Imagine if there were programmers to help with bugs in real life. It’d be great. Just ring them up to fix events that were supposed to happen differently, or apply patches after saying the wrong thing. Although knowing my luck, they’d spawn constant roadblocks and horrific monsters in my face. Put this power in the hands of Corpse Party series writer Makoto Kedôin, and things start getting much darker. Needless to say, Death end re;Quest is a tense mystery with some rather chilling imagery.
The story starts off peacefully enough. Shina Ninomiya and Arata Mizunashi are working on a virtual reality MMORPG, called World’s Odyssey. Things start falling apart during the alpha stages of the game’s production. When Shina mysteriously disappears, the project is forced to shut down. After a year of guilt, Arata suddenly discovers that World’s Odyssey’s servers are still live. Not only this, but there’s an active player – named Shina.
Yes, it’s the old ‘stuck inside a game’ situation. With all log out functions disabled, Shina’s only hope is to force a way out through achieving the game’s true ending. While she’s stuck fighting bugs, Arata is desperately trying to find her body in the real world. Adding to his list of worries are unexplained items appearing in World’s Odyssey that link to disappearances and murders in the news. The plot only gets more interesting, with Shina and Arata constantly finding themselves one misstep away from death.
I love how you’re able to switch between playing Shina and Arata, as well as how their stories bounce off each other. Getting stuck in a dungeon may require Arata to fix some code, for example. Shina does hog all the gameplay for herself, leaving Arata with a visual novel, but it’s hard to care when the mystery is so good. Like, why complicate things with puzzles that would wreck the flow? I’m happy reading here.
Given the writer, you can expect Death end re;Quest to be filled with gore and disturbing imagery. Unfortunately, the art doesn’t step up to match the descriptions. There are some nice character models and backgrounds, but everything looks pretty generic. Death scenes are particularly emblematic of this problem. There are some deliciously gruesome splash screens, yet most are reduced to text on a black void. Good writing is still good writing, however, so the tension is very much there. I just can’t help but feel like more images could have given that punchy impact that the game is aiming for.
Despite all the narrative focus, Death end re;Quest doesn’t skimp on gameplay. Don’t forget that Shina is playing an MMORPG, after all. Although, what I got to play wasn’t exactly an open world. We’re looking at more of a dungeon-crawler where you find the items to reach the boss, in order to go to the next area. Yeah, it’s simple, but I was grateful for that, given the complicated battle mechanics.
Walking into an enemy takes you to a combat screen. The turn-based system has you moving around a circle of enemies looking for the best angle. Once ready, you can choose three attacks to string together then watch them wreck your foe all at once. My favorite attacks knock enemies backward. I could set things up to pinball enemies against each other or into fellow party members for tasty extra damage.
At any given moment, it’s important to be aware of ‘bug’ titles on the floor. This is where things get interesting — walking on these is very risk-reward. Some might take away health while giving that sweet SP required for attacks, yet others straight up kill you. However, bugs also raise a character’s ‘glitch level’. Getting 80% infection gives a crazy boost while attacking (while the party member basically strips) and grants access to a power-house move. Careful though, reach 100% infection and she’ll die.
More often than not, I didn’t take the risk, and just got rid of bugs by knocking enemies into them. Supposedly doing this too much can cause monsters to glitch out and get their own power boost, but I was never aware of that happening.
It’s worth destroying bugs, though. Not only will it open up the range of allowed movement, but having less than 50% on-screen means we can call on our good friend Arata for help. He can use his programming skills to change up what the current bugs do, summon a previously defeated boss, or periodically change the gameplay. I’m talking a first-person shooter, a puzzle game, a fighter, and more. It’s bizarre, but fun to play with.
I will say that mid-game enemies get health-spongy, and gain counters that make each battle last too long. It wouldn’t bother me if the maps weren’t littered with quickly respawning enemies. So I should admit to avoiding monsters instead of facing them as the game went on.
Oh, by the way, did I mention that fully completing Death end re;Quest is kind of mandatory? Also, that’s something you can’t really do in just one playthrough. Now, I don’t mind games rewarding players for going all out, but I tried, and I want to know what really happens! I’m just not sure I can really be bothered to relive the story and fight through another 30 odd hours of combat for a bit of extra content. So feel warned. You can get the normal ending first try, but that completionist ranking may take some dedication.
Speaking of annoyances, there was something that bugged me as I was playing. For a story revolved around desperately trying to survive, it forces you to die a lot. I’m not talking about the difficulty in combat, here. It’s how narrative choices tend to lead to a rather unfortunate end. What’s weird is being rewarded for collecting these deaths. Coupled with the need for completion, I was going out of my way to kick the bucket as often as possible. Actively looking to be stabbed, ripped in half, and decapitated for a bit of extra cash. It feels wrong and ultimately ends up taking away a lot of the impact.
Even with its issues, Death end re;Quest still managed to hold my interest and keep me wanting more. Being able to switch between visual novel and RPG segments keeps the pace moving and intrigue high. Sure, the art is a bit generic, the combat gets slow, and a completionist ranking is daunting, but there’s a really good, unique experience here that doesn’t deserve to be ignored.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Idea Factory International.
Death end re;Quest doesn’t always hit the nail on the head, but when it does, it’s bang on.