(Note: Review Code provided by Idea Factory International)
When it comes to the “isekai/other world” adventure sub-genre, usually about the protagonist/s getting sucked into a fantasy/video game world it is not one of my favorites. Shows like Log Horizon and the main Sword Art Online series do not interest me for example (Gun Gale Online or No Game, No Life on the other hand…) so when one grabs my attention it must be something big to do so (besides being centered around female protagonists of course). The following game is one of said titles. Question is whether it is worth the time of others more experienced in the isekai genre or JRPG fans in general. Let us find out as we take a look at Death End re;Quest, developed by Compile Heart along with other studios such as Mizuchi and Silicon Studio and it was published by Idea Factory.
Platforms: PS4, PC (Steam).
Genres: Dark, Horror, Isekai, JRPG, Moepocalypse, Mystery, RPG, Suspense, Visual Novel.
Themes: Digital World
Length: 30+ hours (1st playthrough)
Objectionable Content: High. Game features brutally violent events, CGs and graphic depictions of gory deaths.
World’s Odyssey blended, fantasy-based RPGs of the past with the splendor of modern technology. It put its developer, Enigma, on the cusp of industry notoriety. Just when the game’s hype was reaching critical mass, its director, Shina Ninomiya, went missing, ceasing development on what seemed to be the most promising game of the decade.
A year after the halt on development, the game suddenly resurfaced—albeit, as a grotesque version of its former self. Inside the game, corruption took many forms. Sometimes, as bug-shaped monsters lurking for prey. Other times, as an NPC, flirting too closely to the human touch. Everything was being turned upside down…
The story of DEr;Q can be best described as “Moepocalypse Isekai”, meaning cute and sexy girls forced to suffer/endure traumatic experiences and risk being brutally beaten at every turn. Throughout my experience I witnessed two kinds of Moepocalypse stories, ones that favor psychological stress and others that favor the visual and brutal. DEr;Q is an example of the latter. The story follows Shina who was mysteriously trapped in World’s Odyssey for a year and Arata, her manager/assistant who blamed himself for her disappearance and overworked himself to the bone searching for her until finally locating her somewhere in the game world. Of course being stuck in a game world for so long considerably altered Shina’s memories but thanks to Arata’s persistence she was able to recover some of her memories. Now Shina, along with some allies she meets along the way must brave the numerous abominations and infected denizens of the game world in hopes of reaching the end and hopefully finding the way out. While the game world is full of digital demons, infections and the like the real world is strangely unsafe (more so than usual) as many strange incidents start popping up and Arata along with his allies and coworkers are in danger as well. Could there be a connection between the happenings in both worlds? SPOILER ALERT, yes. Cool and creepy happenings and twists await. Oh yes, this being a Compile Heart expect sexy/ecchi goodness. Personal obstacles explored include family, personal desires (such as pleasure), the difference between living in the real world and an advanced digital one (Stuff brought up in Sword Art Online I imagine) to name a few.
On to the presentation. Readers who have played games in the Neptunia franchise or other titles like Fairy Fencer F or Omega Quintet will recognize the style used in DEr;Q with well drawn backgrounds and images of the characters breathing and speaking, at least in the Japanese dub as the English dub is, as usual for IFI published games, partially voiced. The reason I bring this up is in a game with horror/suspense like this one I feel most, if not all cutscenes have to be voiced. On the bright side for the English voice acting everyone does a pretty good job when given lines to speak. Same goes for the Japanese cast of course. The gameplay graphics continue the tradition from the first Hyperdimension Neptunia and onward where the sprites slowly getting better with each game Compile Heart develops. The soundtrack is pretty good also with fitting dark mood tunes in serious cutscenes, relaxing ones during periods or reprieve and intense boss battle music against the numerous digital abominations and infected citizens called Entoma. Good stuff. Said monstrosities are a mixture of animals and corrupt data resulting in some disturbing mofos. They remind me of the Shadow Hearts: From the New World bestiary.
