Idea Factory and Compile Heart have released plenty of niche JRPGs in the west and Death end re;Quest may be their best yet.
Story and characters
Death end re;Quest features one complex and off-the-wall story. Basically, Arata Mizunashi and Shina Ninomiya are game programmers who created a virtual realm known as World's Odyssey. One day, Arata receives a message from Shina who is now stuck in their incomplete and (literally) bug-ridden video game world. The two learn that the only way she can escape is if she completes the game with the best ending. Along her journey, she'll meet plenty of characters who are presumably just AI although they remain mysteriously realistic so the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur. Shina has characteristics of a spider in this virtual space and she'll have more ladies eventually join her who also resemble insects such as the bee-like Lily and Celica who kind of resembles a butterfly.
Each character has a strong personality and most of them fit some sort of stereotype so if you've ever played a niche JRPG, the cast will certainly feel familiar but in a good way. The English voice cast does a fantastic job of expressing each character's personality although you do have the choice to hear the Japanese voices instead. Anyway, the campaign's structure is unique in that you explore dungeons and fight enemies as Shina but you can also switch to Arata who can only talk to folks and investigate locations via menus. You'll need to do both of these to make progress and in the end; it creates a satisfying yet unconventional dynamic.
Death end re;Quest's battle system is unlike anything I've played before. For starters, there are loads of mechanics to take advantage of but I'll get into the complexities in a bit. For now, I'll just describe the basics. The battles are turn-based and whenever it's your turn, you can freely move your character around the battlefield then when you're ready, you select up to 3 skills to use which can be various attacks or supportive magic. Upon finalizing your skill set, you then try to position and aim your character in the best possible way. After they perform their skills, they may knock back enemies into each other or other party members which causes even more damage.
The basics may sound awesome (and they are) but there's much more to battle. Each arena has field bugs scattered around that will increase your corruption level whenever you walk over one and once you reach a certain threshold, your character will transform into a scantily clad more powerful form known as Glitch Mode. Believe it or not, Arata can even help by allowing you to use a Summon to take part in the fight, Code Jack to provide certain cheats, and you can even play mini-games which cause extra damage upon choosing Install Genre. Overall, the battle system is packed with exciting elements that keep the gameplay engaging and rewarding.
Most of Death end re;Quest is spent exploring dungeons while figuring out how to progress through them. At the start of the campaign, I found myself getting extremely confused as the dungeon layouts are very complex and difficult to navigate. This is especially true when you consider that many dungeons constantly require finding key items and toggling switches. As I advanced in the campaign, things became slightly easier but I still found myself irritated at the tedious and perplexing parts. While you explore, you'll find treasure chests and accomplish basic quests that may grant you surprisingly powerful equipment which helps alleviate some of the frustration.
Although the battle system is comprehensive and robust, growing your characters in Death end re;Quest is fairly basic and uninteresting. Aside from equipping better stuff and levelling up, you can also learn new skills. However, doing so requires guesswork as you learn skills by executing specific combinations of other skills. Needless to say, trying out all sorts of combinations in the hopes of learning something new is much more monotonous than rewarding. On the plus side, you can make your own preset skill lists as well as set your default attack trio of skills which offers some sense of customization. That being said, it's still all too simplistic.
It may be a niche JRPG but Death end re;Quest is impressively innovative in both its storytelling and battle system. If you're even mildly curious about this kind of game, I highly recommend giving it a try.
- + Awesome and unique battle system with tons of very cool mechanics
- + Great characters and English voice cast
- + Unconventional yet rewarding structure
- - Dungeons can be confusing and tedious
- - Learning skills requires guesswork
- - Character growth is too simplistic