Fundamentally, gaming has often been about the thrill of overcoming challenges. Defeating that imposing boss or navigating that complex environmental puzzle often gets the dopamine in our brains flowing and hooks us in for the next big challenge. FromSoftware’s Souls games have ultimately founded their entire gaming experiences on this very principle. Even smaller publishers and developers are angling for a slice of that pie much like D3 Publisher’s latest offering Ed-0: Zombie Uprising. While the game has been in early access on Steam for quite some time, console owners are now able to take a stab at the zombie-slaying gauntlet during the Edo era of Japanese history. My particular experience with the game is with the PlayStation 5 version. Samurai, Ninjas, and hordes of zombies ultimately sound like a bloody good time. However, Ed-0 takes the nature of rogue-likes and seemingly attempts to capture the intensity of Souls games, making this one a particularly dicey affair.
Ironically, the game takes place during the Edo period in Japan. For those not well-versed in Japanese history, this period lasted over 200 hundred years between the 17th and 19th centuries and was largely known for the peace that Japan enjoyed following the strife occurring between warring clans in the feudal era. But there’s not much peace to be had here as zombies have risen to claim the flesh of the living. This theme aside, the narrative is largely absent. There are loading screens with static images featuring dialogue and small tidbits of lore throughout. But there really isn’t any overarching plot to write home about.
"Ed-0 takes the nature of rogue-likes and seemingly attempts to capture the intensity of Souls games, making this one a particularly dicey affair."
Because of this, that means the gameplay is central to this experience and is really what the title should thrive on. But does it? First, let’s start with the game’s fundamentals. As with any game in the rogue-like genre, each world is randomly generated and death results in a restart of the mission which also resets the layout. Each mission is designated by conquering a number of “floors.” In each “floor” or level, you’ll have to find and potentially unlock Torri gates to continue to the next floor. Torri gates are color-coded by what potential boosts they offer during your small reprieve between floors. For instance, Yellow Torri gates will offer you a food item to boost your stamina or “Zen.” Zombies are littered throughout each floor and you’ll engage in a typical hack n’ slash approach to defeat them. You can acquire special moves called “Secret Arts” throughout each floor. Your character can equip a total of four Secret Arts per mission. Furthermore, if you acquire pick-ups of the same Secret Art you already have equipped, you can use that to boost the special attack in various ways.
While you travel from floor to floor, you must also manage your stamina by eating food, taking strength pills, or consuming any other boost that helps you maintain Zen. If you run out of stamina, the game will let you know you are hungry. In this state, your life will start whittling away, and yes, you can die from starvation.
Your ultimate goal for a given mission is to make it through a series of floors, usually 10 in total. The last floor often contains a boss character you must fight. While you can rush from Torri gate to Torri gate and climb to the last floor rather quickly without fighting many zombies, you won’t have the boosts necessary to take on the final boss and you’ll die miserably. So, in effect, you should explore and seek out boosts, Secret Arts, and consumables along your journey. Ed-0’s problems lie in the game’s method of shepherding you through a given mission. Ultimately, the developers want you to be challenged. And you will, indeed, be challenged. But it’s not necessarily a good thing. Other rogue-likes and Souls-type games that amplify the difficulty do so in a way that employs strategy, player education, and growth. Ed-0, unfortunately, grants all of its enemy characters an egregious amount of vitality in the wake of your standard attacks. On the flip side, a traditional zombie dealing a melee strike cuts through your life bar swiftly. This, in effect, forces you to find the necessary means of boosting your Secret Arts attacks and finding powerful consumables. However, since the game is randomly generated, it’s essentially a crapshoot. I’ve had runs where I’ve largely gained nothing. Conversely, I’ve had runs where I was dealt a decent hand.
"Ed-0, unfortunately, grants all of its enemy characters an egregious amount of vitality in the wake of your standard attacks. On the flip side, a traditional zombie dealing a melee strike cuts through your life bar swiftly. This, in effect, forces you to find the necessary means of boosting your Secret Arts attacks and finding powerful consumables. However, since the game is randomly generated, it’s essentially a crapshoot. I’ve had runs where I’ve largely gained nothing. Conversely, I’ve had runs where I was dealt a decent hand."
Each mission must be completed in this manner in order to proceed to the next mission. Therefore, if you’re stuck, you’ll simply have to keep trying. The game does offer forms of permanent upgrades. There is a hub village where you go in between missions. As you gain coins from a quest, you keep them as long as you survive. You can even opt out mid-way through a run by taking a Homebound Torri gate to retain what you’ve collected without risking death and losing it. You can then deposit it in the bank to keep it safe or spend it at the Dojo on valuable buffs.
While some might find satisfaction in this gameplay loop, most will regard the combat as overly repetitive and tedious. When you have to slash an average zombie – without using Secret Arts attacks – upwards of 15 times or more to kill it, you know this zombie-killing ride will eventually become a real bore. While most enemies are easy to run away from, the bosses provide a steep challenge. Eventually, quicker and more deadlier enemies will be introduced in the normal floors including boss characters from previous runs. One misstep could cost you a third of your life or more in a single blow. Before you know it, you’re finished.
The controls are tight and responsive. Your character moves quickly, though sometimes you might forget which Secret Arts button combo you’ve assigned the action to as it will change with each mission. Some controls are a little awkward such as holding L2 and pushing the up button on the D-pad in order to throw an object. Aside from a few non-standard schemes such as that, there really aren’t any major hang-ups with the controls.
"The models for the zombies are often far too simple, jagged, and infinitely repetitive. Zombie clones will be noticeable at every turn. Aside from character combat, animations are robotic. The labyrinthine pathways of each floor in a given mission are rather dull and uninspired."
Graphically, Ed-0 looks like what you’d expect from a budget studio and publisher. This isn’t a AAA affair. The models for the zombies are often far too simple, jagged, and infinitely repetitive. Zombie clones will be noticeable at every turn. Aside from character combat, animations are robotic. The labyrinthine pathways of each floor in a given mission are rather dull and uninspired. Sure, you’re here to slay zombies and survive, not sightsee. But the foreground should at least have some appeal and at least be interesting to a degree. The developers did, however, include an EDO Shader that you can apply to the graphics that ultimately make things a little more refined. It’s a cel-shading style that helps the world feel a bit more animated
At the end of the day, Ed-0: Zombie Uprising doesn’t fully respect your time as the player. While some may find enjoyment in its painstakingly rigorous combat with the undead, most will feel frustrated and exhausted with its unrewarding and unbalanced difficulty mechanics. It’s a game that lives in the shadows of challenging rogue-likes and Soulsborne titles. While budget graphics, sound design, and animation don’t necessarily make or break a game, poor difficulty balance and a subpar combat grind absolutely will.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
EDO Shader; Permanent boosts available.
Unrefined and unfair difficulty; Subpar graphical presentation.