Is Compile Heart’s Latest Game a Programmer’s Delight? or Is It a Bug-Infested Nightmare?
Death end re;Quest is a game I’ve had mixed feelings about. While Compile Heart can indeed be a creative company, they also tend to be very formulaic. Thus, as I learned more and more about Death end re;Quest, part of me hoped that this game would break those patterns. Idea Factory International was building this game to be the next major step for Compile Heart. Which was good, because this was really a make-or-break title for me.
Over the last year, I’ve been steadily clearing through several IFI games. Playing through 12 games from one localizer in a year gives you some insight into their strengths and weaknesses. So, my hope was that I would see IFI step up to the next level as well. I hoped that IFI, which was founded on the success of Neptunia, would show me all that they have learned over the last five years.
Would Death end re;Quest be that next step for both? Or would a story about escaping a buggy game trying to kill you end up breaching my confidence in one of my favorite teams? Let’s log in and do some debugging starting with the premise.
A World Trying to Commit Deicide Against Its Creator
Death end re;Quest’s story is one that’s conventional. A young woman named Shina wakes up with no memory of who or where she is. All she knows is that she has spider legs attached to her for some reason. After some quick investigating, she remembers that she is Shina, the adventurer, and her goal is to reach the mystical sky capital of Odyssia. With her memories returned, she sets out for Heartis Palace to gather some information as well as money for her journey. Along the way learning a few truths.
One is that a plague known as the Entoma has gripped the land. The spider legs she has are proof she is affected by it as well. However, that’s not all. The king of Heartis is mad from the Entoma scourge as well. About to be beheaded, she is told by a mysterious voice to run for her life. Said voice, helping her escape the palace. While Shina thinks this voice is God, it turns to be someone more familiar.
The voice is Arata Mizunashi and Shina’s true identity is Shina Ninomiya the director of World’s Odyssey. The very game she is now trapped in and must try to escape by activating the “Ending Engage.” While the chance for victory is slim, both Shina and Arata will have to work together to solve the mystery of Shina’s plight and avoid numerous “Death Ends.” We’ll touch a bit more on the plot in a bit, but for now, let’s move onto the technical elements of the game starting with the graphics.
Visualizing the Universe this Novel Presents
Death end re;Quest’s graphics are on par with other Compile Heart games. While not as polished as Megadimension Neptunia VIIR’s, they are acceptable. One thing of note is that World’s Odyssey is a very dark looking world. Mainly due to widespread destruction. As such, it’s a very drab looking realm. Though, this does allow the main characters to stand out a little more. Conversely, the real world itself looks perfectly normal.
As you play the game, you’ll have to switch back and forth between both World’s Odyssey and reality. What’s odd at times is how the styles of World’s Odyssey and reality contrast and conflict. It almost makes them seem like they’re from two different games. Which is a repeating theme through Death end re;Quest. One last thing to touch upon before we move on is the enemies.
Reusing assets is a time-honored Compile Heart tradition. You can find examples of Neptunia enemies being reused in Fairy Fencer F and Omega Quintet for example. The same occurs here. However, Compile Heart did at least take advantage of the idea that World’s Odyssey is bugged to do something a little different.
Most, if not all, of the enemies in the game look corrupted. The deformities from the bugs give them a horror vibe. We know what these enemies are supposed to look like. So, our minds can’t help but be a bit disturbed by the grotesque changes that these enemies have gone through. While I’m a not fan of Compile Heart’s constant reusing of assets, this is one case where I think it works.
Next, let’s move onto the music and sound.
Conveying Empathy through Sound and Voice
Most Compile Heart games have entertaining soundtracks. However, Death end re;Quest is an odd exception here. None of the music is bad. But it doesn’t leave much of an impact. The real highlight for me is “Odyssia, Forsaken” which plays during a few boss fights and the final dungeon. Otherwise, the music is atmospheric and fitting but didn’t really stand out. In regard to sound, I want to focus on one thing: the dub.
This dub is fantastic! It’s easily the best part of the game and the one thing IFI consistently does well. Dubbing is never an easy task, but the voice cast for this game gives their all. Specifically, I want to highlight Rook who I wish could just narrate the entire game. Is every line read an absolute winner? No, of course not, but when you’re told to say the line “I’m peeing!” what do you expect?
With the graphics and sound talked about, let’s delve into the game design itself where things get a little more subjective. Especially, regarding the actual genre of this game.
When a JRPG is Actually a Visual Novel in Disguise
Death end re;Quest is billed as a Turn-Based RPG by Idea Factory International. However, I’d argue that this it’s a visual novel with turn-based RPG elements instead. Almost every Compile Heart game heavily uses visual novel elements. But, this game steers into that territory even more for a few reasons.
The first reason is that the game itself is divided into two. While the events inside World’s Odyssey utilize normal JRPG elements, the events, in reality, do not. These parts with Arata are a visual novel and comprise more than half the game. In addition, there’s an abundance of choices to make in this game.
