Shina Ninomiya and Arata Mizunashi were working on a big project. Programmers for a revolutionary new MMO video game named “World Odyssey”. The future was exciting and bright for both of them and the company. That was until they found glitches in the in-game programming threatening to halt the project and to stop that once and for all. Shina mysteriously disappeared leaving Arata nothing short of distraught and with no other choice but to pull the plug on the project and close down the servers.
All was lost and people presumed that Shina had given in to pressure due to the demands of the project until a year later and Arata received a mysterious email.
Shina is alive and reasonably well but stuck and needs help. She has no memory of any events leading up to her disappearance, who she is or the strange world she is living in and yet some things seem oddly familiar.
What emerges is the shocking realization that Shina is imprisoned in ” World Odyssey” the video game she helped to create. The very same glitches and bugs they experienced in its development are now infesting the world and the characters in the game. But how is it possible when the project was ditched and the servers cut off?
Arata can only do one thing to try to save her. Guide Shina through the perilous and unstable game of “world odyssey” to reach and finally activate the “perfect end” game mode. The unenviable task requiring she spends at least 50 hours in-game, removing the entoma scourge (bugs) and defeating the entoma queens (bosses) and finally completing all of the available side quests.
As if that isn’t enough, Arata soon discovers that to survive and keep communication with Shina, he will need to survive the real world and the sudden supernatural events occurring around him. The abrupt stock market crash, online blackouts and a spate of missing person cases, occult murders and a bizarre group of occult followers out to stalk and kill him and his company’s co-workers, when the finger of blame is pointed at them.
With online servers out of bounds, Arata must
search for clues to debug his game, find the real Shina and prevent catastrophe as the virtual world and reality inexplicably start to merge.
What’s immediately apparent is that Death End; ReQuest that released on the Nintendo Switch last year, is essentially a game of two halves. One side a visual novel and the other a JRPG. Two characters and two genres where players are allowed to switch between both as a means to progress the story (Arata) and progression in world odyssey (Shina). The sum of it could and should have been a confusing and often baffling mess in theory. But thanks to the developers here, separation melds exceptionally well when it has to and thankfully through its entirety, never loses any of its fluidity.
For a large part of the game, players take on the role of Shina in her quest to complete the objectives and escape the confines of the world odyssey. It doesn’t start well though. In the very first cutscene after load up and in what seems the most graphic and disturbing segment of the game. Shina is kneeling at the feet of a giant monster seemingly dazed and possibly injured. Overcome by its sheer power and size, the creature attacks and decapitates our hero in front of the horrified eyes of Arata watching from a computer screen and her bleeding lifeless body left on the ground.
As the gameplay begins, shina awakes in a quaint house in the middle of a beautiful idyllic countryside setting. Dazed and unable to remember any events before waking, shina decides to explore the land outside and try to seek some answers. All expectations of lavishing in these gorgeous surroundings are soon halted when shina adventures a little further and is greeted by a barren and desolate landscape devoid of life and people.
Suddenly a merchant appears, and in a friendly and inquisitive exchange, shina discovers that world odyssey, a once thriving area, was attacked and destroyed by a giant beast from the sky. Those people are left in the carnage and surviving inflicted by a phenomenon called the “Entoma scourge” Strange bugs that attach to the body and send their hosts down a descending mental route to madness and murder.
Shina has one drive from a memory that’s still installed somewhere deep in her conscience. Rid the world of the scourge and reach the area known as Odyssia, find the beast that caused the scourge and kill it once and for all.
As players are allowed to roam the areas of world odyssey, the first thing to note is that the land is not as open and free-roaming as you might expect. Each area is specifically one large dungeon connected by several paths between them. Littered throughout are chests containing game items, and campsite areas where you can save the game, activate a teleport crystal to reach another area or visit the merchant for buying/selling items or take and complete side quests. Illuminated icons such as question marks give key items to progress the quest and flags reveal key story points where shina will meet other characters who will join her party and aid her in her journey.
Dungeons play a big part and are reasonably sized. The labyrinthian corridors contain many new items and the odd few puzzles that are generally finding a key to unlock a closed door or a lever to open new areas. Your main goal in all of the dungeons is to find the dungeon boss or as explained in the game, the entoma queen and to kill it. Doing so not only cleanses the area of the bugs and the scourge but also causes a sudden illness to befall shina and an emergence of visions to help get back her memory.
