves.
Being made in RPG maker gives a noticeably familiar 16-bit look to the gameplay, while this limits the visuals it doesn’t distract from the bleak story. Furnishing the dialogue and introducing each of the murderers you meet are character portraits that are very reminiscent of the hideously cute Skull Girls, but a fair bit darker.
Although this game has a simple but morbid aesthetic there is a wide range of confusing emotions on display as the story unfurls. Often this game feels like the desperate nightmares of a mentally unhinged teenager crying out for help in their most fragile moments using a ROM hack to a game that never was.
I was disappointed to find there were no controller layout customisations, it would have been nice if developers had included the option of a one-handed single JoyCon control forTabletop mode to match the simple four button, old-school controls; allowing a more immersive narrative experience as gameplay definitely takes a back seat to the twisting, death-obsessed story.
Rachel is a bizarre protagonist to follow, she feels extremely fragile with no defensive actions. She is on a self-imposed escape mission to the surface where she wants her dream of being murdered to be fulfilled. Amnesiac Rachel’s only ambition is to be killed but, seemingly, only by the right person. Counterintuitively she doesn’t want to merely be offed in any old place and buried while in the hellish underground facility that traps her, instead, she wants to be buried six feet under the surface like a normal person.
The other characters you meet are all dangerous, supernatural killers. Feeling like 16-Bit/anime facsimiles of many of your favourite film villains. When playing through the story you are never sure when another obsessive, pixelated murderer may be round a corner, biding their time to proclaim their undying love and lusting for Rachel’s heart (and many other body parts).
One minor problem I have with the game is that Rachel is both tormented and helped by a character named Zack. Now, this shouldn’t be a problem for everyone but anytime I hear or read someone shouting the name Zack I can not stop myself from hearing it in the same voice as the now classic Lego commercial. The Zack in Angels of Death is not a Lego Maniac, however, a melancholic murderous maniac, a figure of fear and uncertainty that has promised to kill the heroine of she helps him to escape. For a homicidal maniac, I found Zack to be the most likeable character in the whole game and the relationship that blossoms between him and Rachel is both touching and revolting.
This the obstacle facing Angels of Death it is a game full of paradoxes; both narrative and thematically. Tonal shifts are fairly common with characters being whimsical one moment and then morose the next. I found it very hard to get behind Rachel and aid her in her quest to get murdered. It just always felt like she really should have some adult supervision and guidance.
It took me a while to figure out but the gameplay is made up of reading through the story sequences and then the escaping the current dungeon master’s death traps. Sometimes these death traps can be perplexing puzzles but are more often than not they are completely manageable with surprisingly helpful prompts from your sadistic partners and surroundings making escape seem closer than ever.
Each of the episodes has you feeling a different group of floors, each having an individual aesthetic that matches the dungeon masters character. A morbid fascination with death haunts poor Rachel on her labyrinthian escape quest. You will be held back every few floors; each has its own puzzle master boss whose sadistic wish is to torture you to death with their each own uniquely hideous style.
Fighting through these is worthwhile only if you can enjoy the grisly story for what it is. If that’s not your cup of tea you there’s nothing here for you, however, if you are in the market for a uniquely gruesome, narrative based experience I would say although there are other games out there none are as horrific or cerebral. The journey taken is like a cenobite’s day dream and the graphics do not completely convey the horror of Rachel’s dismal escape from hell.