Have you ever wanted to hack Sword Art Online? Well this is a step in that direction. Because the world of Worlds Odyssey (yes, I know) is a place of swords and sorcery inside a computer simulation, and the player will die in real life if she dies in the game. But you can hack it from the outside. Welcome to Death end re;Quest!
Going into this, after having played a couple of the Neptunia games, I was fully expecting a JRPG with an all-female cast, panty shots and bouncy breasts. What I wasn’t expecting alongside all of that, was an intense storyline filled with occult references and secret organisations. Also, in the opening cutscene, someone is brutally decapitated. Neptunia this is not.
You play as Arata, an engineer who worked on Worlds Odyssey before it was shut down, and your partner Shina disappeared. Until you receive an email from Shina. It turns out that she is inside Worlds Odyssey - but it’s not a trope of slipping through into an alternate dimension, her mind is actually trapped inside the (unfinished) game, and she doesn’t remember what happened to her, nor know where her body is.
With Worlds Odyssey being unfinished, it would be dangerous enough to be trapped inside it. However, there appears to be another force at work, having fiddled with the game code some time in the past year. The game is buggier than it should be, and the advanced AI of the game has taken that in its stride and declared that it is a blight upon the land, which they call Entoma. What’s more, places and NPCs have been changed, so the original design documents can only help the pair so much.
I’ll avoid giving any spoilers, but suffice to say that I’ve really enjoyed the story. It’s a mystery that you’re given the pieces to as the characters learn them in an organic way. I just wish that the cutscenes (most of which are in a visual novel style) were shorter, or that more of them were voiced. It’s really unclear which scenes will be voiced, and which will require you to do a ton of reading. I don’t mind reading, but 15 minutes of chatter is too much.
The majority of your time with Arata will be spent talking to people in a visual novel style. When you’re with Shina, though, it is a JRPG setting. If you get stuck in Worlds Odyssey, you can swap out to Arata to look for clues, which will help him debug something and get you on your way again.
Monsters are wandering around the world, and attacking them before you touch them will start the battle with you at an advantage - being hit from behind or missing your attack will start at a disadvantage. Then your party of three will take turns attacking the monsters, depending on everyone’s speed stat. Rather than simply selecting an attack/item/what have you and it happen, the battle system is a little more complicated than that.
Each character is free to move around the battlefield as much as you like, which is good for getting into position depending on your attacks. Then you need to select up to three things to do, whether it’s an attack, a special attack, using an item or guarding. Using certain combinations of moves has a chance of unlocking new moves for each character, which is a unique touch.
Death end re;Quest cribs from other JRPGs, as each of the ladies can become corrupted and go into Glitch Mode, in a transformation akin to magical girls. This is a transformation that powers them up, and after one round they return to normal. They become more corrupt through a few ways. By receiving damage in battle (being knocked out resets it), by walking over bugs on the battlefield (which will also give you SP or HP), or by making Arata use a cheat. Enemies can also become Glitched, which will power them up until they’re defeated.
Arata’s cheats come in a few varieties. Changing stats, summoning defeated bosses to help you, or altering the genre of the game. That third one sounds better than it is in practice, as it’s basically just a fancy attack rather than (for instance) actually turning the game into a slot machine.
Battles usually involve between five and eight monsters, which is strange given that they are so easy. Now, full disclosure, I played on Easy because I like a story not a challenge, but even so I thought the game was pretty easy. I had reached level 57 before any of my girls were knocked out in a battle, and that was against an unbeatable boss. Also, I took down a fifth of their health before they killed me. I mean, yes I knocked out a member of my team earlier by purposefully running into some bugs while Glitched, but that wasn’t the game being difficult, that was me wondering what happened if you hit 100% corruption…
Death end re;Quest’s character and monster designs are really good, with everyone and everything looking distinct. There are a couple of pallete swaps for enemies, but that just means they are tougher. The environments of Worlds Odyssey are also great, and they have “graphical glitches” to really sell the fact that this is a buggy game within a game.
The music is catchy, and when it isn’t it certainly sells the mood of the scene. However, it’s ultimately forgettable when the game is off. The voice actors are great, and it’s funny that I compared Death end re;Quest to Sword Art Online, as almost the entire English cast has appeared in the anime at some point. My first audio dislike is the noise that monsters make when they spot you. It sounds like a bowling ball being dropped from a small height. My second dislike is that whenever you’re wandering around either as a jog or run, your chosen leader pants heavily every couple of metres - it’s weird and annoying.
Death end re;Quest is full of interesting ideas that make it more than it appears. If you’re coming in expecting to see bouncing boobs and panties, then you’re going to be disappointed for a large portion of the game. Having to regularly nip into the real world to unlock new areas is a nice touch, as it keeps you using both characters. During some conversations, you have to make a choice - and one of those choices might kill you.
I’m really impressed with Death end re;Quest, it’s more than a simple titillating JPRG, and an interesting direction for them to go after numerous Neptunia games. They’ve honed their craft, and I’m looking forward to their next games more than ever.
Death end re;Quest (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Compile Heart has produced something that’s more than a boob-based JRPG, with a very compelling story and a lot of interesting ideas.