A Welcome Return Trip
Death end re;Quest is great. I played it back when it was first released and loved it, I had a blast reviewing Death end re;Quest 2, and I was more than happy to jump at the chance to review it when it came out on the Switch. But playing through DerQ helped me realize something; something that I probably wouldn’t have realized had I not gotten the chance to re-visit it several years after its initial release. I don’t just think that Death end re;Quest is “great.” I think that it’s one of the best games to ever come out of Compile Heart.
Death end re;Quest isn’t perfect. In fact, it suffers from some of the same problems that a lot of other CH games do. But the things that it does well are done to such a degree that, in all honesty, the problems that I have with the games are largely trivial by comparison. DerQ is a sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying, and oftentimes thrilling genre-crossing gem that can’t fully compare to most other games out there—and I’m always going to be thankful to Compile Heart for bringing this series into the world.
A Glitch in the… Well, Everything
Death end re;Quest‘s story is a long and complicated one, but I’ll be the first to admit that it might not seem that way at first. The game begins with protagonist Shina Ninomiya waking up in the middle of “World’s Odyssey”—a defunct MMORPG of her own creation (which absolutely should not be online at this point)—with absolutely no recollection of who she truly is. But this is no simple case of amnesia. Shina’s situation is so bad that she hasn’t just forgotten who she truly is, but that she actually believes that she’s “Shina the Adventurer,” her in-game counterpart.
Shina would probably be stuck in World’s Odyssey forever if she was the only protagonist that DerQ had. Fortunately, however, she’s not! While Shina may be the star of the MMO side of things, she has a co-protag in the real world by the name of Arata Mizunashi. Being at least partially aware of the amnesiac’s adventurer’s true situation—namely the fact that she disappeared without a trace a year ago—Mizunashi dedicated a large portion of his life to finding his missing co-worker (did I mention that they both work at the same video game company, Enigma Games?), and, upon finding her wandering around in World’s Odyssey, helps her regain most of her original memory. Unfortunately for them, however, their meeting—which should have constituted the end of the search for Shina—was only the beginning of their trouble.
There are a lot of things that I find appealing about Death end re;Quest‘s story, but one of my favorite things is how good it is at managing to subvert expectations. Even with its horror-esque beginning (which I didn’t get into to avoid spoilers), how DerQ sets itself up essentially makes it look like it’s going to follow a plot to something like Sword Art Online, or one of the many Isekai series out there. And, to be fair, it does borrow elements from those things—primarily the fact that Shina is stuck inside of an MMORPG. But it goes so much further than that as you progress into the story.
Death end re;Quest‘s dual-protagonist approach, which allows players to see how the world is being shaped both inside and outside of World’s Odyssey—is an exceptionally clever way to help the game’s story stand out, and the myriad of horror elements only further serve to cement DerQ into its own, unique hybrid genre. Even though it’s been several years since this game originally released, I still can’t say that I’ve ever seen a game handle its own narrative like this and that only made playing through things again all the more appealing.
A Storied History
Some of you might be wondering why I dedicated such an inordinate amount of time in this review to exploring Death end re;Quest‘s story. Sure, the game focuses a lot on storytelling, but don’t most JRPGs do that? Sure they do! And I probably wouldn’t have spent that many paragraphs on the story alone had DerQ just been set up as a normal JRPG—but it isn’t. In fact, I’d only say that about half of this game could be classified as JRPG-esque, the part which focuses on Shina. Mizunashi’s part of the game, however, is 100% a visual novel.
I’ve already stated my opinion on this game’s storytelling prowess enough at this point, so I’ll spare you that. Unfortunately, that just leaves me with the mechanical aspects of this part of the game, and, with everything being visual novel-esque, there really isn’t too much to talk about. Because DerQ doesn’t entirely rely on its VN mechanics to push through the game’s entirety, there really isn’t a lot of mechanical depth. The decision-making aspects—which typically constitute the bulk of what could be considered “gameplay” in a visual novel—are essentially nonexistent, and the times where the player is given choices (albeit almost always just two), picking the incorrect one almost always immediately results in a game over. While it may be true that getting Game Overs, or, as the game calls them, “Death Ends,” can be amusing to watch (in a morbid kind of way)—and can even net you bonus items for your existing playthrough—DerQ‘s JRPG elements ensure that the game doesn’t have anything like branching pathways (which many VNs do). It’s unfortunate, yes, but I understand why it has to be that way.
