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"So... Tell me again about the men in masks..."

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Leave no survivors.
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Katana ZERO is a 2019 Neo-Noir Cyberpunk 2D action platformer developed by askiisoft and published by Devolver Digital for Windows, Mac and Nintendo Switch.

You are a katana-wielding assassin, known only as The Dragon, who leaves no one alive. How do you do it? By utilizing Chronos, a drug that lets you screw around with time and even look into the future. Pretty sweet, right? Problem is, you've got some personal issues going on. For starters, you don't know much about yourself and the stuff there is to know is pretty nasty. You've also been having some really vivid nightmares. But you're seeing a therapist, so it evens out, right? Still though...

Gameplay-wise, the levels are essentially you planning out your line of attack during your assignments. You can counter bullets with your trusty katana and make time go slower to get the drop on your prey. You can even grab certain objects and throw them at the baddies. The good news is your enemies go down in one hit. The bad news is you go down in one hit too. Should that happen, you have to start that section all over again, enemies and everything, so don't get cocky. After you finish a section, you get to see a security cam play out in your real-time so you can see how unstoppable you were.

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There's also a real-time conversation system that can be applied to everyone you meet. Do you listen to every detail your superior tells you? Or do you hang up on them at your earliest convenience? Do you get into detail about your nightmares with your therapist? Or do you just ask for your daily dose of Chronos?

Whatever you do, never forget: LEAVE NO SURVIVORS.


Katana ZERO provides examples of:

  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: One stage has you play as Fifteen as he fights his way through the prison looking for Fa Yuan.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Null Zero runs away from his apartment pursued by the police, likely in search of the kidnapped girl.
  • Animesque: The game itself doesn't look like this, but look at any of the offical art and it becomes immediately apparent.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: According to V, people who go into Chronos withdrawal will spend eternity trapped in their own bodies. Whether or not this is true is debatable, as the scene is a hallucination, but if it's true, than this trope is in full effect for any Chronos user.
  • Black Comedy: At the beginning of the hotel stage, some of the letters on the Murdower Hotel sign are faded, making the sign simply look like "Murder Hotel."
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    • The entire saga of Strong Terry can be considered this, as it's What Measure Is a Mook? played for laughs.
  • Bad Dreams: The Dragon does not sleep easy. War-crimes, trauma-induced amnesia and drug-induced hallucinations will do that to a man.
  • Body Horror: The True Final Boss appears to have elements of this, but it's highly implied the AKIRA-esque monstrosity you fight is just the protagonist suffering through Chronos withdrawals, and the actual fight is much more mundane.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Zig-zaagged all over the place when the protagonist is captured. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time will get you shot in the head immediately, but with a silver tongue and a precognition-enhanced Breaking Speech, you can make V too upset to kill you himself and allow you an opening to escape.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In-universe example; while torturing the neighbors, V will wink at the screen.
  • Break Them by Talking: How the protagonist manages to prevent their execution by the hands of V. Via repeatedly using his clairvoyance, he deduces that all V wants is his attention and approval. Constantly interrupting V sends him into a breakdown, causing him to walk out in a huff.
  • Bullet Time: One of the core gameplay mechanics, granted by the drug Chronos. Allegedly, withdrawal from the drug causes the user's body to be locked into this state, effectively trapping them into their own bodies.
  • Brick Joke: Early in the game the protagonist can overhear a conversation between two mooks arguing who would win in a fight, the Dragon or Strong Terry. Who's Strong Terry? Is this foreshadowing, and he's the level's boss, perhaps? Nope, he's nowhere to be found there. So you move on, get to the next level, business as usual, you kill the first regular mook that gets in your way, and...
    Mook: WHAT DID YOU DO TO STRONG TERRY???
  • But Thou Must!: Played with:
    • Sometimes during dialogue segments where the player has multiple choices, the screen will glitch and choose a (usually bad) option for them. What exactly triggers these events is unclear, as they don't happen every time. For example, sometimes during the encounter with the homeless veteran, the protagonist will kill him without being prompted to do so.
