Walking Through Death’s Door

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about literal death. I’m talking metaphorical, figurative, pixelated death. I suppose that in the video game world of Death’s Door, death is real for the folks you defeat. You play as a bona fide reaper, after all; but I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to start again.

In the recently released Death’s Door, you take on the role of an adorable crow whose 9-5 job is to reap souls. You step off a bus and into a grayscale office complex where your murder of crows performs all the duties relevant to reaping, storing, and harnessing the souls of the dead. One of your colleagues handles soul requisitions; another types up the paperwork that officiates your handlings of said requisitions; a third crow guards the soul vault, and allows you to upgrade your abilities with the souls you gather. That’s because you’re the “muscle,” if you will: you walk off the aforementioned bus with a sword on your back. You’re here to chew bubblegum and claim souls, and you’re all out of bubblegum.

The upgrade system is a very video-gamified way of displaying the progression one expects to undergo on a job; the more you work, the better you get at working, usually. So the more you reap souls, the better you get at kicking ass. Your fellow crows serve as mouthpieces for the drudgery of streamlined office bureaucracy; your handler is always stressed out by their workload, the typist is legitimately obsessed with typing and knows nothing else, and one of your fellow reapers frequently mentions a staggering workload and calls the job a gig. It’s not meaningful work, necessarily; it’s the status quo, and there are some reasons why the drudgery has increased in recent years.

I won’t go into those reasons as they’re definitely spoilers, but I will take this time to pivot to just how fantastic Death’s Door is as not just a video game, but as a work of art. I will go that far in describing it: the game is art, and every aspect of it is meticulously planned out and designed to produce the maximum amount of joy, satisfaction, and fun. The artistic direction is cartoonishly charming and gorgeous – I was excited to just stop moving our crow every now and then so I could absorb the beauty of the game’s world. The level design is also top-notch, with every room and area integral to progression; I would argue that there are almost no frills in the game, and this makes for a very quick and satisfying pace. The leanness of the world design may be a double-edged sword, however, since the game is so good that I just want to experience more of it … but overall, I prefer a short and sweet experience to a long and rotting one.

The writing is great as well, and I found myself smiling at the various personalities you meet throughout the game, and laughing during particular conversations. Finally, the gameplay is fantastic. Combat is tough but fair, and every time I experienced the harrowing DEATH screen, I quickly analyzed my output to realize that I’d made some mistakes. When I die in Death’s Door, it’s no one’s fault but my own. The game gives you everything you need to succeed, and it’s up to you to use your skills to cleave through challenges and reap as many souls as you can.

All in all, the game has everything one could want: beautiful art, stellar music, sharp writing, and satisfying gameplay. The cherry on top of this video game masterpiece is trust, and just like in real life, trust is a two-way street. The game’s creators, an awesome group called Acid Nerve, trust players to persevere and continue fighting and exploring to uncover every last secret in the game. This is where the other way of the street comes into play: while the creators trust players to be patient and explore everything, players must trust the creators and their vision. There are plenty of places in the game where a particular path is blocked, but only temporarily; if players trust the developers, they leave that blockage for later, when they’ve earned a new ability that opens the path. As of this write-up, a decent number of players are impatient and tend to ask “How do I get past [insert obstacle here]?,” when all they need to do is keep playing the game. They will acquire the abilities they need to progress; it just takes some time.

I don’t mean to bash these players. I happen to be a big fan of these “Metroidvania-esque” games, wherein backtracking with new abilities is standard fare. I was prepared to come across walls I couldn’t open, only to blast them with a bomb later. I know the subgenre, and in a funny way, Death’s Door is a Metroidvania despite its relatively tight design.

I love this game so much that I’ve actively participated in various Reddit threads about the game. I tend to be introverted and stuck in my own little bubble, but sometimes I like something so much that I have to gush about it. So I’m on Reddit, and now I’m on my blog, gushing about Death’s Door. It’s one of the most immaculately crafted games I’ve experienced in recent years, and I hope that it sells super well so Acid Nerve can make a sequel, or an expansion, or even just a spiritual successor. Speaking of Acid Nerve, I highly recommend that folks try Titan Souls; it was made before Death’s Door, and a lot of the gameplay in the latter was influenced by the former.

So there they are: my thoughts regarding Death’s Door. As scary as it may sound, I strongly suggest that you go and wander through Death’s Door – it’s a valuable experience, and a rewarding one.


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