Compile Heart made a bit of a name for themselves with the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. Their long-running JRPG franchise about ditzy anime girl versions of real life video games is known for being cute, bright and silly, but after nearly a dozen entries and remakes, one might start to wonder what else this team could do. With Death End re;Quest they’ve set out to prove they could do more than cutesy RPGs, but while the results are certainly a huge departure from the Neptunia series, it’s not all for the better.
If you’re a fan of isekai-style stories of real people being trapped in virtual worlds like .Hack or Sword Art Online, then Death end re;Quest has come for your neck. It focuses on two protagonists, Arata Mizunashi and Shiina Ninomiya, who were lead developers on a VR MMORPG called World’s Odyssey. Near the end of development, Shiina mysteriously disappears and the whole game is shut down and cancelled. A year later, though, Arata notices the servers for the game are running once again, and there’s a single player logged into the buggy resurrected version of World’s Odyssey: Shiina.
There’s a truly intriguing dual narrative going on in Death end re;Quest that kept me hooked until the very end, but it takes a few slow and really drawn-out hours of opening gameplay before any of it starts to come together in a meaningful way. The game opens with a feast of generic edgy dialogue, gruesome character deaths and sinful humans who have betrayed their gods. It’s a lot of eye-rolling writing that couldn’t have been less boring to me, but once we get into the political and supernatural drama of the real world, things start to pick up steam in a really good way.
As Shiina Ninomiya, you’re stuck in the VR world of World’s Odyssey until you can beat the main questline and force the ending to eject you from the game. As Arata Mizunashi, you’re tasked with exploring Japan and talking to other characters to investigate the mysterious revival of World Odyssey and find out where Shiina Ninomiya’s body is located. I really loved the plot that was unfolding in reality, but I can’t say the same of the story content in the VR RPG segments of the game. Characters in that world use a million words to say one simple thing, dragging out dialogue for far longer than it needs to go.
Worse were the various grim and extreme death scenes that occurred during these parts of the game. Death end re;Quest tries really hard to earn its adult rating, mostly via the numerous descriptive text scenes of characters suffering gruesome fates. It’s one thing to have blood and gore in a game, it’s another to have extremely gory visuals like Mortal Kombat fatalities or Tomb Raider deaths, but the shockingly lengthy and descriptive text-only scenes of death and suffering in Death End re;Quest end up coming across as torture porn. It doesn’t help that these uncomfortably long scenes are often accompanied by full voice acting. I’m all for mature storytelling, but this kind of stuff ain’t it. Sometimes an incorrect dialogue choice will trigger one of these events. These wrong-move torture scenes are often capped off with sudden game over screens, and considering the fact that you can’t save whenever you want during dungeons, I often found myself suddenly losing chunks of progress in the game.
Thankfully, the Shiina segments make up for their shoddy writing with the addictive gameplay. Her side of the game plays out as a third-person RPG similar to Hyperdimension Neptunia or Fairy Fencer F. You explore dungeons, collect items, and encounter enemies on the field. Battles are turn-based affairs that take place in open arenas where friend and foe can move around freely to position themselves before performing their actions.
This sort of turn-based free movement combat is the norm for Compile Heart games. The wall-bouncing mechanic in Death End Re;Quest, though, shakes things up a notch. Attacking enemies causes them to get knocked away from your character like a billiards ball, taking extra damage for any enemies or walls it bounces off of. Knock a baddie into another teammate, and that partner will execute an additional knock-back attack that adds even more damage and further momentum to the poor soul you attacked. Lining up characters and abilities juuust right in order to knock them around for optimal damage was super fun, and added an extra layer to combat that made it more than just your regular turn-based mayhem.
The combat is made even more addictive by the various abilities and power-ups you have access to. Characters can learn new abilities mid-battle by using their skills in certain combinations. There are also bugged-out panels on the floor during battle that cause buffs and debuffs when you step on them. Step on enough of these or take enough damage, and you can enter a super-powered Glitch mode that enhances your abilities and alters your appearance. The risk and reward of going for Glitch Mode despite the debuffs needed to reach it was a fun way to spice things up during battle. Arata Mizunashi can also dip into the game code in real time and give you extra skills, or even trigger genre-flipping mini-games that have your characters enter a first person shooter or fighting game mode for a turn.
His hacking skills add a lot to combat, but he’s just as useful without the keyboard. At any time during gameplay you can switch over to reality and play as Arata Mizunashi instead. These segments play out as a visual novel, where you select different locations to go to and characters to talk with in order to learn new info, gain new abilities, and progress the plot. Again, it’s here where the writing of the game truly excels. In a game that already has more dialogue and cutscenes than it needs, these Arata segments at least manage to justify their dialogue-heavy nature thanks to the quality of their execution.
It’s worth noting that the overall aesthetic of Death end re;Quest is pretty solid, too. While environments and background art are pretty typical and ho-hum, character designs are unique and memorable. The game also utilizes a lot of clever visual effects to sell the fact that the game world is glitched-out and buggy. That buggy aesthetic is complimented by the stellar soundtrack, which combines clashing sounds like delicate pianos and chunky guitars for some iconic and catchy tunes. While voice acting is great in both languages, the ability to switch audio tracks at any time quickly makes it apparent how much recorded dialogue was cut from the english dub.