Throughout your playthrough, you’ll occasionally be presented with various decisions. These can result in an instant game over. Thankfully, the game allows you to save at almost anytime by pressing the touchpad to bring up a mini-menu. The key word there being almost. Starting around chapter 5 you’ll find that the save option is occasionally disabled. A particularly devastating example of this occurs at the start of Chapter 6.
Making the wrong choice here results in a game over. This sends you back to the last time you saved, which is before the Chapter 5 boss. Kind of a mean trick just to extend the length of the game. In addition, the game starts getting downright callous with later boss fights. One boss particularly can counter any HP or SP restoring move or item instantly. Though, reviving KO’d allies is thankfully ok.
In short, rather than rewarding a player for being tactically sound, the game tries to stack the deck against you. Though, perhaps that’s because the devs realized something during the development. And it’s the final reason that I’d classify this game as a visual novel. There’s no reason grind or fight anything but the bosses in this game. The reason? The battle system.
Knocking Some Sense into the Entoma
Death end re;Quest’s battle system was one of the things I had major questions about. Each encounter takes place in a field where you can freely move your character. Once you move, you’ll perform your action, then the game will move to the next character in the turn order. This style has been in use since Hyperdimension Neptunia MK2. However, there are a few new twists here.
The first is that each character is given three actions per turn. This means you can heal, attack, and defend in a single turn. Or just attack three times, which is what you’ll normally do. Another aspect is the Flash Drive system.
Instead of learning attacks through leveling up, your characters will learn them through chaining certain actions together. As an example, chaining Trally Bloom and Lunamis together gives you a chance to learn Lunamissimo. Likewise, chaining Lily’s Vizstar multiple times will give you Vizstar Hans. Of course, you need the SP to cover the cost of using the required skills. So, leveling does serve a purpose. The last aspect is the Knockback system.
The Knockback system is one of the main features and is admittedly a neat idea. By either attacking three times in a row or utilizing certain skills you can send an enemy flying. If they hit a wall or another enemy, they’ll end up taking additional damage. If you send them into an ally, that ally will send them flying as well. Really, it’s like playing pool. You want to line up your shots in order to scatter enemies and do as much damage as you can per turn. And at this point, you know everything you need in order to beat Death end re;Quest. The other systems allow you a few options… but are inconsequential.
Never Bring Glitches to a Sword Fight
Death end re;Quest has a few other tricks up its sleeves. However, they don’t add much depth or strategy to the game in the long run. On the battlefield, you’ll see field bugs. These little glowing patches will deal damage to you while restoring SP. In addition, you can gain negative (poison) or positives buffs (invincibility) by touching them. However, they also serve two other purposes.
The first is that once the field bugs are down to 50%, Arata can hack the game to allow for some support. While this sounds powerful, it’s honestly not. Unless a character was being countered constantly by a boss, I stuck to just the regular SP attacks. A lot of times, calling in Arata isn’t worth giving up an attack you know will do good damage. And calling him will restore the bugs that were on the field. Thus introducing more hazards. The other system related to bugs is Glitch Mode.
Glitch Mode is basically Death end re;Quest’s version of HDD from the Neptunia franchise. Once a character’s corruption reaches 80%, they’ll enter glitch mode. This greatly boosts their stats and allows them to use a powerful finishing move. The problem is you’ll probably die before Glitch Mode goes off and then your corruption is reset to 0%. Which means Glitch Mode is something I saw only a handful of times in the game. You might be asking why I didn’t experiment more, and the answer is simple. Battles are tedious in this game.
The battle system in a JRPG is basically a tool to help a player prepare for a boss. It’s where you can experiment with different tactics and setups. A key factor in ensuring this works is balancing the stats and HP of your enemies. Death end re;Quest, unfortunately, doesn’t do a good job of this and thus every fight feels like a tedious chore.
The battles in Death end re;Quest are nothing short of annoying. Enemies have far too much HP and will often heal themselves for absurd amounts. This means you really need to one-shot most enemies or master the knockback system. I instead opted for a third option: skip everything that wasn’t required. This amazingly worked.
Yes, starting with Chapter 3, I began either avoiding every enemy on the field and ran from every fight I could. If it wasn’t a required boss fight, I wasn’t doing it. You might think I’d be under-leveled, but each boss leveled me up enough to take on the next one. In fact, since I wasn’t wasting HP, SP, or items I could often outlast each boss with a bit of smart playing. Opening every chest gave me any weapons and items I needed. Similarly, the episode list gave me any armor I needed. The only fights that gave me a real problem were the Chapter 9 boss (Tip: go in with a party that has high magic defense) and one of the final bosses. So, how would I summarize the battle system: superfluous.
Sadly, Death end re;Quest’s battle system feels bolted on instead of being part of the game. This is the final reason I feel this title should be classified as a visual novel. From a JRPG standpoint, it’s quite shallow and lacking true complexity. You’re not rewarded for being smart or leveling your party to meet each challenge. Instead the trope of “Boring, but Practical” will win you the day here. For the record, I played on the normal difficulty and finished my first run at level 61. The game does offer a hard mode but increasing the HP of already tedious enemies is not my idea of a challenge. Just busywork. Still, both JRPGs and visual novels do require a good story, right?