Moving on to the gameplay. The best way I can describe it is a JRPG-Visual Novel hybrid. Let us first go over the JRPG parts. Readers who have played some of the aforementioned Compile Heart games (Neptunia, Fairy Fencer, Omega Quintet, etc.) will be familiar with how the combat works. A maximum of three girls out of six (one more as DLC) can participate in turn based battles, each one being able to perform the standard fare of attacking, defending, using skills/magic attacks etc. Each Compile Heart game differs from the norm by having gimmicks. Let us go over the ones in DEr;Q.
- Characters can run around the battlefield freely without movement restrictions during their turn.
- Characters can perform three actions. Be careful though as picking a recovery/item move cancels attacks for that turn. For example “Heal, Attack, Attack”. Only the healing move is used for that character’s turn.
- During battle there are, let us call them “infected nodes”, that may provide a temporary power up at the cost of HP (health points). Not worth the risk. Knock enemies into them to remove them.
- Speaking of knocking the biggest gimmick is the knockback attack. After hitting the last attack the character smashes the enemy with a knockback sending them crashing to a wall (knockback distance depends on the enemy’s size/weight and how far they are from the wall) for extra damage. Some enemies receive more damage from knockback attacks than regular ones. For extra damage players can have girls direct their knockback to other girls within range for extra damage, possibly landing a Triple Whammy.
- Arata can help the team by hacking the game via “Battle Jack” giving Shina and friends special abilities like temporary enhancements, enemy weakening skills or genre changing attacks (Which are basically mini-game style special attacks for one turn) and summoning some previously defeated bosses. Note that these Arata moves can spawn more infected nodes.
Last but not least we have the vintage “Compile Heart Sexy Super Mode” of the game, Glitch Form. When the percentage near the character reaches 80% or more they transform into their Glitch Forms for a turn, enhancing all their attacks and gaining access to a Super Move.
That is the gist of combat. It sounds easy but as the game progresses enemies of course become tougher. After all, enemies in the first dungeon can inflict status ailments already.
Dungeon exploration is standard Compile Heart fare but with a twist. While exploring players run into doors sealed with special barriers, death traps and key items. Said key items can be used by Arata in the real world to continue his investigation and help Shina’s team progress through dungeons.
Key items found in dungeons trigger events in “Real World/Offline” Mode where Arata interacts with people and investigates several locations for clues. This is where the Visual Novel part of the gameplay comes in. While I said the cutscenes are presented like they would be in VNs the Real World/Offline part of the game literally feels like “plreading” (play-reading) one. Players will be prompted to make choices at certain points, be it death traps or interacting with other characters. The death traps usually have “obvious” selections with one progressing the story and the other triggering a Game Over. Funny thing is the game encourages players to watch as many death ends as possible, be it going back to a dangerous area after being told not to, losing an important battle, running away from a big event or picking a bad decision (to name a few triggers) because in the “Episode Chart” players are rewarded for seeing both good and bad choices. Interesting choice. I dig it. It makes sense because one of the writers of the Corpse Party series worked on this game. Correct me if I am wrong. Funny enough to get the True End players will need to complete all the fetch quests (eliminate number of monsters, getting items, etc) in the game…just like Arata and Shina talk about early in the story. How nice of the game spelling out what to do from the get-go. Back to the Real World stuff. Taking care of them will open up previously sealed paths to progress further in the dungeon or find treasures sealed behind infected barriers/areas. That along with defeating the bosses/Entoma Queens.
I personally dug the hybrid. Both the online and offline segments were intriguing as the puzzle pieces slowly came together. It felt immersive and engaging and not intrusive to the gameplay. Enjoyment depends on whether players like the hybrid or not.
While there are no yuri romance routes in the game there are certainly moments here and there. The most noticeable courtesy of the first ally met early in the game.
Overall Death End re;Quest is a pretty cool Visual Novel/JRPG hybrid with an interesting story, cast and presentation. Play this game mainly for cute and sexy girls fighting digital abominations, an interesting story along with disturbing imagery and deaths both in gruesome and visual detail. Worry not about Arata getting a het harem. He does not.
Note: Only noticeable difference between the PS4 and Steam versions, besides the latter running faster, is there being less “pauses” during cutscenes. PS4 players know what I am referring to. Not intrusive, just noticeable.