Ever since the launch of Compile Heart/Idea Factory’s “Galapagos” RPG project, it has certainly morphed and developed into a curious undertaking. From receiving fantastic titles like Fairy Fencer F to others of varying quality like Omega Quintet, the concepts and ideas that arrive within each entry commands attention, but hard to say that they exactly hit the mark of taking them from anomalous to astounding. Then again, with such productions like Death end re;Quest, the fourth release in the project lineup, while still not hitting a complete home-run, solidifies itself as a decent RPG – even when it appears to be going against its own best efforts.
Title: Death end re;Quest
Developer: Compile Heart, Idea Factory (Localization by Idea Factory International)
System: Playstation 4
Length: 35-45 hrs
Being one part RPG, one part visual novel, and packaged into a nice thematic wrapper of a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online game, the story follows Arata Mizunashi, a lead programmer of Enigma Games. After running into Shina Ninomiya, a fellow coworker that disappeared years ago under mysterious circumstances and now trapped in World Odyssey, a cancelled VRMMORPG that should be offline, the two work together to free Shina while fighting off an elusive conspiracy in both the real and virtual worlds. Starting off rather heavy-hand in the beginning, but finding its footing quickly, the narrative for Death end re;Quest is a mix of suspenseful thriller and tense mystery that borrows a plethora from other genre themes, but manages to make the core theme come off as relatively compelling. Where that compelling hook does take more than a few hours to finally fall into place, it makes up for it during the duration and transforms into an engaging 40 hour journey. Making progress in the virtual world with Shina and her ragtag group of allies, anytime roadblocks appear, the player will have to switch over to Arata in the real world that serves as the visual novel portion and bulk of narrative details. Admittedly, taking a liking to having the story to unfold in both worlds and providing an even split between gameplay and watching events play out, there are times when the aforementioned novel portions tend to drag on far longer than needed. In most cases, this isn’t a detriment as the story bits are illuminating as they are entertaining, yet being inundated with so many just to progress is slightly annoying.
One thing that is ingrained into Death end re;Quest to set itself apart from the rest of the Galapagos lineup is the threat of dead or bad endings you can receive throughout the game. Not particularly surprising for a company with visual novel production running through its blood, but they are implemented in an interesting (sometimes weird) way. Some come in the form of binary choices that any visual novel will present, but others are performing certain actions that the game might or might not warn you about (I.E: running from specific fights, going into certain areas, etc). The result is anything from a small description of what happens to glorified scenes, some even having their own CG artwork attached. Candidly speaking, most of the bad endings aren’t too interesting, yet a few are well-done enough to even provide some spoilers and context clues of certain events to come in later chapters that flesh out the story. That being said, if you do choose to go for the bad endings, you also get an accessory or item that can help in your quest once you hit up your last save to reload, so no reason not to do them.
Similar to Mugen Souls or the Hyperdimension Neptunia franchise, gameplay of exploration and other happenings doesn’t differ all that much until you get into battles. Still holding onto the same turn-based style, players can choose up to 3 commands for their characters when their turn comes around. If attacking, the 3rd command will trigger a launch sequence (like with Mugen Souls), sending enemies across the field and rolling like pinballs. You can even couple this with skills and if lucky, the girls will even learn new skills mid-battle depending how the commands were queued up. If the enemy hits a wall while being launched or another enemy, they will also take damage in addition to nudging around the other foes. However, if the enemy heads toward another party member, the party member will instantly send them flying again. While it is a great tactic to rack up damage (even on bosses), if enemies hit a field bug, a colorful hex symbols on the map with varying attributes, the launch distant is decreased. This where Arata comes in. Much like Jack in Mary Skelter, Arata can chip in during any of the girls turn to change the enemy effectiveness, style of play, or even summon help from defeated bosses, if enough bugs are gone. Of course, if the girls touch the bugs they take damage, but also raises their corruption meter, a special battle meter that if it hits 80% will allow the girls into glitch mode, a transformed state that will wildly boost their stats and allow for their signature skill to be triggered. Having all these mechanics interwoven does take sometime to get used to, but once players do, it results in a rich and dynamic experience.
Having Kei Nanameda onboard for the character designs and general artwork, the style and quality is still in line with previous works like Mary Skelter and Mugen Souls, but a welcome sight and fits in well with many of the environmental backdrops. Despite the smaller soundtrack selection, the music has also received a significant upgrade, yet in terms of theme, does seem to be scattered all over the place. My favorite track would have to go to the main battle theme, a nice mix of piano taking the lead and synthesizer and guitar following to create a very baroque-esque and elegant piece. Both English and Japanese voice tracks are available, yet both the English and Japanese seem match in terms partially voiced sections.
Proud to see that Compile Heart/Idea Factory is bringing a lot more to the table than the Hyperdimension Neptunia or Agarest War franchises, Death end re;Quest at least makes a strong case for continuing onward with the “Galapagos” RPG project. Still having a few problems that tend to make their titles less than bearable (navigation of the some the dungeons can be mind-numbing), the shinning points of progress manages to make for an RPG that will have no problem sucking you in and left wanting for a little bit more.
Pros: Nice character designs, interesting cast of characters, fun and flighty battle system, engaging narrative and storytelling.
Cons: Visual novel segments can drag, navigation within some areas/dungeons can be confusing even with mapping, some of the narrative choices can be baffling.
Final Verdict: Stepped in the same style as many of their previous works, but taking a wholly different approach, Death end re;Quest is a title that really steps up on all accounts. From the narrative divide between World Odyssey and the real world, the progression of the story will make you want to keep going, battle system engage every enemy you can, and uncover every bad ending possible until the final conclusion. Carrying its share of frustrations even when doing everything right, it is still not enough from making the journey not worth remembering and one you will want to take regardless.