Death’s Door Tells a Tragic Tale of Limitless Life

An emotional expedition full of extravagant fights and memorable characters.

I don’t think I can do this. In one of the final battles, I’m forced to use every piece of equipment in my pockets in a desperate attempt to match the pace of this boss, and I’m failing. It’s a lot to manage at once! 

He’s summoned up an arsenal of beasts to slow me down and distract me while I’m trying not to get trampled. I’ve already died fifteen times, and each death stings, but they also fuel the eternal fire that makes me smash that retry button. “This next run though…” I whisper to myself. 

Something clicks, I’ve seen a pattern, and I know I’ll win. When I hop back in, I’m in the rhythm and I’m ready to tussle. Now I’m actually dodging the smaller enemies while waiting for my true foe’s colossal hits to slam against the ground, so I can swoop in and get a couple of slashes off before ducking and rolling back to safety. It takes a while, but I finally slay that brick wall of a boss, collecting its soul and finishing this case so I can cash out with some awesome augmentations to my kit, and maybe even stand a shred of a chance against Death’s Door‘s next boss. 

Developer Acid Nerve’s previous effort, Titan Souls, hooked me in with its focus on pushing past a grim power disparity, defeating monumental bosses as a complete underdog with laughable firepower. Death’s Door holds that philosophy close to its heart, building on top of it with more complex and richly creative big bads along with a stunning fantasy world.  This plays host to intertwining secrets that compliment the combat and make for an action-adventure game you shouldn’t miss.

In Death’s Door you play as a crow who works at a soul reaping agency. The offices are stark and devoid of colour, like a noir; the red hum of the standard issued sword you possess is the only color that pops as you walk through the dampened gray haze to get to your desk. Your main mission is to complete soul hunting assignments, which you access by walking through Monsters Inc. style doors that transport you to parts of the world where death has gone missing, and organic life has been enthralled by the twisted allure of immortality. 

On a routine mission for a soul, you get jumped by a larger, more jaded crow who steals your case and lets the soul pass through Death’s Door, which dooms you to the passage of time. The old crow presents you with a solution after screwing you over, though: Slay the three boss souls and you’ll be able to access Death’s Door and get back to a limitless life. He gives a brief intro to the foes you’ll face: an old witch trying her hardest to escape death through ceramic magic, a feral beast on top of a mountain, and a self-proclaimed king of the swamp. This is where the scope of Death’s Door opens up, and where I first got entranced by the Metroidvania style gear-gating and polished isometric action à la Hyper Light Drifter, another legendary adventure-slasher. 

The moment you leave corporate purgatory, you’re greeted by a medley of colour and enemy palettes, along with an incredible soundtrack. The Overgrown Ruins has a particularly adventurous and inspiring melody, led by a very strong flute, piano, and an array of supporting instruments. 

When you cut your way through the first chunk of enemies in that area and make it to the Forest Mother’s Encampment, that music swiftly shifts into a lighter, pluckier song, comprised mostly of strings which give off an inquisitive tone that deepens the mysterious ambience of the forest. Death’s Door gives each area a unique orchestral theme that lingers in your mind and feels timeless. It’s the sort of game music I can see myself keeping on repeat long after I find out all the secrets that lie behind the titular Death’s Door.    

On your journey to fight one of the bosses for their prized soul, you have to clear out a few areas, solving environmental and combat puzzles to advance to the next door, then repeat that process a few times before heading to the main lair. You start with a magic bow, but by the end you have fire powers, bombs, and a very useful hookshot to get you through the many obstacles Death’s Door throws at you. 

It’s a pretty simple setup, but It’s so easy to get lost in other misadventures because there is a ton of side content in the game. After finishing the main quest, I’m still only at 70% total completion with plenty more lore-filled knickknacks to collect, and hidden paths to explore. 

Death’s Door‘s context clues are subtle, and avoid the common mistake of being overly patronizing or absurdly obscure. It rewards the keen eye, and when you find something hidden, whether it’s for the main quest or not, you feel like a crow version of Sherlock Holmes. After outsmarting the area’s tricks you can finally start a duel with Death’s Door‘s undying bosses.

I died a lot in this game, and most of those deaths were at the hands of well designed bosses and slick enemies that actually had me stressing. Health is sparse, and all of the boss fights are challenging, so you have to be thoughtful in each approach. Sometimes you have to completely subvert the way you’ve been fighting to get the leg up on an enemy, which leads to captivating fights from early on until the end.

There aren’t too many characters, but the recurring ones all have super stylized designs and unmistakable traits. Death’s Door has clear art inspirations from Studio Ghibli movies and the Ni No Kuni games, but it wears those motifs on its sleeve while developing a dark and somber world that’s distinct. The whole reasoning for one boss — the Grandma — wanting to transcend death is deeply sad, and the game acknowledges that in a meaningful and perspective-shifting way post-fight. 

From the start to its final moments, Death’s Door is a refined fantasy adventure that packs action and puzzles together with a neat bow, with a dark story of corporate failure, moral ambiguity, and a well-written meditation on death. There is a never-ending flurry of video games coming out every day, but I strongly recommend spending the eight hours it takes to go through the emotional expedition of Death’s Door. You won’t regret it.

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Fūnk-é Joseph

Fūnk-é is a writer, producer, and Fanbyte's Featured Contributor. Check out their bylines at places like VICE, IGN, Paste Magazine, MTV, and more.

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