    • If you try to go straight to sleep, the protagonist will say he can't sleep without drinking his tea first. So there's no way to avoid Comedy and Tragedy showing up, who claim to have drugged said tea.
    • Subverted during a hallucination sequence. The protagonist will come across the child frequently seen in his dreams. The only option will be "KILL THE CHILD." The more times this is selected, the more identical options will fill the screen. The protagonist will then snap back to reality and then spare the targets of his mission. Based on a clearer dream sequence, it seems then child from the hallucination was spared as well.
    • That said, played fully straight with the "Life or Death" choice. If you choose to die, the game merely sends you back to the menu to continue again. If you want to experience the full game, you must choose to live, and accept the consequences.
  • Co-Dragons: The psychotic thug V and the mysterious female ninja Snow are these to their unnamed employer.
  • Cool Bike: The Dragon and V both get them in their final showdown
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: V partakes in these on occasion.
  • Cruelty Is the Only Option: The only way to fight the True Final Boss, your psychiatrist, is to be as much of an asshole as possible — interrupting people left and right and making your employers extremely angry with you.
  • Cyberpunk: Absolutely dripping in it. Neon everywhere, futuristic drugs, a corrupt, crime ridden city, high skyscraper buildings, and a middle ground between newer and older technology.
  • Deconstruction Game: In a meta way, Katana Zero is a Deconstruction of a Deconstruction Game (which both of askiisoft's prior games toyed with); while having many typical traits of them, such as blending hallucinations and real events, a protagonist with little sense of self, and having many But Thou Must! moments, the choices players make ultimately matter only superficially, removing the agency of the players and showing that the Dragon's choices are his own.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Cromag War is very similar to the Vietnam War - New Mecca invaded an unnamed Asian land, which is a dense jungle region (not unlike Vietnam), and fought a long and bloody war there that ended in defeat. The way that veterans are treated when they came back was also eerily similar to how real life Vietnam vets were treated in the postwar American society, with them being demonized for their actions. The destruction of civilian villages is also similar to real life actions perpetrated by the U.S Military during the war, and the "child killings" brought up by the veterans in the bar scene is likely a parallel to the infamous "My Lai Massacre", in which anywhere from 350 to 500 Vietnam civilians were slaughtered by U.S troops.
  • Disintegrator Ray: How security lasers work - you or your enemies, all is reduced to dust.
  • Escort Mission: Subverted. The first level ends with what appears to be an escort quest involving Dragon taking care of an injured scientist, who even has a health bar, only for the scientist's head to immediately detonate when V triggers an unseen bomb.
  • Fantastic Drug: The protagonist gets his precognitive abilities from one. It's a military combat drug called Chronos. The Psychiatrist takes an entirely different (unnamed) drug that apparently gives him Reality Warper powers.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Allegedly, those who experience the full extent of Chronos withdrawal continue to live eternally in a frozen moment in time. This is the fate of The Dragon's neighbors and, presumably, most other NUL Ls, as they cannot die under most circumstances.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During the Prison level, the security cam footage is blanked out, indicating that someone swiped the tapes. You get these tapes later, and can watch Fifteen's rampage through the prison.
    • The Dragon's nightmares reveal bits and pieces of his history. While they slowly imply that he's a Cromag refugee of some kind, one may notice that the person who shoots the scientist is a NULL soldier. Later nightmares put The Dragon into the position of that soldier, and it's revealed in the end that it is indeed him, and not the child.
    • After defeating V the first time, your battle is interrupted by the appearance of Snow, who dismisses your sword style as "a little rusty. Compared to the true dragon you are no swordsman...
      • Additionally, at the very end of the game when you're revealed to be the soldier in the vision, you kill the scientist...with a gun. Swordcraft wasn't Zero's original method of fighting, which explains why your sword skills are Crapsack By Comparsion to Fifteen, who is clearly carrying and would still be using his katana in the war.
    • The little girl who the Dragon can befriend appears in the first few nightmares, and is indicated to be a hallucination by two police officers who state that the man who the girl claimed was her father lived alone.
