PAX East 2019: Katana Zero – First Impressions

First demoed at PAX Prime in 2015 (back before the west coast con became “West”) and having appeared in various forms at PAX events since then, it’s finally here. Development is 100% complete. Katana Zero will be arriving in its final form on April 18th , and will it be worth the long wait?

We’re saying yes.

Although the game is tense, fast-paced, and filled with anxiety-inducing “one hit and you’re / they’re dead” combat, there are a few creative, intelligent mechanics along the way that make this game a serious standout.

While a single hit means death in Katana Zero, there’s a rewind element that may evoke, for some of us, a Sands of Time feeling. But it’s different here in the sense that the rewind mechanic both starts you over after death, but also your progress through each stage becomes “security camera footage” that shows your successful run after each stage’s completion.

Stages are divided into unique combat scenarios, requiring careful planning and precise timing—as one would expect from an assassin. The game has been compared to Hotline Miami and Ape Out, where the player learns from each failed run, providing insight for the next attempt. The demo at PAX East showcased the primary weapon for these combat scenarios—the katana, obviously—but also provided the opportunity to throw things around, use laser traps, blend into the crowd, and slam doors against attackers.

Combat takes up the bulk of the gaming experience, but what really pushes Katana Zero into remarkable territory is the surrounding story. These vignettes and your choices within them alter the course of your experience within the game. Your get to see your assassin character in daily life—his terrible apartment, drinking some tea to unwind, overhearing noisy neighbors. Sleep. Have terrible nightmares.

And then he visits his therapist, where you the player have a choice: You can be honest about the recurring nightmares and receive medical help, or just cut him off when he’s speaking and demand your drugs. How you speak to NPCs like this one has a direct effect on how the story plays out, according to the folks running the game station.

You also only have so much time to make a choice. If you allow the NPCs to finish talking to you, you’ll receive branching dialogue options—but if you cut them off, and repeatedly do so, the interruptions will take a toll on how those individuals and others perceive you. You may also end up cutting off another character who would have otherwise spoken, damaging a potential relationship.

For example, in the demo, constantly interrupting the receptionist when you’re receiving your next mission will result in her waiting for you with a SWAT officer after you’ve completed your assignment. Your rudeness resulted in raised suspicions, and when the violence begins, you become the prime suspect.

Obviously, this scenario doesn’t end well for either the officer or the receptionist, seeing as how you’re an assassin, but apparently the game is stuffed full of these dialogue trees. We’ve seen this in other games before (several BioWare series come to mind), but it’s intriguing to see the thought and care put into the story element of an indie title that’s primarily combat based.

The narrative element is what will give Katana Zero significant replay value, as players will have reason to come back through the game and experience it in a completely different way—or at least, that’s what we’re told.

We’ll see how it all plays out once the game is officially released, but after this demo, we’re quite certain it’s been worth the wait.


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Author: Faith View all posts by
Faith likes games and books and cake and writing and Lara Croft, not necessarily in that order. She also thinks a Skylanders cartoon show is a really, REALLY good idea...

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