Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory Intl.
Price: $59,99 USD
Release Date: Feb 22th, 2019
This is quite an unpopular opinion but I’ll start this review by saying that Idea Factory has become my favorite RPG developer this generation. I cannot think of another company that has such a steady track record of improving their work with each successive game. The original Hyperdimension Neptunia was perhaps one of the worst JRPGs on the PS3 and yet the series survived, each game better than the previous, eventually turning into a very solid game series.
Contrasting with their flagship series, IF in recent years has been working on more gritty titles. Mary Skelter was one such example but now they’ve gone all out with their newest localized title: Death End re;Quest. All screenshots taken with a base model PS4.
Ever since Sword Art Online’s anime adaptation aired we’ve seen the “people stuck in VRMMO games, if they die in the game they will also die IRL” setting quite often in plenty of media. Just like Isekai/Reborn-in-another-world stories that have been all the craze in Japan for the last half a decade, both settings are popular because it’s a cheap excuse to place relatable characters inside a fantasy setting.
Death End’s heroine, Shina, has been missing in the real world for over an year. She suddenly wakes up inside World’s Odyssey, a cancelled game in which she worked on before disappearing. As you’d expect, she is unable to log out normally, the only remaining solution being that she has to beat the game. To make things interesting, the game has been corrupted by bugs and the game’s AI has become strangely sentient.
Alongside the events inside the VR world, you will also control a male character in the real world. Mizunashi Arata, Shina’s coworker, is the first to discover Shina inside the game world. Parallel to the events and troubles inside the game world, Arata is also burdened by events in the real world, revealing a deep conspiracy that connects everything between both worlds.
Real world and game world events are presented in distinctly different ways. Arata’s story is told from a typical Visual Novel perspective, shifting between ADV and NVL textboxes, while Shina’s events are shown with a typical JRPG dungeon exploring view. As with previous Idea Factory games, dungeon exploring and battling is done by navigating a map and attempting to land attacks on monsters to gain advantage in turn-based battles.
As one might surmise from the game’s name, Death End re;Quest will throw you Death Ends quite often. The quality of those bad endings varies from awful to great, sometimes greeting you with a single paragraph of lame text, other times presenting a full conclusion with CG scenes included.
By the way, in case the intro doesn’t make it clear enough, this game is very gory. The first two minutes of gameplay consists of watching the heroine being brutally killed by a large monster. Blood splatter covers the screen a few times every chapter, and then there’s this:
Combat features quite a few unorthodox particularities, giving Death End re;Quest a unique flavor. Battles begin by touching or attacking monster symbols within dungeons, initiating turn based battles with free positioning. You may select up to 3 moves to perform every turn. Basically the same gameplay from half of all JRPGs released the last two console generations.
The catch in DErQ is that, while performing normal attacks and certain skills, characters initiate a knockback attack on their targets. Monsters are tossed around, hitting walls and other monsters, dealing extra damage on every collision. Furthermore, doing this lets you clear the field from Bug Tiles. Removing enough tiles enables you to call on Arata Mizunashi to hack the play area.
Hacking the play area brings many possibilities to the table. You may summon the help of a previously defeated boss, change certain parameters of the field, and even summon minigames for attacking enemies.
Another interesting aspect is skill learning. Using your existing skills in a certain order unlocks new skills, a mechanic that the game names Flash Drive. Discovering which combinations work was a fun side activity that, unfortunately, the game doesn’t have enough of.
As far as music goes, this is by far the weakest Idea Factory game I’ve played. Fairy Fencer had some of the most hype music I’ve listened to in a JRPG and even Neptunia had its high points but Death End re;Quest’s soundtrack is just boring. Musical taste is subjective but I still feel a pang of disappointment at how my new favorite game from them is the one with the worst music.
Compile Heart’s new engine sure is something else. Look at any screenshot comparison between Neptunia VII and VIIR and you will clearly understand how much of an improvement we’re talking about. DErQ goes even further, putting extra work on textures and monster design. The scenery looks better than I’d expect from a AA JRPG and enemies all look and feel truly grotesque.
There are a handful of fanservice scenes sprinkled around too, because of course there are.
The earliest thing I struggled with was the Flash Drive system. There is no way to know which combinations work for gaining new skills except queuing them up and hoping the notification appears, an activity that gets old very fast. Secondly, the 16 skills limitation is terrible, there’s nothing to be gained from it. Enemy information isn’t presented in an easy or intuitive way either, making it a pain to manually scan enemies to determine their weaknesses every time.
Fans of previous Idea Factory games will most definitely love playing Death End re;Quest. For those that couldn’t stomach those games, there’s still a chance that the tone change will please enough that you’ll like this one. It’s a bit rough around the edges but the contents are more than good enough to stand on their own. It was refreshing to see new mechanics strapped to an old familiar system, hopefully we’ll keep seeing more of this in the future.