reviews Ed-0: Zombie Uprising. This is a hero image from the game.

Review: Ed-0: Zombie Uprising (Sony PlayStation 5)

Hack and slash through zombies with joy.

8 mins read

Ed-0: Zombie Uprising is simultaneously excellent B-grade action fun, and an utter waste of an enormously talented developer’s finest qualities. Lancarse, the developer behind El Shaddai, Lost Dimension, Monark and The DioField Chronicle, knows how to tell a story. Ed-0 has an excellent concept.

Related reading: For another roguelike with a horror-and-samurai vibe, check out Katana Kami. Our review.

So why on earth did they just… stop… there?

Ed-0’s opening moments promised so much. Set at the end of the Edo period (hence the playful title) Matthew Perry and his Black Ship, which historically threatened Japan with annihilation if they did not open themselves to American commercial interests, continue to exist, but this is an alternate history. Instead of delivering capitalism and setting Japan on a course towards colonial imperialism that… well, anyone who knows basic history knows that went very poorly for everyone, this Black Ship instead delivers a zombie plague on the nation.

A screenshot from Ed-0 Zombie Uprising showcasing the gameplay.

Yes, Lancarse actually went there and (quite reasonably) made the analogy that the influence of Americans is equivalent to a zombie plague. Exquisite. Exactly the kind of concept that could have delivered a wild plot. From the publisher of Onechanbara, School Girl/Zombie Hunter and Earth Defence Force, I was really looking forward to a blend of B-grade aesthetics and satirically subversive storytelling based on that opening.

I got the B-grade aesthetics. I was left wanting for the other half. Ed-0 zigs where it could have zagged, instead opting to be a fairly traditional roguelike in its narrative approach (i.e. “minimalist”), and effectively comes across as a real-time Shiren the Wanderer to play. This in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Shiren the Wanderer is a great time. I just wasn’t expecting a great and detailed narrative in Shiren the Wanderer, and it didn’t matter so much that the bosses were a gauntlet of traditional JRPG tropes. Ed-0 could have had us go up against President Millard Fillmore, or UK Prime Minister Sir Harry Parkes, who could have been delivering a similar plague over in China at the same time. Instead, I spend three-quarters of the Ed-0 beating nondescript bosses like Steam Giants and Crow Tengus, and hoping that at least they’ll give me a chance to take on Perry himself at some point.

There are other games that have taken “alternative history” concepts and blended them with fantastic concepts to remarkable effect. Steelrising, for example, did a great job weaving automatons into the French Revolution and maintaining a Soulslike gameplay structure while still doing something meaningful with the setting. Ed-0 missed the ship (hah) in this regard.

A screenshot of Ed-0 showcasing the extreme violence

Still, while it might not deliver much of a narrative or theme, it does get the aesthetics right. As a B-grade grindhouse-style game, Ed-0 does the violence side of things particularly well. Combat is reasonably methodical, and because of that, is also visceral, especially when combined with limbs being sewn off and blood spurts splashing everywhere. Coupled with the dark and brooding horror theme that pervades the settings and soundscape, the game does right by the violence of the grindhouse genre. There’s little fan service – the “other” side of grindhouse that we see in much of D3 Publisher’s library, but it is definitely a genre piece thanks to that extreme bloodletting.

The gameplay also offers a quality loop. To reiterate, it does play slowly, and expects you to spend some time carefully positioning yourself and manually stepping back out of the way of counter-attacks. Producing something like this was an interesting decision in a world where, post Souls and Elden Ring, players expect more snappy responses, counters, and parries, but the “old school roguelike” theme carries nicely through this combat system.

The loot system is reminiscent of a vintage roguelike. You’ll end up with a bag full of items very quickly, and so you need to be effective in cycling and dumping items as you go. You also lose everything after running out of health, so you’re incentivised to actually use your resources as you go, rather than holding on to them. There are ample ways to boost your character’s stats. However, some of the items are cursed and will make life difficult for you unless you have an item that can remove the curse. If you’ve played enough roguelikes, this is going to be so familiar you won’t even need the tutorial, and Ed-0 doesn’t even try to break away from tradition with any of it.

A screenshot from Ed-0 Zombie Uprising highlighting the narrative.

Unfortunately, the joy of discovery does wear off a little too quickly, and that’s not great for a roguelike. There just isn’t the range of items or creative impacts on the gameplay that we’ve become more accustomed to in more recent titles. Ed-0’s loot system would have been celebrated back on the PlayStation 1 or N64 for its depth, but by modern standards the experience of moving through levels becomes too rote, too quickly. There are at least three different characters to choose between, but on the other hand, the game itself isn’t particularly long (not counting the number of times you’ll die along the way), and this is one of the rare times I wish that there was, simply, more content to help take the excellent ideas that the developers had and really let them take flight.

There is a lot to admire about Ed-0. Conceptually it’s spot on, the gameplay is taut, albeit “classical”, and the atmosphere is thick and entertaining. Unfortunately, it’s also a story of missed opportunities, and what could have been a truly stand-out experience ends up being just a flashy B-grade roguelike. Is it worth the time investment? Sure. Is it going to be something you remember for many years to come? Sadly, no.

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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