To the End of the World and Back
When it’s not being a well-written visual novel, Death end re;Quest is a JRPG dungeon-crawler. And, rather ironically, this is where the game tends to suffer the most. While Compile Heart has more than shown itself able to create a wonderful and captivating tale a la DerQ‘s VN segments, the portion of the game dedicated to JRPG gameplay is largely your run-of-the-mill CH dungeon crawling experience. If you’ve played any other Compile Heart JRPG, you’ve already played about 85% of Death end re;Quest‘s JRPG sections.
To be fair, DerQ‘s dungeons aren’t entirely set up in the same way as other Compile Heart Games. I’d dare to say that they’re a little higher quality. If you’ve played enough CH games, you’re probably are that, more often than not, the typical approach to exploration is a simple one. You might have your twisting path or small puzzle here and there, but you’re not going to get lost any time soon. And, yes, DerQ has plenty of dungeons like that, too—but not all of them are created that way! There were several dungeons that, for better or worse, took some effort to get through—Heartis Palace being the best example of this, in my opinion—and it’s actually quite refreshing seeing Compile Heart their dungeon developing abilities like this. I just wish that they had put a little more effort into making all of the game more complex. It really would have done wonders for the gameplay!
Bouncing off the Walls
Much like its exploration, Death end re;Quest‘s combat also suffers from being, well, “same-y.” As with many other Compile Heart JRPGs, combat takes place within a circular ring and places a heavy emphasis on the physical location of both player characters and enemies due to the varying attack ranges of attacks and skills. Fortunately, DerQ does differentiate itself from its CH brethren in several ways.
The biggest way in which accomplishes this degree of combat autonomy is through its “bouncing” mechanic. Each character in the player’s party has attacks and combos which allow them to push back enemies. Acting differently from the typical kinds of knockback that you’d see in other games, enemies that have been pushed oftentimes go flying across the field, ricocheting off of boundaries, other enemies, and even your party members as they do so. While this might seem kind of silly, it’s actually incredibly beneficial. As enemies bounce around the arena, they rack up damage—sometimes even more damage than your characters dealt to them, making them much easier to defeat. While standard combat tactics and mechanics still apply, the ability to push your enemies around the field adds a unique and fun additional mechanic for players to consider when duking it out with the glitchy denizens of World’s Odyssey.
Death end re;Quest also has a lot of bugs. Don’t worry, though; they’re supposed to be there. As your characters attack, take damage, and touch bug panels while moving around the combat field, they’ll begin to generate corruption. While taking in bugs can sometimes deal nasty amounts of damage, they can also cause your characters to temporarily transform into—what else—Glitch Mode versions of themselves. Contrary to everything else involving glitches, Glitch Mode characters are actually something that you want to have. Sure, they look and sound kind of weird, but their stats go through the roof, and they even have special attacks. It’s a total win-win! …Well, mostly.
I know that I said it at the beginning of the review, but I’ll say it again: Death end re;Quest is one of the best games that Compile Heart has ever made. While it may not manage to avoid all of the tropes that you’d expect to see from a CH game, it’s obvious that a lot of effort has been put into this game, and it absolutely shows. It’s a weird combination of sci-fi, horror, comedy, visual novel, and JRPG elements that were all put together in just the right way to allow them to work together in a near-perfect way. Whether you’re a Compile Heart fan who initially passed this game by, a pre-existing DerQ fan, or just someone with even a mild interest in this game, I’d say to just go ahead and pick up Death end re;Quest for Switch. It’s relatively cheap, and a lot of fun and the smorgasbord of DLC that comes with this version doesn’t hurt anything, either!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC; Publisher: Idea Factory International; Developer: Idea Factory, Compile Heart; Players: 1; Released: October 31, 2018; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Death end re;Quest given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.