      • Furthermore, to the observant player, what seem like gameplay inconsistencies are actually hints to this effect. When she cleans your house, it's spic and span - but after you go out and get movies, the house returns to the same state of disrepair. Even minor things, like the girl sticking pictures of smiley faces to the walls, are reversed. It's almost like they never actually happened... (The game will swap back and forth here - when he wakes up the next morning? Clean again. ... In other words, when he's paying attention, it all looks clean.)
    • In the same vein of apparent 'gameplay inconsistencies', during the Slaughterhouse, skipping the first video (or watching it & then resetting the room and skipping) does not change any dialog from the mastermind - he'll still address you like you tripped all the previous videos. ... Which makes sense, considering they're all recordings.
    • Averted, regarding the psychiatrist's daughter. Early in the game, the protagonist can observe a picture of her on his psychiatrist's desk, and he remarks that someday the protagonist might meet her. After killing a female NULL, during an angry rant the psychiatrist remarks that he can't contact his daughter. However, Word of God states that the NULL, known as the Headhunter, is not his daughter.
  • Gilligan Cut: As the protagonist's grasp on reality begins to erode, his psychiatrist emphatically tells him to go immediately home, and to stay there until he's needed again. The scene immediately cuts to him walking into a bar.
  • Guide Dang It!: You'd be forgiven for needing to look up how to get the five keys to unlock the secret weapons and how to fight the secret boss.
  • Hallucinations: Many instances occur throughout the game as a result of the protagonist's PTSD and addiction to a drug that warps his perception of time to give him precognition.
    • It is implied that the girl is a hallucination at the end of the game, where the man assumed to be her father claims to have lived alone. She's referred to by Tragedy as the manifestation of the Subject Zero's conscience, and is "kidnapped" when he decides to don the metaphorical silver mask of death.
    • The protagonist has the option to tell the psychiatrist that his hallucinations have stopped at the beginning of the game.
    • While suffering Chronos withdrawal, the protagonist has an extremely confusing hallucination sequence that even foreshadows a future mission he'll be going on.
    • It's unclear if Comedy and Tragedy are hallucinations or not, as they are aware of the girl and refer to her as the protagonist's conscience — abducting her when he chooses to become an embodiment of death. They also abruptly appear and disappear, and demonstrate otherworldly powers of a kind not seen anywhere else in the game when they seem to pause time to speak to the protagonist, and then psychically murder the police squadron that had him surrounded.
    • It's possible that the secret final boss fight with the mutated psychiatrist was this. After the fight is over, the psychiatrist is simply on the chair with a sword impaled into his head, not resembling the mutant he looked like in the fight at all.
  • He Knows Too Much:
    • It eventually becomes apparent that all your targets within the game are linked to the NULL project and/or Chronos in some manner, and are being systematically wiped out by government assassins like yourself. In their session before the bunker level, Zero can even lampshade that the Psychiatrist is probably going to order his death as well, and that he's lying when he insists that's not the case - proven when Zero finds an assassination dossier on himself after killing the Psychiatrist stating that he's to be disposed of if he learns too much.
    • An exaggerated trope given that the Protagonist is usually ordered to Leave No Survivors, which implies that anyone who is even tangentially related to or employed by one of the targets is marked for death for this reason.
    • If the Receptionist knows that Zero is an assassin and tells the police, the Psychiatrist will order someone else offscreen to take her out.
  • I Am Who?: The protagonist — known for most of the game as "The Dragon" — is revealed to be Subject Zero, a Gamma NULL — essentially a psychically augmented super-soldier with the ability to see into the future with incredible clarity. He's also not the real — or at least the only — Dragon, as another even more powerful NULL, Subject Fifteen, demonstrates.
  • Iaijutsu Practitioner: Both the protagonist and his war-buddy Fifteen wield their katanas in this fashion, quickly drawing it to attack before returning it to its saya.
  • Improvised Weapon: All pick-up items fall into this, being thrown at the nearest enemy or target.
  • Ironic Echo: The protagonist refers to V as a "fucking sub-human" when he asks him to help him in his snuff film. At the end of the game, if you haven't unlocked the True Final Boss, the psychiatrist says this to the protagonist while being beaten to death.
