A deliberately hard hack and slash game, even your characters’s stride, block and dodge animations in Let It Die look like they’ve come from Dark Souls. But Grasshopper Manufacture goes to such arduous lengths to explain the game to you, to outline how everything – and everyone – functions, that its absurdist aesthetic becomes redundant. Dark Souls is a strange world. Contrary to role-playing game conventions, From Software limits both its exposition and interactivity. And Grasshopper’s other, better games, particularly Killer7, are genuinely opaque – prevented from plainly understanding, you are encouraged to simply feel. But Let It Die, despite its colours, sounds and shapes, is determined that everything around you make perfect sense. It is hard to feel lost in or amazed by a quixotic other place when you have been taught, for example, that right hand weapons do 18 damage; that attaching symbols to your body raises your defence statistic.
Of this, Dark Souls is also guilty. Although some are left either to interpretation, or can only be understood via direct experience, plenty of items and characters are straightforwardly explained. But Let It Die absolutely bombards you with fact. One after another, you unlock tutorial messages. Every time you encounter something unusual, a side character emails you to explain what it is – those same side characters are only too eager to advertise precisely who they are, what they do and how they can help you. A balance must be reached: abandoning players to total confusion is not substantiation of the absurdist aesthetic, nonpareil. But the world of Let It Die is explained in such comprehensive, bureaucratic detail that it seems even less mysterious than our own. Of course, blind interpretation is dull, also – those essays explaining what everything strange thing in Killer7 actually means make me fall asleep. But feeling so confident of the function and reliability of everything in Let It Die negates all of its admittedly wonderful flourishes. You regard the mushroom woman not as a strange individual with patterned skin, but a functional, resource provider. Uncle Death, the skateboarding grim reaper who fronts Let It Die, is less weird, funny or unknowable than he is a videogame irritation. At least Travis, Samantha and Iwazaru, in Killer7, spoke in riddles.
The clear terms with which you can describe Let It Die – “similar to Dark Souls,” “Roguelike” – betray the extent to which its absurdity is not heartfelt. Anyone who has played it likely understands that to call Dark Souls a fantasy RPG compares it to games to which in fact it is vastly dissimilar. Absurdity by its nature belies written definition, but surely it should, to some extent make, one feel overcome, drunk. Let It Die, and the great pains it goes to in order to explain itself, is rather than overwhelming, turgid and exhaustive. It is a dispassionate, sober experience.