I wasn’t expecting much from Death end re;Quest when I first picked it up. It’s a product of Compile Heart, which is itself a subsidiary of Idea Factory – a studio that I’ve had a tenuous past with, to say the least. The most notable titles I’ve played from them are Neptunia Virtual Stars, which I reviewed here at Anime News Network, and Death Under the Labyrinth, which I played in my last year of high school. Suffice to say that I have an incredibly low opinion of both of these games and have become reasonably skeptical of the studio behind them. Death end, however, proves me dead wrong: it demonstrates not only Idea Factory‘s ability to put out quality titles, but that they can also be trusted to take real creative risks and create unique games – something all too rare in today’s market.
That isn’t to say that Death end re;Quest isn’t without its faults. This game seems at times to have no end of frustrating mechanics and senseless directives, but through all that manages to deliver on unique and thoughtful ideas that immensely enrich its experience. All of the features that bog down this game are really just ones of agitating tedium: Death end isn’t afraid to force players to backtrack through several hours of gameplay for nonsensical reasons. Incorrect dialogue choices can send players to game over screens, and these “wrong answers” are not only frequent, but often unassuming and unclear. This was easily my least favorite aspect of this game, as it caused me to randomly lose hours of progress at least once just about every time I picked it up. Apart from this constant setback, there’s a lot of inconsistency in Death end‘s dungeon design. Some of them have simple gimmicks and memorable themes while others are maze-like and forgettable. The worst of them have unclear objectives and roadblocks, a hindrance that is only exacerbated by the repetitive design of certain dungeons. I found myself spending a lot of time trying to find my way past certain points, only to find out that I wasn’t supposed to return to them until much later in the game.
These faults, however, are somewhat dwarfed by this game’s capacity for creative exploration in its gameplay. The shining achievement of Death end re;Quest is its unique approach to combat – something that is seldom focused on in JRPGs. Combat here is straightforward enough, but conceals some unassuming depth. Battles play out in a sort of marriage between traditional turn-based JRPG combat and billiards. Each character gets to choose three actions on each of their turns. The breadth of these options covers the typical RPG stuff – healing, attacks and magic attacks, status effects, stat buffs and debuffs, etc. The catch is that by dedicating an entire turn to attacking, enemies can be whacked across the field; knocking them into walls, other enemies, stage hazards, and (most notably) other allies will result in devastating bonus damage. Little balls in the arena called “field bugs” play into most of the more complicated features. Field bugs can be removed in three ways: The player can step on them which will grant certain effects dependent on the bug (reduce HP and increase MP), destroyed by knocking enemies into them, or by using specific moves. Removing these bugs from the field enables the player to use jacks, which have a magnitude of different effects and utilities ranging from AOE attacks, altering aspects of the field, or even summoning previous bosses as allies during combat. The secondary boon to interacting with these field bugs is that it raises character’s “glitch meter”, which, when filled to at least 80%, allowed them to go into something of a berserk mode, unlocking some insane damage output and truly flashy attacks.
While the battles certainly take center stage, the aesthetics of Death end shouldn’t be discounted. It has a soundtrack that I won’t soon forget (City of Illusion is an easy favorite), full of mellow bass synths and energetic rock sets. It doesn’t slouch in the visual department either. While it is middling in terms of graphical fidelity – assets often don’t look terrific, and it stays in more of an unassuming territory most of the time – the character designs are fantastic. Each one is a slice of perfection in its own right, possessing distinctive designs that can clue any observer into instantly getting the gist of the character at hand. I’m not usually a fan of fanservice or oppai physics, but Death end executes them in such a tasteful way that I’m honestly here for it. The “glitch” outfits are sexy, but are also seldom seen, and are introduced via these fantastic magical girl transformations that I can’t help but simp for.
The biggest hit or miss of this game is its narrative format. Death end re;Quest‘s story plays out more like a visual novel than anything else, a decision which is sure to be divisive, to say the least. We see all of the trappings of the visual novel genre here – long swathes (+30min) of dialogue sequences, dialogue choices that lead toward different endings, convoluted plot threads that spin off into a narrative abyss. Somehow, though, even with my general disdain for the visual novel genre, I’m more on the positive side of the fence here. Death end tells an interesting and unique story, one that gets surprisingly dark, and truly brutal and twisted moments are commonplace throughout the run of its plot.
This game is a fantastic melding of different JRPG storytelling and gameplay elements. I’d call it a perfect pick for gamers who want to experience something mature and unique. Its story is long-winded and it has agitating quality of life features, but its plot, gameplay, and aesthetics make more a truly memorable experience. You might want to rethink a purchase if visual novels aren’t up your alley, but even so, I’d suggest taking a hard look at this game before sweeping it under the rug.