  • It's All Junk: The protagonist's service medal serves as a reminder of his past and of what he must do, a tether to the world around him. He throws it away after befriending the little girl next door, declaring that he has other things to remind him now.
  • Justified Extra Lives: The vast majority of gameplay consists of the protagonist using his Combat Clairvoyance to plan his approach and actions. Any "deaths" are chalked down as dead-end plans that would not work out.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: The Dragon's default weapon is a katana he uses to effortlessly slice up even armored opponents and machines.
  • Lag Cancel: You can cancel a roll into a katana attack...but not vice versa. Careless aggression will make you restart, careful aggression will win the day.
  • Leave No Survivors: Your mandated M.O. Unless you're explicitly supposed to avoid casualties, you can't leave an area unless all hostiles are dead.
  • Loony Laws: Up until relatively recently, bad cosplay used to be banned.
  • The Many Deaths of You: Downplayed compared to other games, but Katana Zero does have a few unique game-over screens. One that stands out is if Zero blows himself up in one of the Bunker's elevators, with him noting that would be a funny prank.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: For a given definition of "mundane." It's extremely unclear what Tragedy and Comedy are, and whether or not they're hallucinations or something more. Their appearance in Chinatown is the only time they actively interact with people other than Zero, which ends with them killing a massive amount of SWAT members to save Zero's life should he choose to live... but at the same time, it's entirely within Zero's ability to kill them by himself. It should also be noted that while a single SWAT member does acknowledge the duo's initial appearance, choosing to die in the following conversation makes the scene play out like they never showed up. While they kidnap the girl in the game's ending, she's implied to possibly be a hallucination as well, which only complicates matters.
  • Mind Screw: During hallucination scenes, it can be incredibly difficult to tell what is actually happening. There are also moments where the screen will "glitch" and the player will miss certain segments of dialogue, or even entire events.
  • Mundane Utility: The all-powerful precognition of The Dragon can be turned to alternate uses...such as winning money at the gambling table. This is key to entering the chinatown level without violence.]
  • No Name Given: Most of the characters don't have any names, and when they do it's mainly codenames or nicknames.
  • Nonstandard Game Over: If the player were to pick the death option during the "Life or Death" choice, the end credits play and the player is booted to the main menu.
  • Not Quite Flight: One of the unlockable weapons his this effect. The Savant Dagger's range is abysmally short, but it has such a rapid attack speed that Zero can stay off the ground almost indefinitely just by rapidly slashing.
  • One-Hit KO: You can dish these at your enemies... and the reverse is true.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Your enemies and you go down in one hit
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The Dragon has nightmares every time he sleeps, and with time the true context of said nightmares become more and more clear.
  • Painting the Medium: Whenever somebody is Killed Mid-Sentence or otherwise interrupted, their text box explodes, letters flying every which-way and scattering across the floor before fading out.
  • Parrying Bullets: A casual swipe of your sword is enough to send gunfire back from whence it came. Somewhat downplayed due to the fact there is a brief lull before you can swing your sword again, so it require incredible timing to deflect more than one bullet at once: Which is a problem if your foes outnumber you or if they're carrying shotguns.
  • Rocket-Tag Gameplay: You die in one hit, and your enemies die in one hit, with the exception of bosses- and even then they usually block or avoid most of your hits, implying they would die much sooner if you could get one clean hit on them.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: The attempt to cover-up the NULL project eventually becomes this. Also Deconstructed: The coverup wasn't supposed to be revealing, and The Psychiatrist becomes intensely angry whenever the situation escalates out of control. He doesn't hesitate for a second to chew out The Dragon for it either, whether it's caused by player choices or not.
  • Scry vs. Scry: When two Chronos users fight each other, the outcome ultimately depends on who can keep going the longest without being demoralized by endless deaths.
  • Sequel Hook: Quite a number. SNOW and V's employer is still around, Zero is on the run, Fifteen is still hunting down the Chronos manufacturers to murder them in vengeance for his fallen NULL brethren, and the girl has been kidnapped by Comedy and Tragedy for unknown reasons. In addition, how Chronos is made, why SNOW and V's employer wanted it, and who Comedy and Tragedy are is still unknown. Comedy even claims that, just before the final level, only the first act has been completed. There is even a "to be continued" in the credits.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One of the assassination targets, a DJ called Electrohead, is a cross between deadmau5 and Daft Punk — wearing a massive helmet with a screen that changes based on his emotions.
