Almost a year ago at this point, I reviewed Death end re;Quest 2 for Prima. This was before we went back to using scores, so you’ll have to read it to truly know what I thought. Recently, Idea Factory dropped the first game on the Switch, compromising some of the game’s visuals and performance in a trade for portability. Revisiting the first game was a real trip after playing the sequel, and it really drives home what can happen when an experiment is met with success.

As I’ve noted in the past (self-promotion, how dare I), This game has a similar premise to works like .Hack or Sword Art Online, in which people playing a virtual reality videogame become trapped. Death end re;Quest takes that premise and adds a touch of horror, seasoned by Corpse Party writer Makoto Kedouin. What ends up happening is you get a typical sort of Compile Heart/Idea Factory JRPG, but way edgier.

Death end re;Quest Nintendo Switch Review

That said, the first game isn’t nearly as aggressive as the sequel. For most of the story, Death end is about a conspiracy in the tech industry, and how a game developer is positioned as a scapegoat for an international cyberterrorist plot. You follow Arata Mizunashi and Shina Ninomiya, developers who were creating World’s Odyssey, a groundbreaking virtual reality RPG. Things went horribly wrong, and now Shina is trapped inside the game and Arata is doing what he can to help her from the outside.

There’s a clever hybridization here, splitting the game into one part JRPG, one part visual novel. At any point (mostly) you can swap between Shina and Arata, with the former going on the more gameplay-heavy adventure while Arata is in the real world dealing with the overall mystery. Either side gates progress in the other, so you’re naturally forced to go back and forth to keep the story going.

There isn’t a lot of horror in the moment to moment play in Death end re;Quest. It's actually pretty lighthearted for the most part, especially since protagonist Shina is just a nice person and pleasant to be around. Instead, there are several moments that can lead to “Death Ends,” bad endings in which the characters fail violently. These moments can be pretty gruesome or strange, adding a bit of color to the experience. Some Death Ends can trick you into thinking you made the right choice for a while, which can be pretty clever when it isn’t frustrating (don’t forget to save!). So while the sequel is all about oppressing the player at nearly all times, the first Death end is more about the juxtaposition.

As far as the port here goes, it isn’t the best Switch conversion out there. The frame rate is inconsistent, sometimes making things feel a bit choppy. You never see a game-ruining dip, but you can feel the moments things become as smooth as you’d want them. The visuals are often pretty low-res, giving the game a fuzzier look than intended. If you want performance, you’re obviously going to want to go the PC or PS4 route.

Related: Death end re;Quest 2 Review | Playing Shuffleboard in Anime Hell

That said, handheld play is a key point here. If you play your Switch docked exclusively (why tho), you’ll want to play elsewhere. But Death end re;Quest is kind of slower-paced anyway, so having the sometimes lengthy battles in your hands can make grinding easier to deal with. It’s a totally competent port otherwise, and it even comes with all the DLC for free.

Speaking of combat, Death end re;Quest sports the same weird shuffleboard-like system its sequel does. It’s a little more experimental-feeling here, which really only means it gets better in the sequel. It totally works though, and gives you plenty to think about. There can be some weird frustrations, such as some enemies counter-attacking half your party no matter what the positioning is. But overall it’s fun to engage with, especially figuring out how to get one over on the bosses.

There’s some weird stuff on a more granular level in which you can hack into battles and change them, which ranges from buffs/debuffs to literally altering the gameplay genre. It’s cute, but can often feel clumsy and not worth the fumbling. But the core combat is engaging enough by itself that it’s often easy to forget about the more gimmicky options.

If you like anime and horror, and are okay with some level of horny, it’s easy to recommend this series. It isn’t quite as bubbly and self-referential as the Neptunia series, and sometimes it can be legitimately unsettling. It’s a bit rough around the edges, especially on the Switch. But Death end re;Quest is easily one of the most creative games in Idea Factory’s stable, and if you missed it before there’s plenty of value in checking it out now.


 

Pros:

  • Portable
  • Weird but fun combat
  • Hybrid structure and horror genre stuff makes it stand out

Cons:

  • If you don’t want horny anime vibes there’s no avoiding it here, YMMV
  • Performance issues
  • Combat has some strange quirks

Score: 7/10

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review