The sequel of death has arrived!
- Developer: Compile Heart
- Publisher: Idea Factory
- Genre: Action JRPG
- Release Date: 25th August 2020
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Steam
- Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Stand up and applaud.
Death end re;Quest was released to critical acclaim in Japan back in April 2018, and it wasn’t until February 2019 that a localized version of the game was made available worldwide. As the game was a new IP, it was unclear if there would ever be a sequel. But, due to the success of the first game, in a little over two years, and despite a global pandemic, Compile Heart and Idea Factory have not only made another game but they have also made the second game better than the first. The challenge of producing a high-quality game in such a short turnaround during these difficult times is indeed a remarkable achievement worthy of applause.
Just like the start of the first game, Death end re;Quest 2 starts off with a horrific, grisly, traumatic and bloody death! The themes of this game are most certainly adult. This sets the wheels in motion for our main protagonist to be sent to an all-girls school, where this adventure kicks off. For Mai Toyami, the main character, this is convenient as this is the same school where her lost sister used to be, so while there she can search for her too.
The story continues along the lines of a typical high school horror film, with jump scares, ghosts, and the obligatory, “don’t go out after midnight,” dialogue that we all know means everyone is going out after twelve! By day, the game revolves around a storyline presented in a visual novel fashion, and at night it’s a dungeon-crawling action RPG.
What is really pleasing about this sequel is that you don’t have to play the first game to understand what’s going on here. This is a completely new storyline, with new characters and setting.
Even more pleasing is that, even though “teen horror” movies have been done a thousand times, and at times are utterly predictable, it’s really hard, nigh on impossible, not to be caught up and gripped with the excellent storytelling and superbly delivered narrative here in this game. The balance in the juxtaposition between cute anime girls talking about death and very gruesome adult themes was delightfully refreshing.
Some of the backstories of the side characters were at times very dark. Be that as it may, because of the aforementioned juxtaposition, and despite the heavy themes mixed with cute anime girls, it gladly never felt too oppressive to keep playing. The girls’ positive outlook on life and will to keep going meant playing the game was fun, and it pushed you through the story at a great pace.
Simple and effective.
The main crux of the game was split into two distinct styles. A narrative-heavy visual novel took place during the day, where you gather information and talk to characters, whilst at night it’s a typical and pretty simplified dungeon crawler, where you fight enemies to progress the story.
The visual novel presentation was excellent. When reading large amounts of text it’s important to at least try and make it interesting and it helps if it’s customisable to get the best experience. Available customisation includes the option to adjust the text speed and frequency, as well as an option to have English or Japanese voice acting for the parts that have them. The text font was very clear and easy to read, which makes it a pleasant part of the game.
During these text-heavy sections, excellent partially animated character stills of gorgeous art design accompany the text so you can visually see who is talking. It’s presented with some subtle effects, like the character’s hair or mouths moving whilst the dialogue is happening.
There are also optional dialogue sections, not all of which can be accessed in one playthrough alone, that encourages players to replay the game again.
Lights, camera, ACTION.
So the scene gets set via dialogue during the day, but the action happens at night. The game lets itself down somewhat with the very basic graphics during dungeon gameplay. Although the artwork is excellent, the environments and objects of interest in them are sparse, dull and pretty boring. The game wants the player to explore the dungeons, but with hardly anything interesting to look at, or indeed anything to make the player curious, it’s hard not to rush to the objective point as quickly as possible to set off the next part of the story.
However, despite that, and the very simple monster character designs, the player character movement has improved since the first game. Beforehand, the movement was extremely stiff, and although nothing groundbreaking, it’s certainly much better now.
The main draw of the dungeon crawling is the excellent combat system, and this is where the game makes its mark, as it’s chocked full of original, well thought out gameplay concepts.
When a battle begins, players are presented with a circular battlefield, with different numbers of enemies in the field with them. When it’s the player’s turn, they can freely move around the field to position themselves to strike. Each player has three actions they can use. They could for example use three magic attacks in a row, or choose to do one healing, one magic, and one melee attack. When the players have used up their turns, the enemies then have their turn.
However, when players attack, if they use attacks that have “knockback” effects, it pushes the affected enemy away, and any enemies in line with that shove are also damaged. Even better is these knockbacks are so powerful they push enemies back to the boundaries of the battlefield and they bounce back in, and when hitting anything damages them further. It’s like a glorified game of billiards, with the most effective attacks knocking enemies into each other as many times as possible in one go. Players will be basically lining up their shots and judging angles like a snooker player during battle.
Using different combinations of attacks will unlock new methods, so experimentation is gladly rewarded, and added variety to the gameplay.
The other method of attacking was an all-powerful “glitch mode”. Players can walk over circles in battle called bugs, which build up a character’s corruption level. When the corruption level reaches a certain point, a powerful, over the top, destructive glitch mode attack with its own cinematic wind up arrives. In the previous game, walking over these bugs ever so slightly reduced a players health, but here in the second game, there didn’t seem to be any discernible negative effect or health loss, so it’s best to just walk over them and obtain glitch mode as soon and as often as possible.
The RPG side.
During dungeon exploration and battles, players will find loot and receive currency to purchase items. Players can buy the obligatory health items, buffs, and new weapons, but with so much being dropped by enemies, it was a very rare need to actually buy anything from the shop at all.
However, inventory management is certainly required, as even getting to the end of the first level and the first boss will require upgrades to be successful.
With all the above, you would expect a glowing final score, but there are some negatives. The main one would be that the game doesn’t explain itself at all! If you have played the previous game you will know how to handle the combat system, however, for anyone that hasn’t, there isn’t any explanation or a worthwhile tutorial in how or what you should be doing. When you do learn the mechanics and its systems, it’s actually very simple, but for first-time players of the franchise, it will leave them with a sense of literally being dropped in it.
The second aspect not up to scratch was that the graphics of the dungeon exploring were basic, uninspired, and lacking in variety. Thankfully the game will only take around 20 to 25 hours to complete one playthrough, so players won’t get too fed up of looking at the same areas over and over again, as the game will start to wrap up before you know it. A few more locations would have been a welcome addition, though.
Lastly, the audio was basic. The audio levels of different characters on the same audio level of your tv will range from barely heard to way too loud. Having to constantly alter the volume level during conversations when the main protagonist was the quietest throughout the entire game was draining! Dungeon effects were also of the most basic type, and nothing felt convincing or authentic during battle or exploration.
However, despite the varying audio levels of the dialogue being spoken, the highlight was the excellent voice acting. These voice actors carried the game for large parts with their excellent performance and made up for the other flaws the game has.
Death end re;Quest 2 really surprised me at how it gripped me during my playthrough. The teen horror genre generally bores me rigid, but here I found myself captivated with the excellent story full of intrigue, suspense, religious zealots, and adult themes all wrapped around a gripping narrative, with superb voice acting and gorgeous visuals.
Throw in the excellent and unique combat with the rewarding RPG elements, and the game’s flaws didn’t seem to matter any more. Hopefully, this will lead the way to a third instalment of this excellent franchise.