These days there are many ways for a video game developer to make their dream a reality but even with these options available, things can always go wrong. One such game to experience numerous setbacks happened to be Undead Darlings ~ no cure for love ~, a visual novel dungeon crawler being developed by a former NIS America employee as something of a labor of love and it sure shows. After a failed Kickstarter back in 2015 and another attempted one a year later in 2016, things seemed bleak but through effort and some help from Sekai Games, the title has now made its way to multiple platforms. So now that it has finally been released, is this Western take on visual novel dungeon crawling worthwhile?
As always when it comes to a zombie apocalypse, players join the story shortly after the outbreak has turned the world into a near-apocalypse state. This is done as players take on the role of Reginald “Reggie” Happenstahnce who wakes up after being drugged by his father only to find his childhood friend Pearl has been taking care of him for quite some time. The only problem is, Pearl is not only a bit bloody looking but also rather pale and it quickly becomes apparent that she has become one of the undead.
While most who are bitten turn into mindless zombies, there are cases where some undead have managed to retain their personalities and Pearl is one of these and has been given instructions on how to help Reggie potentially put an end to the apocalypse as not only was Mr. Happenstahnce a scientist, he was likely working where the virus ended up leaking out., On a quest to save the world and themselves, Reggie joins Pearl, Jordan who is another childhood friend, and a number of other half-zombie girls who have managed to retain their sanity in an effort to not only find the cure for themselves but also save what’s left of the world as well.
Undead Darlings ~ no cure for love ~‘s take on storytelling is an interesting one as it is not only incredibly self-aware of the fact that it is a zombie game where everyone knows all of the standard undead tropes but also plays its “harem” style visual novel themes fairly straight with players making various dialogue choices throughout the game that raise the affection stat of the undead girls in the game. There is even a hardcore “survival” type character named Buck that has absolutely no filter when it comes to interacting with everyone, making him a bit crass and someone who will likely be a bit divisive for players.
There is plenty of charm to be had with the tongue-in-cheek style of writing that the game employs with its core plot but perhaps the best part of Undead Darlings are the girls players will be spending time with. All of these girls may start off feeling a bit cookie-cutter when it comes to the usual harem anime tropes they quickly grow beyond that. Players will learn more about these girls as the story progresses both through standard progression as well as through side-events. These little events are found scattered throughout dungeons and often feature choices that raise affection for certain girls and the more players progress, the more they open up about their pasts and experiences. This is especially true in this case since all of the girls are already half-undead and have experienced horrible events prior to meeting the player and learning more about them is easily the most interesting part of the game’s story.
Undead Darlings is a split between visual novel and first person dungeon crawler with their party of up to three girls at a time. The dungeons players explore are fairly in-depth with some standard puzzles that occasionally need to be solved and plenty of enemies that will stand in the way. These enemies come in various forms and while battles can happen as random encounters, there are certain spots in every dungeon that will always trigger a fight or feature a boss battle. There are a solid number of difficulty options available for players to choose from to best fit their skill level but it is worth noting that this is not an easy dungeon crawler by any means.
Even on normal difficulty players will have to deal with random encounters with enemies that can potentially wipe out the team if not handled properly. This is especially true at the start when resources and party members are low. In fact, there is something of a survival aspect included in the item management in Undead Darlings as well. Players start with a staggeringly small amount of inventory space and any usable item or non-equipped piece of gear will take up a spot. The only way to increase the amount of inventory space the player has is to use scrap, which itself is obtained by having a weapon break during combat. This means that every weapon the player’s team is using has durability and is another factor players will need to keep an eye on as taking on the hard hitting enemies with large health pools without proper equipment can easily mean a game over.
Oddly enough, should the player persevere and either grind levels out or take proper advantage of the elemental and type weaknesses of foes, with every girl being able to use different kinds of magical abilities (zombies and household items came to life and can use magic, don’t ask why) some trial and error can be used to pick the team best suited for certain areas, many of these fights can be a bit too simple as there is such a narrow window of difficulty where enemies either stomp the player’s team or become easy wins. There also happens to be a system that allows players to build up multipliers by attacking an enemy’s weakpoint. This multiplier can be used at any time with any action, increasing a girl’s attack power, healing ability, defense, and more though the downside of saving this multiplier up happens to be the fact that it automatically drops to standard levels should the player miss a weakpoint or even miss an attack.
Unfortunately even in the case of these easier fights, players will not have access to any form of auto-battle or quick fight mechanic and instead can use “Macros” that players can set beforehand. These macros are designed so players can try to time combo attacks, powerful abilities that require two girls to use certain skills together, but should an enemy be able to take an attack between the girls, the combo fails so generally the macros feel rather useless as long as players remember the various combo attacks. This means even standard fights can drag on needlessly long and can make delving through a dungeon something more akin to annoying than challenging at times.
Thankfully, the game also allows players to save during dungeon exploration so it is fairly easy to avoid encountering a game over as long as they keep an eye on their health and save frequently, with plenty of rotation to be safe. This style of saving even works well for the various in-dungeon side-events that players can encounter, helping players avoid making incorrect choices should the player be aiming for a certain ending. It is worth noting though that the visual novel sections do not feature any kind of save feature and are even missing a number of quality of life features such as auto-advance, log and replay dialogue, and the ability to save mid-conversation which is something disappointing especially when some story scenes can be fairly long.
It is nice to note that while the game is difficult, players are encouraged to play through multiple times as there are a number of different endings for the game and not only is there a New Game+ system that takes affection, level, and more forward there is even the ability to completely turn off random encounters. This allows for players to quickly navigate through the dungeons outside of required battles and expedites replays quite a bit.
Visuals & Audio
It is quite evident that Undead Darlings takes plenty of inspiration from Japanese anime for its character designs and artwork as the cast of girls are quite cute, albeit a bit bloody considering everyone has had a losing encounter with a zombie already, with a number of expressions for standard dialogue and a large number of CGs that players can unlock throughout the game. There is something of an odd disconnect between the cast of characters and the enemies however as enemy designs, while unique, feel like they were taken from an entirely different game at times though this may have been intentional to show how the girls still are retaining their humanity. As for the dungeons themselves, there is a solid amount of variety for the places players explore and the 3D environments are interesting enough, they don’t really jump out as special in any significant way.
In a somewhat interesting twist, Undead Darlings features a large amount of English voice work as most of the game’s story dialogue is properly voiced (outside of Reggie) and the voice work is handled quite well though it is a bit disappointing that not every scene is voiced. The soundtrack features a number of fitting pieces of background music for a dungeon crawler but nothing really stands out.
After struggling for years Undead Darlings ~ no cure for love ~ it is easy to see that this is something of a passion project that has successfully created a witty and interesting storyline featuring a great cast of characters that players will be eager to learn more about. The dungeon crawling and combat is solid enough though the rough edges occasionally make it more of a slog that slows story progression than anything else plus some small quality of life improvements would do wonders for both aspects of the title, though even without them this unique take on undead dungeon crawling is something of an unpolished gem.