As a former Game Developer myself, Death end re;Quest makes me question the untold horrors that I have willing subjected innocent NPCs to over the years. What if one day, to my great dismay, I found out that those NPCs were not truly just pre-programed AI driven characters but actually real flesh and blood people trapped within my creation.
Genre: Action, Adventure, RPG
Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory International
Release Date: 16 May, 2019
Something tells me we are not in Gamindustri anymore…
With the plethora of dimensions that Neptune and her fellow Consoles have jumped around in, I thought I had seen pretty much everything. Sure, Idea Factory puts out other games too besides just the Neptunia titles that I have come to know and enjoy, but usually they are still in a similar vein such as Fairy Fencer F. For Neptune her biggest fear is running out of pudding and someone forcing her to eat eggplants. Anything else doesn’t make her break a sweat. Shina, on the other hand, starts her game off by getting her head ripped off her body by an enemy and then having it hurled though the air trailing her spine smartly behind it. Death end re;Quest is the polar opposite of a Neptunia game…
Let’s kick things off with the story. I’m not usually one who likes to spoil the story of a game, but I feel compelled to talk a little bit about the unusual goings on for this game. It’s nothing you wouldn’t learn within the prologue anyway so I don’t think it will spoil too much. I’ll refrain from giving away any of the major elements that happen within the game though. This game takes place in two worlds: the real-world where the ragtag band of developers reside and the game-world known as World’s Odyssey. The concept of Death end re;Quest is that Shina, one of the development team, had gone missing a year before and suddenly now shows up as a character in the defunct game she had been developing. World’s Odyssey was to have been a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game which required a Virtual Reality headset to play. The game engine’s AI was complex and had the ability to learn through player interactions to enhance the player experience. Unfortunately, non-repairable bugs started cropping up in the engine which ultimately led to the game being shelved and all servers were thought to have been taken offline. Eventually, though, it is discovered that the badly corrupted server is back online and Shina is unfortunately trapped within it. As you progress through Death end re;Quest you will need to flip between the game-world and the real-world in order to progress your way through the game. Usually, you will find something real-world related inside the game-world which clues you in to check to see how the real-world is doing. If you don’t visit the real-world often enough you will find your progress blocked until the real-world scenes are viewed. While this might sound a bit annoying to have your progress halted just so you can view some extra scenes, it actually really makes sense with the mysterious story.
The gameplay of the game is actually extra well done this time around. While moving around the environment is pretty standard, the combat is where this game really shines. You can have up to three characters in the front line and another three characters ready to swap in from the back-line. You are allowed to make up to three attacks per character per turn, which can be comprised of your standard regular attacks or a combination of abilities and attacks. Different abilities and even different characters have different attack ranges and shapes. For example, a gun user can shoot a very long narrow line and hit anything along that path, whereas a sword user can only hit in a small arc in front of them. Depending on the enemy, different attacks will be more effective than others. Another interesting thing about the combat is that often at the end of your attacks your character will perform a knock-back attack which will send the enemy flying away (depending on its weight) and bounce it around the area like it was in a pinball machine. Each time it collides with an object it takes damage, and if it hits one of your characters it will get smacked hard by them with their weapon pushing it away again. If that isn’t enough, there is more to talk about for the combat! As you use your abilities, you will sometimes discover a new, better version of one of the abilities used. This encourages you to try out new things as you go because you never know when you might unlock something. Sometimes the game puts a light bulb on the screen with a percentage next to it to tell you how likely you are to learn something new but a lot of times it doesn’t do that for you and you will still learn something. Wait, there’s more! There are bugs on the floor, or rather fancy looking circles that will have various effects on anyone or anything that touches them including the enemies, so if you send your enemies pinballing around the room, they will take out a bunch of those bugs and take damage to themselves in the process. This leads to the last two combat related effects I want to talk about.
First off is the corruption. As a battle progresses and you touch the bugs, your corruption levels increase. Once you reach 80% corruption you will transform into a new form and gain a powerful new ability but take care, if your corruption reaches 100%, unfortunately, you will die. The nice thing is that corruption levels carry over between battles until the transformation is triggered. The other thing I wanted to talk about also involves the bugs. Since this is a game and there are people in the real world too, they can hack into the game and inject other things into the game to help you once you have cleared out at least half of the bugs in the battlefield. There are three different options to choose from if you let the real world people hack in. The first is the ability to have some support abilities used to aid you in battle. The third allows you to summon a powerful creature to aid your fight, but the second option is the most interesting. The second option allows you to momentarily change the genre of the game such as turning it into a puzzle game or even into a slot machine. There are others too of course but I don’t want to spoil anything. Long story short, there is a lot to do in combat and it is a fairly unique twist on how it is handled.
