An Ever-Unraveling World
Being objective kind of sucks sometimes. Death end re;Quest 2 has got to be some of the most fun that I’ve had with a Compile Heart/Idea Factory game in a long time. It was intriguing, shockingly grotesque, and ended up drawing me into its world pretty hard by the time by the time I had beaten it. Of course, I’d love to give it a really high score based on that, and that alone. But I can’t. For everything that this game does right, it also does something wrong. The good is there, but it’s countered in measure by the bad. It generally doesn’t bother me being so straightforward about this kind of thing. However, there are times when you find your objective and subjective self at odds. It’s never a good feeling, but it’s something that I just can’t deny in this case. So, just know that, whenever I start digging into you, DerQ2, that I’m not taking any kind of personal enjoyment out of it. I promise.
Death (end) is Only the Beginning
Despite being a direct sequel to Death end re;Quest, Death end re;Quest 2 begins in a manner that’s about as different you can get. Rather than focusing on a video game development company, DerQ2 begins with a troubled young woman named Mai Toyama. Alone and subjected to daily bouts of abuse from her alcoholic father, Mai spends her time drowning herself in the escapism that the Internet provides, and learns how to become a great hacker in the process—even going so far as to hack into the World’s Odyssey servers. Eventually, however, she gets to her breaking point. Tired of living in fear of her father, Mai snaps one day, picking up a cleaver and mercilessly killing him in cold blood.
Although her methods were indeed quite gruesome, Mai nevertheless is deemed to have killed her father in self-defense. Underage and parent-less, Mai eventually decides to begin a new life in Wordsworth Women’s Dormitory—an orphanage located in the European city of La Chaora—due to the fact that Sanae, her sister who lived with their mother up until her death, was reported to have been living there as well. But that reunion never came. No one in Wordsworth had even heard of Sanae; an ominous beginning for what was soon to unexpectedly become the most difficult time in Mai’s life.
Usually, it’s not too difficult for me to talk about a game’s story without spoiling it. Nor is it difficult for me to decide how I feel about a game’s story early on without worrying about my opinion suddenly changing down the road. Neither of those are true in the case of Death end re;Quest 2. I couldn’t tell you the last time my opinion of a game’s story went from “what even is this confusing mess” to “wow, this is really interesting,” but I can tell you that it happened here.
There are certain things that this game doesn’t handle well (DerQ1 spoilers incoming). DerQ2‘s La Chaora goes from being a normal (albeit mysteriously old-looking) village in the daytime to a literal digital hellscape at night. We, the player, know that this is most likely due to the fact that the real and digital worlds merged together in the first game. I’m not sure why Mai would know that, though. If I walked outside at midnight and the world had code floating through the air, giant digital spider legs growing out of cars, and monsters running rampant, my initial reaction wouldn’t be something along the lines of “wow, this is kind of spooky.” But that’s how Mai handles it. While she does treat what she’s doing with a sense of urgency, she’s way too cavalier about everything going on around her. The world breaking at the seams doesn’t phase her too much, she readily goes toe-to-toe with the monsters roaming the city, and she (alongside her teammates Rottie and Liliana) accepts the fact that she has a Glitch Mode without so much as saying anything about it. It’s almost like she knows she’s a video game protagonist and goes along with everything. But, having beaten the game and knowing its story, I can tell you that that’s not the case.
The beginning of this game’s story is rough. Infuriatingly so, even. But what makes it even worse is that it actually ends up redeeming itself. Writing horror scenarios without inescapably falling into the pitfalls of genre-related tropes is incredibly difficult this day and age. Rather than trying to dodge all of those tropes entirely, however, Death end re;Quest 2 is surprisingly good at using them to set up the player. It creates situations that easily telegraph that “x” is going to happen while keeping you in the dark about “y” happening later on. It’s brilliant, I love it, and I promise you that it only gets better the further along you go. Sadly, the beginning of the game is so obscure that it might turn some people off from ever seeing said brilliance at all.
Flagging Down the Right Path
Because the world of Death end re;Quest 2 changes so drastically between day and night, the way in which the game is played changes depending upon the time of day as well. During the daytime, the game plays out as a visual novel with a style almost mimicking that of many dating sims (despite not actually being one). The player is able to visit various locations on the map in order to interact with other Wordsworth students and learn more about the world around them. Despite not technically being necessary (you can end the day prematurely if you’d like), these sub-events add a lot to the story, and make future events feel, let’s say, “more impactful.”
