Overview – developed by Idea Factory and Compile Heart with publishing handled by Idea Factory International, Death End re;Quest is a mix of fantasy based JRPG action and visual novel storytelling. Shift between the fantasy of the game world and the reality of the real world, with branching narratives and the possibility of a bad end around every corner. This title is available on Nintendo Switch (with all original JP content and DLC included), PlayStation 4 and the Steam service, links to each version of the game will be at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank Idea Factory International for providing the copy of Death End re;Quest that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
Mature Content Warning: this title features graphic depictions of violence, grotesque scenes and suggestive content. Due to the content present, this release has been rated Mature. If you are sensitive to the material within this game, please use discretion when proceeding with this review.
Now, with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review starting with the story. For brevity, I will be referring to this title by the shortened name Death End.
Story – video game programmer, Arata Mizunashi receives a mysterious email from Shina Ninomiya, a colleague that went missing nearly a year ago. Before her disappearance, they had been working together to create World’s Odyssey (W.O.D.), an immersive virtual reality MMORPG that would revolutionize gaming forever. But the disappearance of Shina led to the project being put on hold indefinitely. After receiving the email, Arata soon discovers that his friend has been trapped inside W.O.D. for the past year.
Investigating the project that he believed was shut down, Arata is shocked to learn that the game code has been ravaged by bugs and Shina is the only active player. To get out of her digital prison, Shina must clear the game to unlock the perfect ending, meeting NPC characters that have A.I. so advanced that act like humans. However, there is a sinister force both in and out of W.O.D. that seeks to prevent Arata from achieving his goal of saving his friend, putting both their lives in danger.
Gameplay – the gameplay of Death End mixes the dungeon crawling adventure of a traditional JRPG, alongside the storytelling of a visual novel. This combination is implemented very well in this release, with the dungeon crawling action taking place exclusively in the fantasy world, featuring frantic turn based combat and extensive exploration of a corrupted land. The vast majority of the VN sections take place in the reality of Death End, influencing both the real and in game world.
I want to focus on the JRPG portion of the game first, and then I will be moving onto the VN section. The bulk of the gameplay is centered on Shina, the girl who is trapped within W.O.D. and must find a way to clear the game in order to escape. To achieve her goal of freedom, the player will guide her through vast dungeons that are filled with dangerous monsters, locked pathways and challenging boss fights. In order to survive, there are some things that you must learn.
Here is a rundown of the basic things to keep on top of while in the game world of Death End re;Quest so you can make it out alive;
- Dungeon exploration – all areas are segmented into zones that may contain treasure to pick up, doors to new open and roaming enemies that may the party can battle. When the player encounters enemies, they can attack them to gain an advantage in the battle, but if the enemies notice the party then they will charge and if contact is made the party will have a disadvantage.
- Puzzle Solving – throughout the dungeons, areas may be locked off from the party, requiring an item or action to progress. Another way to get past blocked areas is to jump from the game world to reality, as continuing the VN segments will help the player get further in the dungeons.
- Camp – at designated points in each area, the party will find safe zones with a tent and warp point set up. The camp can be used to speak to party members and open new story details, heal the injured characters and access a shop to buy/sell items. The player may also save using a floating gem (these gems appear outside the camp also) and warp to other camps by using the stone, but be aware that the warp must be activated in each camp to move between them.
- Inventory Management – the members of the party can be equipped with weapons, armor and accessories that will alter their stats. Gear that is equipped to characters each provide different bonuses and some weaponry is only usable by specific characters, so be sure to balance the party well. Effective management of gear for characters will keep you at the top of your game, since the enemies that will appear later will get increasingly tougher.
- Party Management – the game starts off with only Shina in the party, but as the story continues more characters will join up with the player and increase their forces. The maximum number of characters that can be in the active party for combat at any time is three, but characters can be switched in and out to fit the set-up that the player wants. The leader that is shown in the dungeons can also be changed, allowing the player to choose their favorite character to roam the world.
- Resource Management – to use magic and special attacks, the party uses SP to activate skills in and out of combat, including healing and reviving fallen allies. Keeping on top of items in the inventory, money and equipment is very important to keep yourself alive.
Now I want to talk about combat and leveling your characters up. The combat in Death End is fairly unique and makes this title stand out, while feeling familiar as it follows most of the traditional mechanics of other JRPG titles. First, the party members can choose up to three actions per turn or switch their active party with back up units, while being able to move freely around the battle field. This allows characters to select different combinations of attacks, which also gives the opportunity to unlock new attacks/skills.
In combination with the combo actions is the knockback mechanic. When finishing a chain of attacks, the player has the potential to knockback an enemy, sending them flying across the combat arena. This knockback feature can lead to very interesting results, as enemies will take/deal damage to other enemies when making contact with them and the walls of the battle field. This system adds an additional layer of strategy to combat, as knocking an enemy into a party member causes additional knockback damage.
But do take care when fighting enemies, as some have the ability to counter specific attacks, disrupting that characters turn and avoiding harm. This can be very dangerous when battling tough foes and even bosses, so be sure to rethink the approach you want to take to prevent possible losses in battle, as the game will be over if all members fall. However, there is a special mechanic that can turn the tide of battle and help you to lay waste to all foes.
