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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Review: Death End re;Quest (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Matt S.

I had thought that Death End re;Quest might be pushing it with the Nintendo Switch. Idea Factory's ports to the console are always quite playable, but usually have rough edges that are introduced that are not present on other platforms. Death End re;Quest was a relatively ambitious game on other platforms, however, and when I heard that the Switch Port was happening, I was prepared for those rough edges to become really rough. The good news is that the game is very playable, and it is still an excellent horror-themed JRPG and subversion of the isekai anime genre. People will see the cute anime girls and make assumptions about the kind of game that this is, but they'll also be wrong. But, yes, to confirm: it does have its rough edges.


Frame rates stutter, loading times are just a little too long for their own good, and when you play in handheld mode the character models are too fuzzy to really enjoy the lingerie swimwear DLC that's included in the game. However, none of this is going to stop you from being able to play, and complete, Death End re;Quest. This is a game that combines the visual novel with the turn-based JRPG, and there's not a moment across the entire game where a smooth framerate is required to navigate its challenges. This is going to be a digression, but I've never understood why people get so hung up about technical elements that don't get in the way of the gameplay experience. I understand frame rate issues with shooters or action games, where even the slightest drop in performance can throw accuracy or timing. But for a visual novel? A turn-based JRPG? No, I don't understand that. However, there are people that, for whatever, do care, and they should know that Death End re;Quest is up there with Fairy Fencer F as the Idea Factory title that struggles the most on Switch.

On the other hand, this is also the ultimate version of Death End re;Quest, with an incredible amount of DLC, costumes, extra characters and challenges included in the release. All of that can be turned on and off from the main menu (and there are some things that are better left for a second play-through), but as someone who hasn't played the game since its initial release on PlayStation 4, having all that extra content to experience has helped make this new playthrough for review a fresh experience. And, of course, it's now portable. I'm generally willing to put up with a drop in performance and visual fidelity to be able to play the game on the commute, while watching a movie, or relaxing in bed, and that's the case here, too. The sum of the technical issues is by no means enough to turn me off, and going forward, whenever I feel like playing the game again, I'll be defaulting to this Switch version.


Death End re;Quest has a story that goes to some incredibly dark places (as you'd expect from a game written by Makoto Kedouin, of Corpse Party fame), and it's an interesting deconstruction of the popular isekai anime genre (when the hero is magically transported from the "real world" into a fantasy world or anime/game). I wrote a lengthy, deep review of the game's narrative in my original review, so for convenience I'm going to copy/paste some of that here, since, of course, it applies in full to this port too (read the rest of the review here):

With or without the fan service, Death End Re:Quest is an absolutely cracking game. It drives at a surprisingly complex narrative, but to summarise the setup as briefly as I can; There’s a prototype MMO that was shut down by its publisher a year ago. By chance, one of the developers discovers that the servers for it are still live, despite his previous understanding that they were all shuttered. There, he discovers something even more incredible – the lead on the project (Shina), who went missing at the same time that the game was shuttered, is actually inside the bug-ridden, decrepit state of the game.

See, this game allowed people to put themselves directly into the game via VR technology. Unfortunately, thanks to the state of the game and its bugs, there’s no way for the girl to get back out… and no one knows where her body is located in the real world. So, with the help of the programmer dude in the real world, she sets out on a quest to complete the game (battling all the bugs along the way) in order to free her mind from it, and allow her to return to her body.


Meanwhile, real-world objects keep showing up in the in-game world, to the confusion of all involved. More concerning is that as the real-world protagonist gets more involved in the game and Shina's quest, some really terrifying stuff starts happening to him in the real world. He starts having encounters with ghosts and other occultish things, and masked people that look like something straight out the Strangers film franchise show up threateningly up at his door. That's just the tip of the iceberg, too. The sense is that he's in all kinds of trouble, and it comes on thick and fast. It all starts to point towards some kind of giant conspiracy, and figuring out the relationship between what's going on in the real world, to the continued existence of the game world, forms the basis for the rest of the adventure. Does it become a bit predictable at times? Sure... but without giving away spoilers, the final chapters are thrilling stuff.