While it is still pretty standard for the most part, there are still things worth mentioning when talking about navigating the environment. While you are exploring dungeons, you need to find keys or triggers in order to move through the area. Sometimes there are areas blocked by a glowing square that requires you to use a character ability to go through and sometimes you don’t have the right character to do that. It can be a bit frustrating early on trying to solve how to open an area until you realize that maybe you are not meant to go there right now. I know when I was doing the first dungeon, before realizing that I had to view events in the real-world to get past the obvious exit of the level, I spent quite some time trying to figure out how to make it past that door. I was assuming that it was the inability to get past that door which was hindering me. Turns out I never did go through that glowing door but I have now progressed far beyond it. Another interesting thing when exploring is the fact that each character has a special ability, such as Shina’s spider lines that let her pull herself up to higher areas (only if in specially designated areas). Using the character’s abilities will allow you access to an area that would have otherwise been off limits to you. The last thing worth mentioning about exploring the environment is that you can accept or submit quests whenever you find a place to camp. The quests are not overly hard. They are likely things you will do as you progress through the area anyway so they are well worth accepting.
Nothing is certain except death and taxes. Death is lurking around every corner and in every choice you make. As you work through the visual novel parts of the game you will be given choices. Depending on the choice you make will ultimately lead to you being able to progress in the game or dying. Every time you die, you have to reload your last save and try again. The game tracks how many bad ends you have received as you work through the game. Not all of them are obvious as which ones are the correct choices and which ones are not. A very early choice is to either help someone or ignore them. Being heroic and having video games teaching me to always help people in need, I attempted to help them… Game Over! Everything in the world probably hates you and wants you dead. You even have a creature looming over your shoulder who, for now, is your friend, but if you ever show too much weakness odds are it will kill you. Ultimately, you will get a few Game Overs no matter how careful you are and that is okay. Some of the scenes actually troll you a bit. They make you think you chose the correct ending by running for a while before ultimately killing you or they may be the opposite where you get the typical you chose poorly style text screen but then you end up being fine. It helps keep you on your toes and keeps it interesting at the same time.
Graphically the game looks really good. The character models are all very detailed and look good both in their 2D Visual Novel style looks as well as their 3D gameplay models. Their weapons change in appearance as you upgrade them, and you can even change their clothes if you have access to the correct DLCs. In combat, the actions performed vary widely between moves and characters which helps keep combat feeling fresh and not just the same thing over and over again. Each environment you pass through looks unique compared to the previous one, which is always a good thing. While there are common enemies you will often see within the same dungeon, each separate dungeon typically has its own mix of new and interesting enemies to battle. The game-world looks like a corrupted hellscape most of the time and the real-world looks like your typical vibrant Visual Novel city. The text on the screen is easy to read regardless of the background that happens to be used at the time. Blood splashes are not uncommon when in the Visual Novel mode, which is mostly comprised of a red flash and then blood splatted against your screen. I have to say that the character models are particularly expressive looking when they are being disemboweled or otherwise killed. I mean even when they are not dying, they still are very expressive, it’s just that the death ones are particularly well done.
If you have read my last few JRPG reviews you will have noted that I tend to complain just a little when the game doesn’t have an English dub. Fortunately, I won’t have to complain this time because there is actually an English language track available! I no longer need to listen to the Japanese audio while quickly reading the text to understand what they are saying; I can actually watch the events unfold just by listening! The voice actors have all done a wonderful job this time around and they seemed to match the character’s personality to the voice actor portrayal perfectly. The sound effects and music are as I would expect from a game Idea Factory had its hand in and is top notch. There is something that happens from time to time and I don’t know if it is an issue with my computer or if it is done for effect but sometimes all sound will stop in the game completely. It could be to create suspense as it could work in those periods, but it could also be some other form of quirk. Regardless, it doesn’t detract from the gameplay.
The user interface and controls for this game work very well. Everything is smooth and the menus are well laid out. I never found myself hunting for what I was looking for. When navigating the game-world I never had any issues with the character not responding exactly how I wanted them other than my own personal lack of finesse when trying to avoid stepping on bugs. When switching to the real-world, the real-world menu was easy to navigate and simple to follow the flow of. I played the game with a gamepad but I believe the game could also be easily played with a keyboard and mouse.
If you are looking for another fun, calm, playful adventure to go on like you usually do with Neptune and her merry band of friends, you might want to run away while you still have the chance. If you found Neptunia to be a bit too family friendly and wish that instead of showing some risqué situations you were given copious amounts of gore (and some risqué situations), then this might be right up your dark alley. For a JRPG/Visual Novel hybrid it does both elements very well, and arguably better than Neptunia games do. While there isn’t a branching story like you may find in a typical Visual Novel such as the Hakuoki series, it still gives you choices. Mind you, unless you choose the correct answer you typically die gruesomely so the choices are really just there to keep you on your toes. The JRPG elements are actually really well done, with each character being fairly unique and each having a ton of hidden abilities to discover as you select which abilities to use in combat. This leads to a feeling of combat remaining fresh rather than just rehashing the same few moves repeatedly. Overall, if you are not afraid to play a gory game and enjoy Neptunia style hybrid games, then you will most definitely want to Save this one.