Death end re;Quest Review
Release Date: February 19th, 2019
Developer: Compile Heart
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), PC
Video games have evolved so much to the point where we inch closer and closer to finding ourselves truly immersed in one, and with the power of virtual reality, this fantasy has come close to fruition. Countless mediums have taken on the idea of what it would be like to truly find yourself in one, to the point where receptors and any action you take mirrors the real world on a neural level, and Death end re;Quest finds itself touching upon the idea further, but with a more scary twist than the typical "what if we get stuck in here?" scenario by implementing the idea of a game so early in development it's filled to the brim with bugs - some of which could have corrosive and fatal effects in-game and out.
While in development, World's Odyssey, an up and coming MMORPG that generated a ton of hype and interest, had lost its director and protagonist, Shina Ninomiya, out of the blue, and due to the sudden disappearance of Enigma Games' most prominent and talented developer, work on the game ceased operations as it was put on hiatus to focus on other projects. Fast forward a year later and we enter a decrepit world that's eerily familiar because it is, in fact, World's Odyssey. As you slowly regain your memories, you aim to survive as you try to find a reason to the game still being active, how you got in there to begin with, and if there's any chance of escape. Along the way you'll meet other NPCs, predictably, but the real question on your mind is: are you the only real person here? Death end re;Quest could easily be seen as some Sword Art Online ripoff, but it truthfully isn't. It does a lot of unique things that SAO's manga, anime, and games haven't done or even touched upon, and Death end re;Quest, while maybe not as memorable, is exponentially darker. Fans of RPGs, anime, and horror have a real treat with this one as it blends a lot of this stuff really well.
Gameplay in Death end re;Quest keeps things familiar while evolving the formula, especially in the realm of what Compile Heart typically does. The battlefield is much larger this time around when you engage enemies in dungeons - most of which stand out as unique in design but admittedly empty in its environments - and you're meant to move freely while deciding the best way to attack an enemy as while after attacks you can continue to combo and create further enemies by causing them to collide against walls, other enemies, and more obstructions. So many things can happen in the course of a battle that it makes for exciting elements, and thankfully it isn't all poured onto you at once, and instead the game takes you through these preset scenarios in which it'll introduce new mechanics, such as Glitch Mode, which is almost like the HDD and EXE commands in the Neptunia series and the thirst of the Blood Maidens in Mary Skelter. It's here where, after a certain amount of damage you take, you'll generate a certain amount of corruption that adds to an overall meter seen next to your name. Once this reaches above 80%, a transformation will occur allowing you to do ultimate attacks and inflict massive amounts of damage with elaborate cutscenes that are a spectacle to behold. It feels great initiating these attacks, and thankfully it's not something you can abuse, so you won't get tired of seeing ultimate attacks be unleashed - not to mention it feels great every single time.
Bugs intentionally occur on the battlefield that affect all characters on the field, and can give a multitude of attributes. Sometimes they're fatal, other times they grant boosts, poisons, passives, buffs, etc. for everyone involved. They're color coded, so typically you have an idea of what to avoid or try to take advantage of, but because it's a bug, anything can happen and can change the tide of a battle for anyone that comes into contact with one. Most of the time I tried to avoid these, but it makes for a more strategic time in choosing where and which enemy to attack and how to knock them into boundaries and bugs for extra damage and other area-of-effect capabilities. To change things up even further, since you're in a video game, you can install new "Genres" onto the battlefield, which are almost like these quirky abilities that change perspective and playstyle for a brief moment during a turn. For example, there's one that turns into a shooter, and another that turns into a bullet hell, and while they don't necessarily power anything up or change the tides of battle, the varying ranges between each have their uses and it's cool to see an implementation of something new to keep things fresh and exciting, while of course staying within the theme of the story and setting of World's Odyssey.
Whether you're playing in English or Japanese, the game has decent performances from everyone involved, and while it won't be blowing anyone away, it more than suffices for the type of game this is and its presentation. It's arguably the best B-Tier I've ever heard, with some solid deliveries during the more poignant moments. You can switch freely at any time in the settings option for dual audio, among many other options to make the game the most optimal for the player. Menu systems are clean, and while Compile Hearts' games haven't necessarily ever had cluttered UI, they do sometimes feel disorganized. Here, however, most things make sense, and another neat thing you'll have access to here is the ability to go between the real world (as a separate character) and World's Odyssey to continue your adventure as Shina Ninomiya. The real world mostly consists of visual novel segments with a few other perks, but it's necessary to have a better understanding of the story, as well as being on the outside looking in and seeing how it's affecting everyone. Not all of Death end re;Quest's non-gameplay segments are strictly visual novel formats, though. There are a fair share of scenes are that are fully rendered to have a more immersive way of showing everything that's going on with cinematics versus a simple "*raindrops begin to fall*" text implication with some sound effects where you're left with your imagination doing the bulk of the work.
Though the story is strong enough to keep you interested on what's coming next and having extended play sessions, the dungeons, as mentioned earlier, while unique, do begin to feel like not much thought was put into the depth after the initial design. Everything feels blocky and while enemies are in the overworld rather than random encounters, they're all spread out and are usually by their lonesome. Most rooms are there for the sake of being a room rather than anything fulfilling since it looks better than having just one long hallway, I suppose, but it leaves for those that like to explore (like myself) disappointed. It ultimately feels like a waste of time checking every room, but you're still better off doing so since you'll need specific key items that are arbitrarily placed. The HUD and the map only tell you so much, so covering your ground is your best bet, even if it's unrewarding and feels like glorified sight-seeing. It doesn't help that while doing all this, your characters breathe incessantly and there's no way to turn it off. You can switch between walking and running at any time through toggling, but the loud breathing - which is one voice clip used over and over again - does not stop. I found myself turning voice audio all the way down, but it became more annoying having to pause every cutscene to adjust the audio yet again since I did want to hear the voices during battles and cinematics. It's an odd design choice to have the characters sound so tired as if running a 10k.
Death end re;Quest feels like an amalgam of everything that made Mary Skelter Nightmares great mixed in with the combat of the Neptunia games, but with a new spin. From its transformations of its characters, movesets, dungeons, and more, Death end re;Quest does well to combine from of Compile Hearts' best while still giving it its own flair to stand out between the bunch. The combat is much more refined from what we're used to and the dungeons all feel unique thanks to each theme of every chapter and level. Progression feels balanced and enemies are varied enough to not make it feel repetitive, but also familiar enough to get acquainted with so you can naturally remember the best counters and weaknesses against certain targets. While Death end re;Quest isn't doing anything new in the story department, character development is there and overall it gets the job done for what it tries to accomplish while also having a nice balance of humor, intriguing visual novel sequences, and heart wrenching moments.
Polished battle system that's arguably Compile Hearts' best yet, only rival to Cyberdimension Neptunia
Character designs are vibrant and memorable, with good backstories for each
Tons of customization and move-sets that make every battle feel unique and worthwhile even while grinding.
The game doesn't run as smooth as one would expect, though it is certainly playable.
Lots of the out-of-game segments tend to drag on longer than they should, and as someone who is used to tons of dialogue and fancies visual novels myself, I still found myself saying "let's hurry this up"
Massive thanks to Idea Factory! For supplying us with a copy for the purposes of this review