The game-within-a-game setting is something that’s been tried before by games such as .hack and the Sword Art Online series, to varying degrees of success. Idea Factory has put its own unique spin on things with Death end re;Quest, a game with a cute and colorful appearance, but mature and complex narrative.
World’s Odyssey was supposed to be an immersive MMORPG with state-of-the-art virtual reality technology and the most advanced AI ever found within a game. Unfortunately, development got shut down after its game director, Shina Ninomiya, went missing. It’s been almost a year since the servers were turned off, or at least since they were supposed to have been turned off.
Arata, a computer programmer who worked on World’s Odyssey, receives a strange email from Shina. It seems like the game is still up and running, but in a now heavily corrupted and buggy form. He soon realizes that she’s trapped within the game. Shina has no memory of where she’s been for the last year or where she’s currently logged in from. The game won’t let her manually log out, and so the only way to force a log out is to achieve the game’s perfect ending.
What follows is a really intriguing blend of RPG and visual novel. When you’re in control of Shina, you’ll be exploring dungeons and fighting monsters within World’s Odyssey. You’ll also be able to switch to Arata in the real world. He’ll be trying to uncover the many mysteries surrounding the game, while also dealing with some very strange events happening in the real world.
Inside World’s Odyssey
Initially, when exploring World’s Odyssey as Shina, the world will feel strangely empty. It brilliantly captures the essence of what you think an online game with no players would feel like. Thankfully, you won’t be alone for too long and will get to meet an interesting cast of characters who are willing to join you on your quest. While many of them have fairly standard trope JRPG personalities, you’ll still find yourself wanting to learn more about them. These characters are NPC’s whose personalities and appearances are not as they were originally programmed. They definitely get more interesting as you progress through the story.
Shina and her gang of allies will have to fight their way to the end-boss, which means traversing through the game’s many dungeons. You’ll see enemies on-screen and if you touch them, then you’ll be whisked away to a battlefield for some turn-based combat. It has a pretty novel system with lots of different components to it.
At the start of your turn, you can move around the field and select up to three actions. Some skills will send enemies spinning across the field. This leads to some pretty fun moments where you try to line up monsters so that they barrel into each other, like a bowling ball hitting a bunch of pins.
There are lots of other features to come to grips with, such as glowing field bugs on the floor that can either provide you with benefits or cause you harm, depending on the type of bug. There’s also a corruption meter on each character, as well as one on the battlefield. Oh, and Arata can also occasionally join in by changing the genre of the game for a brief period of time or summoning monsters to fight for you.
While all of these things are neat ideas on their own, there are so many different elements that many of them start to feel a little redundant. Once you master the art of sending enemies spinning into each other and effectively using counter attacks, they’ll barely be able to get a turn in, so there’s little need for so many different systems. This starts to change a little in the second half of the game, where the enemies seem to become damage sponges. This leads to battles becoming longer than necessary, and meant that I ended up trying to avoid as many of the fights as I could.
Back to reality
Every now and then, Shina’s path will be blocked. Then, it is Arata’s time to shine! His sections play out in the form of a visual novel. These sections can be fairly long, but this never feels like an issue. Most of the time, they’re incredibly mysterious and thrilling.
There are some strange items that have appeared in World’s Odyssey that shouldn’t be there, things like newspaper articles, diary entries, and photos of the real world. Arata has to investigate why they’ve appeared and how the real world and game world are connected. Some of the items have connections to kidnappings, grisly deaths, and the occult. There is a very sinister and eerie atmosphere surrounding all of this, and at times I found myself rushing through Shina’s segments just so I could see what else Arata was about to discover.
There are an awful lot of ways that the game can suddenly end with your gruesome death. During both Shina and Arata’s sections, you will occasionally be given a choice of how to respond to a situation. Depending on which option you pick, you could very swiftly reach a game over screen. While this does add to the atmosphere of the game, it can also be really frustrating if you haven’t saved in a while, as the game doesn’t auto-save.
Death end re;Quest sometimes describes in detail some of the ghastly things that are happening, like people’s spinal columns being ripped out, being tortured, or people being severed in half. There’s no real visual representation of the gore on-screen, but the writing does a superb job of painting a bloody picture for you. The juxtaposition of the charming and colorful visuals and its brutal storytelling work wonderfully together.
The visual novel side of the game is definitely the strongest part, and it’s a shame that the RPG sections aren’t quite as engrossing. I found myself wishing that Shina’s sections were shorter, so that I could spend more time watching Arata investigate. The story is such a brilliant blend of science fiction and occult and, with the constant twists and turns, I didn’t want to put the controller down until I’d uncovered the truth behind everything.
Death end re;Quest review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.