Well, let’s talk about that…
A Virtual World + Reality + Mystery + the Supernatural + Horror + Dating-sim = Plot?
I mentioned that Death end re;Quest’s story is conventional. That’s not a bad thing. The idea of being trapped in a game presents a lot of questions. How did Shina get into World’s Odyssey? How will she escape? What of the NPCs she travels with? Are they mere code or something more? There is potential here. A good story focuses on important elements while ensuring the story and the characters form a bond with the player. This is where Death end re;Quest really falters. It tries to do far too much.
Instead of just focusing on Shina and her plight, Death end re;Quest also tries to tell Arata’s story at the same time. Sure, those events tie into Shina’s disappearance, but they’re also their own story. You basically have an A-plot and a B-plot. With World’s Odyssey feeling like it’s B-plot, to be honest.
The issue is that while things happening in World’s Odyssey are important, they’re very standard. Nothing new is done with these characters. Instead, all the interesting stuff happens on Arata’s side as more and more of the truth is revealed. Which leads into its own issue. It’s very unfocused.
Death end re;Quest tries to combine the idea of escaping a deadly virtual world, a mystery, the supernatural, horror, and dating-sim elements. Yes, it’s trying to be Sword Art Online, Danganronpa, Corpse Party, and a Compile Heart game at the same time. And sadly, none of it leaves an impact.
My playthrough of Death end re;Quest left me bored. I didn’t connect with this cast of characters since they aren’t developed enough. Take Arata. Sure, he does stuff, but I couldn’t tell you anything about him. If it wasn’t for the voice acting, I wouldn’t be able to tell you much about his personality. The same problem extends to the writing.
For a game that has “graphic depictions of violence and grotesque scenes”, this game is pretty tame. Sure, the opening cinematic is descriptive. Mainly from the description of Shina’s head and spine flying through the night sky, but very few of the other Death Ends evoke any kind of emotion. Both Danganronpa and Corpse Party know that the player needs to care about the characters. That way, when bad things happen it matters.
Again, the only times I cared was when a Death End was voiced. Because the voice actors were conveying how heartbreaking these scenes should have been. The writing alone was not doing the job. Simply put, Neptunia MK2’s Conquest ending this isn’t. Is everything mediocre though? No, there were a few bright spots.
Both Lydia and Tokiwa are my favorite characters of the game. Both had good motivations, development, and were interesting. When bad things happened to these two, I got emotional. But that the extent of my investment. Even the conclusion left me unsatisfied. Speaking of which, this game one final trick up its sleeve. You must beat it twice I suspect.
There’re a few bits of evidence that lead me to that conclusion. The first is that the normal ending trophy is called “Thought You Were Finished, Huh?” In addition, there’s a bit of a revelation that comes with this ending. However, the bigger piece of evidence comes from when you beat the game a second time.
Upon defeating what was the final boss of your first playthrough, you’re given a new option. Taking that and clearing the subsequent boss fights allows you to choose your ending. Basically, an epilogue between Arata and one of the playable girls or Lydia. For some reason, Tokiwa is not an option. This means that if you save before the final boss, you can easily attain each of these endings. Doing so will net you an additional epilogue that… left me more confused than anything else. By this point, I was well and truly done with Death end re;Quest. So, where does that leave this review and the final score then?
Compile Heart Consistency, Just on a Larger Scale
Death end re;Quest is a Compile Heart game through-and-through. Despite my complaints, I can’t call it a bad game. Everything here is competently done, and everything does work. Nothing is broken. It’s just more of the same. Which is the problem.
When you consider that IFI has been around for five years now, you’d expect to see some growth. Not more of the same. In addition, there were a few text bugs and odd localization choices I found. Sadly, a recurring IFI issue. Be sure to check the gallery for some examples. In short, this game doesn’t live up to my hopes that both IFI and Compile Heart were honing their craft. What then, is my recommendation?
After spending 29 hours with Death end re;Quest I can only recommend this game to Compile Heart fans. If you’re not expecting anything new, you’ll be fine. It’s the same old Compile Heart game, just with a different cast and some different tropes. For everyone else, however, I’d say either pass or wait for a sale. $59.99 is just too much to ask. Especially when you could play better Compile Heart games such as the original Megadimension Neptunia VII or Mary Skelter Nightmares. If you do pick it up though, give the English dub a chance. I once again can’t express how much the dub helped my experience with this game.
In the end, Death end re;Quest is a disappointment for me. I had hoped for something grand and gotten something just passable. As I said, this was a make-or-break game for me. So, I think I’m going to take a break from IFI at least until Super Neptunia RPG or Date A Live. Really, if there’s one take away from this game, I think it’s this:
Compile Heart is the eternal C+ student.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) Publisher: Idea Factory International ; Developer: Compile Heart; Players: 1 ; Released: February 19, 2019 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $59.99