It feels impossible to say anything about a Suda 51 game without also making some sort of comment about the man himself. I suppose this is how he prefers it, seeing as everything he creates, for better or worse, has his signature all over it. Where I differ with the majority is how well I think it works most of the time – namely, that it doesn’t. It may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that, up to this point, I’ve yet to play a Suda 51 game that I’ve liked, even if, on the surface level, his defining characteristics as an auteur would seemingly operate within my wheelhouse. Unfortunately the devil is frequently in the details and presentation. In my experience with Suda, all he has is presentation, to the exclusion of just about anything else.
Let It Die is a bit of a departure from this trend, making it my favorite Grasshopper game by default. While that would rightly come off as a backhanded compliment in most contexts, I was actually quite surprised just how much I enjoyed it. All of Suda’s trademarks are in play – a reverence for gaming culture, darts-at-a-wall character design, and aggressive self-awareness (or insecurity, depending on your perspective). While these are usually deal-breakers when forced to hold up a game that has little else, most of your time with Let It Die will be distanced from it all, meaning that visits from ZANY PUNK ROCK mascot Uncle Death don’t feel as grating as they probably would otherwise.
The objective of the game is to eventually reach the 40th floor of the Tower of Barbs, in hopes of winning, assumably, some sort of escape from the post-apocalyptic Tokyo that you currently inhabit. Of course, the game immediately stops to let you know that you’re actually in a video game, which not only serves to give that all-knowing Grasshopper wink, but also to disconnect you from your player characters. Everyone in Let It Die is disposable, and you will spend hours sending freezers full of avatars into battle with ramshackle weaponry in hopes of reaching the next floor. They’ll always look generic and have an unremarkable name like “Linda” that you’ll likely forget because the next death is usually right around the corner.
This is where the free-to-play aspects come in, since you can purchase Death Medals with real world money to revive that character and any gear they may have on them. If you opt to simply start over, you’ll retain all of the weapon knowledge you’ve learned, but that corpse you abandoned will return as an enemy when you cross paths again. You learn rather quickly that using up a Medal for a revive is pretty much never worth it outside of a boss you want to simply brute force, since all of the weapons and equipment that you’d be looking to save will fall apart minutes later. While frustrating at first, it does force you to constantly change your approach to enemies, since that baseball bat with the awesome range will probably only have four or five swings left from the moment you pick it up. It’s also possible, and maybe even preferable, to simply go through the game leveling up your fists so you never have to worry about it. Combat is always more a matter of positioning than weaponry anyway, which can turn out poorly if running into a group in a narrow hall. The game loves to give AI enemies a firework gun that can harass you at a distance while you try to deal with others. Of course, when you equip the gun yourself, it’s just about useless.
Moments when you feel like you do need to simply spam revives come off like an opening for the free-to-play aspects to get really dirty, but I never spent a cent on a game and still had a dozen Death Medals at any one time. Despite the rogue-like nature of dying over and over for inches of progress, Let It Die is shockingly forgiving and more than a little generous when it comes to its login bonuses. Ironically, I then felt like rewarding the game by tossing a few bucks its way for things I didn’t actually need. That’s really how I always wanted the F2P model to work, more focused on showing you a breadth of content that you can enhance at your leisure as opposed to putting up arbitrary walls in front of you until a toll is paid.
Credit where it’s due, Let It Die gets it right. Hell, it gets a lot of things right, even if those semi-random rogueish elements result in a lot of jank at the best of times and flat-out unfairness at worst. Unlike my experience with a lot of Suda games, I didn’t feel drained simply by engaging with it, instead preferring to continue playing long after I knew what I wanted to say about it. I don’t simply tolerate Let It Die, I actually like it… a lot. That feels weird to say, but someone finally found the right way to mix all of these disparate and, at times, undesirable elements into something that felt right. In the case of Let It Die, it’s roughly 30% Suda and 70% game, the exact opposite of most Grasshopper titles I’ve played over the years. If they opted to continue in this direction, using the Suda flavor as more of an accent than as the only selling point, I’d be very excited to see what they came up with next.