Death End offers a lot to take in, but thankfully the narrative does a brilliant job of making it the kind of mystery that you want to solve. For anything up to an hour at a time you’ll be reading through what can only be described as visual novel sequences as you work your way through the plot. At first, this seems like jarringly long breaks from the JRPG action, but as the narrative settles into its own rhythm the blend of VN and JRPG is nicely complementary. There are shades of everything from Sword Art Online to Suzuki Koji’s The Ring series of novels, and even a touch of the Murakami Haruki approach to thrillers in Death End. The way the sense of mystery is structured so it cleverly builds sequences of mundane, every day events and meetings into something that feels distinctly sinister and unnatural could surely have only been inspired by 1Q84… and while 1Q84 is in the league of Shakespeare himself for pure literary value, the fact that Death End is in the same ballpark, thematically and tonally, is genuinely impressive from a developer better known for nonsense stories about purple-haired pudding enthusiasts with absolutely no shame about their bodies.

It’s easy to look at Death End as simply being another story about people getting themselves trapped in virtual worlds. Sword Art Online make this theme nearly a cliché all by itself, but there are plenty of other anime and games that have done something similar. That being said, the stronger link to what’s going on the real world to the virtual spaces makes Death End more in-line with the science fiction thriller, such as the third book in the Ring trilogy, and this idea of people being “stuck” in simulations plays nicely to one of the more popular philosophical mind games going on at the moment, about whether humanity itself is in some kind of simulation. Death End touches on that theme a little, too. It’s not core to the narrative, but it does help to differentiate it from the straight fantasy of peers like Sword Art Online.


The way the story is structured within the game is both varied and intriguing too. As you play, you’ll be shifting between the “real world” and the “in-game world”. In the real world you’ll be dealing with the rabbit masked horror homages and corporate conspiracies. In the video game would you’ll be dealing with all kinds of MMO tropes that have been twisted – badly – by the bugs and unfinished nature of the game. Those bugs tend to have a violent effect on the characters – and indeed it’s possible to make bad decisions that lead to some incredibly gruesome endings.


As everyone knows at this point, I do like games that can make me think, and often with Idea Factory, for a company that has a reputation for providing little more than fan service, many of its games are grounded in thought that is worthy and evocative in a way that surprises some people. I didn't make those comparisons to literature like The Ring or 1Q84 lightly with my original review of Death End re;Quest, and I stand by them here - this is a game that you can build a lot of thinking on. The extreme horror - and while it's not visualised to its full extent, the narrative text can be very confronting - and complex ideas expressed through the text are an ugly contrast the relatively juvenile efforts at fan service, though. Sometimes it's hard not to wish that the creatives at Idea Factory could sit down and forget about the fan service for just one game, so that they can deliver the full, uncompromised creative vision that they themselves regularly undermine (in terms of the response the game gets, if not the game itself). It's not like they'd even need to do away with the sex stuff, since sex and horror are closely intertwined. I'm just talking about the bandaid bikini costumes here. I love Idea Factory's fan service games too, of course, and in the context of a Hyperdimension Neptunia or Azur Lane, it's entirely warranted, but I'd also love to see games like Death End, where the fan service is secondary to the trust of the rest of the experienc experience, get noticed for what they're really doing (and saying).

Anyhow, that's an aside. The point here is that Death End re;Quest is an excellent game, with a narrative with a depth that might surprise some players who go in assuming that fan service is the limit of it. And, sure, the Switch port is not the perfect version of the game and struggles to run smoothly at times, but that doesn't stop it from being highly playable, and for Idea Factory, putting this on a handheld platform is a worthwhile endeavour.



- Matt S.
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb


Review: Death End re;Quest (Nintendo Switch)
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