Death end re;Quest is the latest JRPG by Idea Factory and Compile Heart. This combination is most well known for the Neptunia series of JRPGs, but while the format of this game is similar, the tone is very different.
I will give advanced warning that while the game is rated as mature, it’s not just for lewd content, near-nude transformations and jiggle physics. It has those too, but the rating is likely more related to sentences such as ‘Her freshly removed spinal cord trailed behind her mangled head, like a nightmarish comet’. This is not a child-friendly game.
The game is available on Steam (PC), which I am personally playing and it has also released on the PlayStation 4.
In Death end re;Quest, your goal is to escape the virtual world you have found yourself in. You play as Shina Nonomiya, one of the programmers of an MMORPG made for virtual reality which was shut down before it released. You wake up in the virtual world missing much of your memory and find that you went missing in the real world a year ago.
The VR-goggles used are the fictional type which disables the use of the body and make reality and VR indistinguishable. There is no log out button. Shina is stuck in that world, without knowing how she got there.
In the virtual world, things are not as your team designed them to be either. About the time that Shina disappeared, a beast came and unleashed catastrophe across the entire country. It was mysteriously defeated. Strange things started happening soon after. Mass suicides, people turning into smoke and monsters appearing. The people affected had an ‘entoma mark’ and all lost their mind. Shina has one too.
Arata Mizunashi, one of Shina’s teammates in the real world realizes that she is stuck in the game and that some kind of bugs are affecting the virtual world. He manages to provide a link to the real world and allows the player to follow the side of the story which happens there, purely through visual novel style gameplay.
Together they theorize that completing the game should trigger an automatic logout. With things changing in the game world due to the bugs, this will be harder than it sounds.
To avoid spoilers, I will say that I enjoyed the story overall. It does make use of several oft-used tropes, but it’s interesting throughout. The suspense is kept up throughout the story and there are quite a few plot twists.
I enjoyed the dark tone of the game which was offset by moments of levity in particular. In one scene it would talk about eating heads and in another, it would mention a character being obsessed with eating melon bread. Overall the tone of the game is quite serious, but it does a good job at lightening the mood when it needs to.
The story has you switch between Shina in the virtual world and Arata in the real world. This worked quite well to help advance the story and worked better than just explaining what was happening outside would. I think they made the correct choice to make Arata’s sections into a visual novel style experience, as it fits well to focus purely on the story for those sections.
For the majority of the gameplay, you play as Shina and any characters accompanying her at the time. These sections are played in three main ways. Story sections, walking around sections and battle sections.
The story sections mostly play as a standard visual novel, advancing in the story by reading and moving on. In addition, only for Arata, there are some extra features such as choosing where to go and whom to talk to. It is not possible to ignore the real world sections, as they are required to clear obstacles in the virtual world. Shina has some 3D story sections.
Walking around as Shina in the virtual world is fairly standard as JRPGs go. You can move around a character from a third person perspective, find items and so on. I did find that there was more backtracking than normal in some areas or that the direction to go was not obvious, which could get slightly frustrating. This can create some fairly long periods where you won’t be doing much but walking and searching for an objective.
Enemies wander the maps and regenerate after some time. If your character and an enemy made contact a battle would begin. You can ambush enemies by attacking preemptively, which was usually fairly easy to do.
Battles are one area where Death End re;Quest stands out as different from the norm in a few ways. While I generally found battles too easy, I was overall impressed by the variety of features in the systems used. If you find it too easy too, you can turn the difficulty up and down as required.
It works as a turn-based battle where your party members can move about as much as required to get into position to attack. Attacks can create a knockback effect, which usually sends the enemies flying. Some enemies are more resistant than others. The knockback effect feels almost like playing pool or snooker. You line up your shot and can do massive damage by hitting an enemy so it either bounces off a wall or into another party member, who will add another hit. It is possible to get some rather long combos. The novelty did wear off after a while, but it remained fun throughout and is a fairly novel battle technique.
When you attack, you get three actions per turn. Most often you may just be using attack-attack-attack, but you can mix actions such as heal-attack-guard. One of the really interesting features is that you can learn new attacks by mixing actions. For example, using heal-heal-attack taught me a stronger healing spell. It encouraged me trying out new combos, rather than the only attacking and healing.
Attacks come in various shapes. Shina will use a standard area attack, so she will be able to hit both enemies if they are standing next to each other. Another character you encounter early on can use a bow and can attack multiple enemies in a line. Positioning is important.
Each battlefield has traps on them. These can be disabled either by sending enemies into them or stepping on them yourself which can affect you in various ways. If you remove more than 50% of the traps on a battlefield, Arata can give some support to Shina by loading hacks. Most notably, there is one which allows you to change the battle to a basic FPS briefly.
This wouldn’t be an Idea Factory/Compile Heart JRPG if clothes weren’t coming off somewhere. In battle, if you take enough damage or raise your corruption score in other ways, you go into glitch mode. You can manage this in various ways as a battle tactic. If you do go into glitch mode, most of the character’s clothing will disappear and they will briefly become a lot more powerful. That said, if this rating goes too high, the character’s HP will go to zero.
It’s not just battle that your character can die in. Death End re;Quest has multiple endings, including a true ending, normal ending, and character endings. That said, most of the endings are bad endings where you meet a gory death. This can be through various methods, including but not limited to losing battles. As a bonus, you do unlock new items for each ending seen. This includes the bad ones.
Early on I made a poor choice in a visual novel section when asked if I want to save someone or ignore them and I got a game over for my trouble. I hadn’t saved since I started the game. That’s your reminder to save and save often.
Graphically I found the game looks quite good. Environments are detailed and clean. I found the character designs to be well done too. Visual novel scenes had partial animation such as moving arms and eyes to make them feel more alive.
I had no issues with the graphical performance on the PC. For some reason, the resolution defaulted to 1280×720, but it was easily changed to 1920×1080. For lower end computers, it’s possible to adjust settings for shadows and post-processing.
The audio was well done. I thought that the opening song was particularly well done and the background music was all varied and high quality, if forgettable. You can choose between English and Japanese voices, both of which were done well. The game is only partially voiced, which I did find a pity.
In the end, I thought that Death end re;Quest was a good JRPG. It’s strongest points are the story, the switching between worlds and the features of the battle system. It’s certainly not perfect. Sometimes the wandering around dungeons went on too long without encountering anything and there are certain features which the game could explain better. It innovated in many ways while relying on tropes in others. Still, I enjoyed my time playing through the game and couldn’t put it down at times.
You can buy the game on the Steam Store or on the PlayStation Store.
Many thanks to Idea Factory for providing a prerelease version of the game.