Due to the glitches that affect the game world, members of the player party can become corrupted by taking damage and through other factors. At 80% corruption, the character can enter the special Glitch mode, providing access to a special attack that can deal massive damage to an enemy at the end of a combo. If the percentage lowers below the threshold, they will exit the powered up state but if it reaches the maximum, the character becomes incapacitated for a time.
There is also a feature called field bugs, glowing bugs that will damage the player and corrupt them if they make contact with those spaces crushing them. These bugs can be destroyed with attacks and knocking enemies into them. When the bug meter on screen is reduced to a 50%, Arata can be called on to activate special skills at the cost of restoring bugs on the field. The skills include activating mass buffs/de-buffs against enemies and changing the “genre”, initiating special gimmicks like making the combat a third person shooter.
All of the mechanics in this title work together to create an exciting combat experience, adding depth to the risk and reward nature of battles. At the end of battle, players receive experience, money and rewards for succeeding against the enemies. Reaching specific EXP thresholds will level a character up, replenishing any damage taken in the battle, while also increasing all basic stats for that member of the party boosting HP, SP and more with each level.
The last part of the gameplay that I want to talk about is the Reality/VN segments, aiding the narrative of Death End re;Quest. Throughout the game, visual scenes will tell the story with cutscenes and a lot of character interactions. The majority of the segments occur within the real world of Death End, as Arata explores events occurring in both the fantasy and real world trying to save Shina from her digital prison, but all is not what it may seem in both worlds.
In the real world, Arata is able to travel to parts of the city and make contact with other key characters, gathering information to solve the mysteries surrounding him and Shina. In the real world, the player is able to examine the clues that have been picked up, speak to characters nearby and view details of past events including the death ends that have been viewed. The events are in an episode guide and will provide additional rewards when their summaries are checked.
At key points during the narrative, there will be choices to be made which will influence the way that the game progresses. The choices can be simple like saying yes or no, which may have a minimal impact on the way that the story moves forward, but there are instances where the decisions you make will have more sinister outcomes. Some of the events may lead to sudden end for the player, often in a gruesome and horrific way, with graphic descriptions and even images showing the death of the player, reverting them to a previous save.
Now with the gameplay covered to a degree that I am happy with, I want to move onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the difficulty.
Difficulty – Death End has three difficulty settings to choose from, easy, medium and hard that influence the combat encounters and rewards earned by the player, providing more EXP and money at lower levels. The combat is balanced at all difficulties and there is an abundance of restorative rewrards, keeping the party alive. However, the sudden death endings that can kill the player are a real danger, potentially causing a significant loss of progress, but the game allows saving during most story segments to counter this as well as save points at various points in dungeons.
Controls – the control method for this release is laid out well, with the thumbsticks controlling the camera/movement and the face buttons used for interactions. Unfortunately, the inputs themselves are a little difficult to use with precision in some areas, as I found the movement to be a little twitchy with what felt like a very low dead zone. Aside from this minor complaint, I found that the game played well in both handheld and docked modes using the Joy-Con and pro controllers available.
Presentation – the visual style of Death End is stunning as the character designs, environments and cutscene visuals maintain the signature look that Idea Factory and Compile Heart are known for. Featuring beautiful anime style portraits, character models and animations that are expressive, making the narrative unfolding more engaging. The graphical output is very good for what the hardware is capable of. However it seems that the game is a little too much for the Nintendo Switch, resulting in occasional slowdown and frame drops, but this isn’t a deal breaker.
The sound design for this title compliments the visuals on show, featuring a soundtrack of epic fantasy tracks combing orchestral arrangements, electronica and a heavy rock sound to tie the experience together. There is also an English and Japanese voice track that is used at various points during the game, adding a greater impact to the scenes that utilize it. The English dub features the vocal talents of Kayli Mills (Re:ZERO), Kira Buckland (NieR Automata) and Erica Mendez (Kill La Kill).
Final Thoughts – I had a great time playing Death End re;Quest for this review. While it features many of the mechanics used by other JRPG titles, the systems this game uses make the overall experience stand out, such as the knockback providing a lot of fun when trying to make enemies hit each other. The glitch and corruption systems added more depth to the combat, and the transformations that could be achieved were exciting due to their rarity.
The sound and visuals compliment the setting, with a narrative that really pulled me into it which provoked a sense of anxiety during tense moments and relief when avoiding a bad ending. I have no problem recommending this title to JRPG/visual novel fans, since the balance between the two styles is done extremely well. I applaud the developers for being able to put such a demanding title on the Nintendo Switch, maintaining a high quality albeit with a few minor inconsistencies and I hope that the sequel makes its way to the Switch in the future.
In the end, I give Death End re;Quest a final score of 4.5 out of 5. Another fantastic JRPG experience from Idea Factory and Compile Heart, combining an engaging story, a charming cast of characters and exciting turn based combat with new systems that make this release stand out from other titles on the Nintendo Switch. If you want to check this title out for yourself, links to each version will be below, but please note that there may be alterationss between versions due to platform rules as well as costs for the content that is included in this version for free.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)
Link to Steam version (HERE)
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