Death end re;Quest Review – Snap Back to Reality

    Title: Death end re;Quest
    Developer: Compile Heart
    Release Date: February 19, 2019
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Idea Factory International
    Genre: JRPG

When a developer gets too comfortable, they tend to get put into a box of what types of games they produce. Japanese developer Compile Heart is no different and the company is known for the popular Neptunia series. While the developer does branch out to try new things from time to time, they generally seem to focus on the comedic angle of storytelling that has been a contributing factor to their success. The most important thing about trying new things is how they balance mixing elements that fans expect with their new style in hopes that it retains old fans while piquing the interest of new ones.

With their latest title in the west, Death end re;Quest, Compile Heart seems to be doing something a little different. Although they still have themes of comedy found throughout this new story, this is a game that relies heavily on whether or not the player is interested in the adventure. Thankfully, the developer has pulled out all the stops with this new title, and created a game that not only fans of their previous works can easily get into, but also offers a great starting point for anyone who is interested in niche JRPGs.

Death end re;Quest begins with a tragedy of a girl named Shina Ninomiya who wakes up from what is to be believed as a nightmare in a strange fantasy world without her memories. In an attempt to understand her situation more, she begins her quest in search of answers. She ends up discovering that the world she is in, known as World’s Odyssey, is in peril. Citizens have been either disappearing or been getting mentally unstable which turns them into a beast-like creature, known as Martyrs. Shina’s only objective is to have hope that she can somehow turn all this around. It turns out that it’s not going to be easy because as time goes on, she figures out what is really happening: She is trapped in a Virtual Reality game that she helped develop and has been missing in the real world for a year.

At this same moment, Arata Mizunashi wakes up at his computer to find a strange email from a girl he believed to be dead, Shina. Looking through his encrypted contents led him to discover a game he helped create, World’s Odyssey. After looking into it a little further, he found Shina to be existing in the game and offers his help to try and get her out of the game and back to the real world. Throughout the game, new characters are introduced in the in-game and real-world who will assist in seeing Shina home safely. However, a group of masked terrorists is also looking for a way into this world to steal its contents and blur the lines of the digital code and reality.

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The story of Death end re;Quest is text heavy to the point where it can be considered as a visual novel. The game is split into two different modes: World’s Odyssey, where players explore the game’s world, fight monsters and interact with the party members and Reality, where players follow Arata as he gathers information and deals with the terrorists who are closing in on him. The Reality portion of the game resembles more adventure visual novel mechanics where players can make choices and discover ways to help Shina progress her adventure. The game also has multiple “Death Ends”, which requires the players to make choice during dialog that can result in a Game Over.

The set up works extremely well and switching from one mode to the other is done with a press of the button. Plus the game has an alert in the menu that lets you know when a new event has opened up in Reality. The relationship between Arata and Shina was conveyed brilliantly through the writing, which was a surprise given that they don’t interact face-to-face. Their determination and personality were an absolute joy to witness from beginning to end. A bigger surprise from this game is how the developer didn’t default to a cliche cast of characters. Yes, there are some jokes found within their many interactions, but these characters are all well represented and unique. Sadly, the characters who join the party towards the later parts of the game don’t have enough time to fully express who they are and display any amount of character growth, but they each have their time in the spotlight, some more than others.

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The battle system is a design that Neptunia fans will be familiar with and includes many features that make each battle feel unique. On their turn, players can position themselves around the map freely and choose three actions for the character. Special skills that require AP can also be used that execute a more powerful attack. Furthermore, new skills can be learned through a combination of different skills. This feature makes it necessary for the player to not get too comfortable using the same attack combination. Instead, it’s better to try new combinations to try and unlock stronger attacks.

Other components to consider in battle are the corruption points that are scattered across the battleground. These points have a variety of different effects on the character if they touch them — for instance, certain points will lower stats while others increase stats. If the corruption of a character reaches over a certain point, they will enter Glitch Mode, a new form with raised stats and an extremely strong special attack. Other features of a battle include Arata’s help where he can write in code to assist the characters or even summon a boss to add to the field as the fourth character on screen.

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Battles can get pretty difficult in the game, especially the boss encounters. Every feature of the battle system is necessary to win some of the tougher encounters. I enjoyed how the developer balanced the difficulty of the battles with proper features on how to make it out alive. It forced me to put some thought into the fights and gave me enough unique tools to have fun doing it. If I lost in a battle, it never felt cheap. Instead, I figured out ways to get the most out of my party by utilizing the different features this game introduces and since there is so much, it never really gets old.

Death end re;Quest offers a ton of different ways to customize and level up the characters and Arata’s abilities. Boosting a skill’s level or expanding the character’s stats of a skill tree is just the base of what the player can customize. I really enjoyed how deep these features go, but I always seemed to get lost in the menus, which can get a little confusing at times. I also liked the variety of different weapons that are found throughout the game or purchased in the shop. If the game happens to be too difficult even with the best weapons equipped, you can change the difficulty to “Easy” if you want to mainly play for the story.

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Dungeons in the game are probably the least impressive thing that Death end re;Quest offers. They are each pretty basic and normally feature a copy and paste outline that makes them more maze-like than anything. However, with that said, if they were trying to make us believe that this was all part of an unfinished video game world, then they did a great job with the dungeon layouts.

Now returning to the Reality portion of the game. Arata’s adventure puts him through some nerve-wracking and intense moments of storytelling. Fans of supernatural or mystery visual novels will absolutely love this portion of the game. The story is structured in a way that you feel like you’re right there with Arata and the supporting cast of characters as they unravel the real reason why all of this is happening. Immersion is important in a game like this, and I think the localization team at Idea Factory International completely nailed bringing Death end re;Quest‘s story to the west. It was definitely not something I was expecting from the developer but I felt completely attached to all of Death end re;Quest‘s characters and their stories. I’d also like to add that this is the first game from this publisher that I played completely with the English dub. It’s fantastic, although there are a few pretty crucial moments in the game that don’t have voiced dialog which kind of ruins the impact.

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Death end re;Quest is serious in tone and theme but adds in what fans of this developer love. The game has many adorable and well-written moments of friendship, bravery, and willpower that make it hard to put to down. Much like other titles from the developer, the game has a few different endings and a New Game+ as well as side-quests and additional areas to unlock and explore. The game’s grim theme and in-depth descriptions of gore and tough-to-stomach situations are far different than anything that I’ve seen from this developer and I loved it.

Fans of visual novels and niche JRPGs will easily have an amazing time playing through Death end re;Quest — just like I did. The adventure is one that pulls you in and doesn’t let go until you reach the conclusion. Death end re;Quest‘s focus on story provided moments of joyful and emotional scenes had my feelings all over the place. Even though the game isn’t graphically up to date with other modern titles, and it has dungeons that can be lackluster, Death end re;Quest is a game with so much potential and shows us truly what Compile Heart is capable of producing.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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