I finished Death’s Door. I have officially completed 100% of the game on the switch, experienced all the game has to offer (unless there’s more secret stuff I have somehow missed), and am thoroughly satisfied. I have a lot of notes about how it could have been better, but honestly it’s like taking notes on how a pizza could be better to the granular level of “there were only 9 pieces of pepperoni on this slice, 1.7 pieces lower than the average per-slice pepperoni count.” A lot of it has to do with the ease of commenting on something already made than making something better from inside it. It wasn’t one of my top 10 games, it wasn’t something that hit me hard like Celeste, and it isn’t something I’ll replay for years like Breath of the Wild. It was a very fun, enjoyable game that I looked forward to playing, even after I completed the main story beats and was working on the fiddly, specific collection and secret-finding phase. Given how many games fail at being this thoroughly and consistently good, I feel like this should be taken as enthusiastic praise.
If you want to learn about the basics of the game, read this post. I’m going to avoid discussing the basics in the rest of this post because I have recently covered them and I want to dig into the meat of the game instead.
I think I’ve put in about fifteen hours on this game. I’m not entirely sure if this number is accurate since the number on the file might not represent time it was paused and my Switch says I’ve played over 20 hours of this game. In less specific but more real terms, it took about a week to play through and I put in about 3-4 hours of play per session. Never, during any of those play sessions, did I start to feel bored or tired or disinterested, which is a big deal for me these days since I have a difficult time staying engaged with a lot of games (which is more of a comment on my current mental health than the state of games today). I actually had trouble putting it down at times. Even the less-engaging moments of hunting for secrets once you’ve beaten the main story have this wonderful feeling of momentum and intrigue that made it easy to stay invested. I was frustrated at times, by certain fights and optional bosses, and wound up stopping as a result, but I was also playing this at night and I know that I need at least an hour after feeling wound up before I can start getting ready for bed. Stopping was more of a “I’m just winding myself up, so I’ll stop for the night and tackle this fight with a clear mind tomorrow” thing.
The writing and characterization stayed consistent throughout. None of it was as stellar and impactful as moments in Celeste, but I still cared about the characters in their own ways. Instead of the peaks and valleys of engagement found in most games that have amazing writing, inserting story between legs of an adventure, this one kept you engaged in the story consistently. You were never allowed to forget what was going on, what the stakes were, who was involved, and what they wanted while you were pursuing the main story. Even the villains could seem sympathetic as you dealt with them and they threatened you or tried to kill you, especially if you took the time to investigate the world around them. None of the villains were redeemed, none of them were anti-heroes or people who reacted poorly to being wronged, but they were all sympathetic.
Every single one of them was given a nice eulogy by a character in-world and while they were clearly wrong to do the things they did, I couldn’t help but feel like I understood why they did them. And how someone else might wind up there. The game never made excuses for them, but it did give you a clear depiction of their humanity. Even the final boss, a distant villain who appears rarely until the very end, is given this treatment. You have to pay attention to the story the world is telling you as you go, you have to spend a little time seeking it out (though you rarely have to go out of your way), but it’s all there for you. You can start to see why the world is the way it is, why things have played out the way they have.
Even when it seems like it might be inconsistent, it stubbornly reminds you that it is, in fact, incredibly consistent. Painfully so, at times. It is very specific in its themes, if not entirely complex, but it gives the main theme, a trait shared by many people you encounter, all the time and exploration you could want. By not trying to tackle a plethora of ideas, by keeping the story fairly simple, you’re able to explore it deeply in a way that most media doesn’t. The theme isn’t death, but it is tagential to death, and the context of the game (you playing a Crow who is a paid-on-comission reaper) allows you to address it directly. I’m not going to say what it is, since I feel like experiencing it yourself is an important part of the game.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve played any other games that have been as consistently enjoyable as this one. I had the same amount of fun, which is higher than average, during every minute of gameplay. Even as I died repeatedly to a single boss, it was still fun and engaging, challenging me to learn the battle’s mechanics and find a way to proceed past whatever was tripping me up in the fight. Sometimes that meant getting ability upgrades, sometimes that meant using different weapons or powers, and sometimes that meant taking a deep breath and checking my desire to react instantly when I needed to wait a couple seconds so the animation that announced the attack would finish and I could dodge the actual attack instead.
I am trained in literary criticism–I have a whole-ass degree in it–so it is difficult for me to switch that mode off. My criticisms and notes on it aren’t a sign that it wasn’t fun or isn’t worth palying, but a sign of how deeply I was able to engage with it. How much material there was for me to dig into as I played it. And, I cannot stress this enough, I have never played a game that was so thoroughly fun throughout. I may not be raving about it because it didn’t really strike a chord within me like some other games have, but it was well worth the money and I enjoyed every minute of it. I’m not sure I can say that a statement like that is literally true about any other game I have ever played.
You should play it. Really. It’s quite fun and there’s a crow security guard named “Baul Plart” which I thought was just hilarious.