Additionally, there are certain times throughout the main story where the player is prompted to make a decision. The main reason for this is obvious; Death Ends. Working exactly the same way as they did in the first game, Death Ends occur when you make a decision that isn’t just wrong, but so wrong that Mai, Rottie, Liliana, or some combination of the three end up dying (usually in a very graphic manner). Of course, since someone from Corpse Party had a hand in writing this, Death Ends can also be good things. While they do end the game early, they also provide players with unique weapons and items that can be equipped simply by reloading from the last save point or decision point. You’re a winner whether you’re playing savior or executioner. Hooray!
The consequences of the player’s decisions aren’t always immediately evident, however. While some choices are as simple as “die or don’t die,” others have the potential to change how the main story and certain sub-events play out. Not only will some conversations and events differ based on the player’s choices, but some may even be entirely inaccessible. I’ve always found things like this to be a mark of quality in visual novel games. It’s so easy to fill your game with nothing but instantly gratifying choices. Forcing the player to not only make choices for their own benefit, but for the benefit of others down the road adds an additional, enjoyable, layer of complexity to the story that I very much appreciated.
Between Heaven and Hell
When the sun sets in La Chaora, monsters begin to rise—and the game goes from being a visual novel to a JRPG! In most cases, this portion of Death end re; Quest 2 plays out very similarly to every other Compile Heart JRPG out there on the market—a fact which could either be good or bad depending on how you look on it. Not everything is the same, though. DerQ2 ditches the typical CH formula of breaking the game up into bite-sized dungeons in favor of turning the entire city into one giant inter-connected dungeon. Of course, things are still very linear despite this fact; areas are blocked off by a “mysterious digital wall” until the player is at the appropriate point in the story, and dungeon segments are set up in a way that heavily discourages player exploration. Still, it’s nice to see a game like this changing things up every once in a while.
Unfortunately, the dungeon that is La Chaora, though cool, is far from perfect. It’s no secret that Compile Heart games don’t have the most interactive dungeons in the world. This holds true with Death end re;Quest 2 as well. Aside from a few points that require keys or character-specific skills to access, exploration essentially boils down walking down a bunch of corridors with the occasional open-area to mix things up (which were actually surprisingly effective). There’s also this Shadow Matter monster that pops up and chases you, resulting in an instant Game Over (not a Death End) if it touches you. I think that it’s supposed to be scary, but it’s honestly just plain annoying. I don’t expect Compile Heart to make wildly complex dungeons, but it’s become very evident how bare-bones a lot of them are at this point. Creating a single dungeon for the entire game was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough. I truly hope that they continue progressing in the right direction after this.
Battles are also what I’ve come to expect from a Compile Heart game. Normally I’d call that a good thing due to the fact that I like how their battles work, but they missed the mark a little bit on this one. In terms of more specific mechanics, everything from the first DerQ is still intact and works just fine. Bug fields, while a bit overpowered in some cases, are still used to power up characters and send them into Glitch Mode, knocking enemies around is amusing, and the three-skill-per-turn system allows for the player to pull off some fun and effective strategies. It’s unmistakably Compile Heart, and I’m happy with that.
The enemies themselves, on the other hand, I’m not so happy with. Enemies are way, way too bloated. And, no, I don’t mean physically (I guess some of them are, though). I’m talking about their HP. The reason that I’m using “bloated” rather than “tanky” is because that’s exactly what it feels like; the bloating of content. Although things start out fine in the beginning, enemies begin to have insanely high amounts of max HP after you progress a little. This, in turn, creates battles that feel artificially padded out. Battles don’t take longer because you need a good strategy, but because the game forces you to take the same actions over and over again to kill a single enemy. This gets especially bad with bosses (the final battle took me over 30 minutes to complete). It’s also annoying because they had this problem in the first game as well. I figured that they would have learned not to do that this time around, but apparently I figured wrong.
Quit DerQ-ing my Chain
I know that I’m probably shouting into the void, here, but I’m going to say this anyway; please learn from your mistakes in this game, Compile Heart. Death end re;Quest 2 shows that you’re truly capable of making a great horror game, but also that you aren’t there just yet. There were plenty of problems, but there were plenty of things to love about this title, too. I’ve seen the EX Ending (yes, I liked this game that much), and I know that you guys are teasing the possibility of a Death end re;Quest 3. I want that to happen, I want to love it, and I want to give it a stellar review. All I ask is that you took note of what worked and what didn’t, and continue to grow this series to be as great as it can potentially be. I know you can do it!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Pc; Publisher: Idea Factory International; Developer: Compile Heart, Idea Factory; Players: 1; Released: August 18, 2020; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.