    • One of the secret weapons, the Sword of Masters, is a blatant shout-out to the Master Sword from The Legend of Zelda — being a blue-hilted longsword that shoots energy projectiles at enemies.
    • The basement floor of the movie studio level is called Chapel of Doom.
    • One of the floors of the movie studio level is Quiet Hills, complete with an animatronic Pyramid Head expy called "Coffin Head".
    • The protagonist can engage in a Card Battle Game with the receptionist provided he befriended her, resplendent with Yu-Gi-Oh! references.
      Protagonist: You just activated my trap card.
  • Shield Mook: SWAT troopers have riot sheilds that will deflect your katana and thrown object, but die like everyone else when hit from behind.
  • Signs of Disrepair: The sign in the Murdower Hotel lobby just reads MURD__ER Hotel, as the "O" and "W" are burned out.
  • Snuff Film: At one point in the story, V invites The Dragon over to his studio to help film a snuff film involving him beating two prostitutes to death. V also sends a VHS to Dragon where he kills his next door neighbors, though the more grislier acts of torture (one of which would have involved pliers) aren't seen before Dragon ejects the tape.
  • Suicide by Cop: This can happen to you if you choose "life" - to let yourself die for the sake of those that you'd protect.
  • Super Soldier: What NULL soldiers were intended to be, thanks to the power of Chronos. Most of them were purged, with the only known survivors being Zero, Fifteen — who is the real Dragon, and a young woman implied to be the therapist's daughter.
  • Sword Beam: Two of the unlockable weapons grant this effect to the protagonist's katana. The Sword of Masters charges and fires a long-range spiralling crescent-shaped energy blade similar to The Legend of Zelda's, while the Phoenix Sword unleashes a short-range wave of flames with each slash.
  • Title Drop: Katana ZERO refers to the player character, who's real "name" is Subject Zero.
  • Timed Mission: Every section has a generous timer, justified as the limit on the character's precognitive abilities.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The Dragon's withdrawal of Chronos is affecting his mind severely, and hallucinations become frequent later in the game. At one point the Dragon gets precognition for an assignment he hasn't even been sent on yet, implying that the drug is making his powers go haywire.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: You never throw your Katana, but anything else you can pick up is fair game, and can one-shot your enemies like literally everything else in the game.
  • Tyke Bomb: The player character.
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: A key maneuver with abusable i-frames, required for bypassing lazers, bullets, and SWAT mooks alike.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: Playing the game as cruel and abrasively as possible will piss your psychiatrist off enough that he takes some form of combat enhancement drugs in an effort kill you.
    • Piss off the Receptionist and they'll sic the guards on you before you can defend yourself.
  • Wham Line: One that proves just how detailed The Dragon's precognition abilities can get.
    The Dragon: I want answers, V.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Chronos users effectively immortal as long as they have enough of the drug in their system, since if they die time effectively resets to before they're killed. However, a side effect of withdrawal from the Chronos drug is that time effectively "stops" for its user, trapping them in time. The Dragon is regularly forced to live out his trauma of killing innocents in the war due to this. Chronos addicts are regularly forced to take the drug just to maintain a casual flow of time, and it's even implied at one point that the drug is able to keep a brain alive in a comatose state well after death, subjecting the user to an eternity of torture. NULL subjects not only have to worry about this, but also heavily decelerated aging (The Dragon, despite being in his 50s at minimum, is regularly mistaken for being in his mid-20s).
  • You Have Failed Me: The psychiatrist will say this with increasingly threatening undertones if you fail to complete his objectives to the letter. When Zero refuses to kill Al-Qasim's family in the bunker, the psychiatrist's mysterious employer pulls this on him, and is strongly implied to have murdered his daughter before coming for him next.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: The protagonist is clearly repelled when V explains how much of a fan he is. While the former kills because it's his job, the latter derives sadistic pleasure from mutilating his victims.

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