The biggest draw is the combat and a big portion of the overall gameplay. Throughout every area is a monster roaming around and should shina get in close vicinity of any enemy then it’s time to fight.
Set in a circular arena, each character can free-roam and gain key positions around enemies with three actions to perform per turn such as an attack, guard, special move or use of an item. On a turn-based system, each character then carries out your instructions with successful hit combos activating one more powerful hit in “knockback” mode. This often devastating attack propels enemies across the floor and can rebound them off the circular ring around the arena into other enemies, through damaging clusters of cursed bugs littered across the floor and then should the enemy finally land in front of another character in your party, a final devastating “knockblow” looking similar to hitting a home run in a baseball game! Just imagine knockback as Neptunia Pinball and you won’t be too far away.
Furthermore, each character has a “glitch mode”. A state each character can reach when exposed to contact with enemies and inflicted by themselves by hitting too many cursed bugs on the arena floor. On the positives, it can gain your characters temporary buffs on each turn and an increase in glitch percentage. So when this hits 80% or more, a metamorphosis occurs that sends each girl into a semi-nude heightened state where risk and reward come into play. Used correctly and they can use a massive “glitch attack” causing massive damage to multiple enemies at once. Left and not used in this state, however, the risk of collapsing and dying instantly becomes common when taking any damage.
It’s an amazingly satisfying system that for literally hundreds of battles, never gets tedious or tired. The experimentation and tactical positioning to piece together meaty and satisfying combos to rid enemies and bosses and gain maximum experience per battle is the game’s beating heart above anything else.
Death end; ReQuest is for most parts, an immensely enjoyable fusion of an intriguing and somewhat disturbing dark visual story mixed with a great portion of dungeon crawling and unique and rewarding combat. Whilst those parts alone warrant a recommended purchase, there are also areas within the game that require note and attention.
On the visuals front, the sick and lavish presentation from Idea Factory / Compile Heart on load-up is the usual high standard as expected but get into the game and especially the boss battles and you get a very noticeable drop in look. Bosses look grainy with areas and backgrounds looking garish and generally untidy. Whilst this isn’t exactly a game-breaker with the actual battle often an intense and engaging affair, the build-up and expectation is suddenly demeaned by what you’re seeing in front of you.
There are other niggles such as an odd bug I experienced during text conversation where I was unable to forward the dialogue and the occasional action command in battles not seemingly working or getting activated.
There’s also an odd situation with the “Save Game” system randomly not registering when you try to save your game meaning you’re constantly having to hit save to make sure you don’t lose progress. A glitch in the game about a glitch in a game?
Yet this all pales down to one existing factor that overshadows everything on the game’s default “medium” setting… it’s just way too easy!
Combat is a great experience with your characters virtually gaining a level every one or two encounters but with the huge rise in character progression in comparison to plenty of weak enemies constantly doing nothing more dangerous than hitting you with debuffs, there’s not much of a challenge or counting many times that players are suddenly tested. Bosses are no better with players having pretty much collected enough revive abilities and items to help, should a character fall in battle.
That’s a real pain considering how engaging this game is and even though the difficulty eventually does ramp up slightly around the mid-game mark. There are a good 15 hours before you eventually reach that point which is fundamentally going to test some player’s interest and perseverance.
So whilst for a good portion of gameplay, the game is frighteningly lenient, the balance seems to wobble during the conversation side when it comes to segments throughout the story requiring multiple-choice answers. In what seems equally more shocking than the story content, is the sudden realization that a wrong choice answer ends the game!
A strange aspect is when you’ve seemingly trekked multiple dungeons, and fought enemies and bosses effortlessly without so much as a scratch up to that point, only to discover you’ve suddenly lost hours of gameplay just from a wrong decision in a text answer!
Overall though, with all bonus content and DLC included and accessible from startup, multiple endings and a reasonable price tag;
Death End; ReQuest delivers a top story with some intriguing takes on the dungeon crawl genre with some fun combat mechanics taking centre stage.
Although there are untidy areas, the main characters dominate and drive players to pursue the storylines with some top-notch English voice acting and a good deal of text conversations directly to the point and not following the consensus of visual novels with vast amounts of text usually feeling drawn out and long-winded.
I’d strongly recommend getting this for your collection although I’d really urge that you either play it on default without the bonus content activated or just install the additional material and crank up the difficulty setting so that immersion takes precedence over the game’s small cracks in its armour.
A special Thanks to Idea Factory / Compile Heart.