Death end re;Quest: Where Does the Game End and the World Begin?

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One of the most interesting things about Death end re;Quest is the fact that it gradually evolves over the course of its duration, with new mechanics and structural elements being continually introduced throughout the first distinct “part” of the game.

Today we’re going to take a look at part of the game’s overall mechanics and structure: specifically, the part of the experience that allows you to explore and advance the overall story. We won’t be discussing the narrative itself today — just how it’s presented and how the game hangs together.

It’s one of Compile Heart’s most interesting games, even before you’ve unlocked everything — so let’s take a closer look at one of its coolest aspects.

As we looked at in our general overview of the gameDeath end re;Quest is split into two distinct components: the “simulated game” in which you take on the role of game director Shina Ninomiya as she attempts to escape from World’s Odyssey, the virtual reality game she helped create and has subsequently become trapped in, and the “real world” component, which unfolds as a visual novel, and features a cast of characters attempting to unravel the mystery behind Shina’s situation.

The common factor between these two components is male protagonist Arata Mizunashi. He’s one of the programmers of Shina’s World’s Odyssey project alongside his colleague Tokiwa, and shortly after the outset of the game he finds himself a wanted man from a variety of angles: a band of assassins wearing rabbit masks seemingly want him dead, the police apparently want to lock him up for something he hasn’t done, and Aggle Inc., the company behind the “Alice Engine” on which World’s Odyssey runs, would very much like it if he didn’t ruin their apparent plans for world domination through technology, thank you very much. In short, Mizunashi-san is not having a good day.

Despite the danger in which he finds himself, however, Mizunashi makes Shina’s safety his priority, because as a designer of the game, he feels partly responsible for the situation in which she finds herself. Consequently, he manages to find a way to participate in the game without getting stuck in virtual reality by making use of the in-game “moderator” figure Enigma, a small, dumpy, teddy bear-like creature that allows him to interact with the virtual world through his laptop almost as if he was there himself.

Mechanically speaking, as you might expect, the visual novel sequences are the most straightforward, primarily consisting of reading. The scenes are triggered either by choosing to talk to someone in Mizunashi’s current location, or moving to a new area; in both cases, the options are marked with an exclamation point if there is a new event to see, so there’s no need to check every area “just in case” something happens.

The events are presented through a combination of “NVL” (full-screen text) style for Mizunashi’s narration and internal monologue, and Compile Heart’s more frequently used “ADV” (dialogue window with character busts) style for dialogue between characters. This allows us the best of both worlds — the ability to get inside Mizunashi’s head when it counts, and for the dialogue sequences to be snappy and witty in trademark Compile Heart style. Each “episode” of the visual novel is also kept fairly brief, so for those who want to get back to the RPG side of things, there’s not too much text to wade through.

You’ll encounter choice points quite frequently throughout the “real world” sequences. Typically, these will be binary choices, where one option leads to a “Death end” and the necessity to reload, while the other advances the narrative. However, the game subverts this expectation in a few cases with options that both lead to the same place via a slightly different bit of dialogue, or where the outcome of a scene is dependent on another character rather than Mizunashi. This latter situation can usually be spotted according to whether or not you are able to save before making your choice. If you can save, there is the risk of death; if you can’t, you’ve either already started down the path to a Death end (in which case you would have had the chance to save before making a choice), or the decision you’re about to make won’t have fatal consequences if you choose unwisely.

As previously noted, Death ends aren’t necessarily something to be avoided; in fact, the game’s “Episode List” mechanic, accessible both in the real world and World’s Odyssey, confers significant rewards on you for finding them, usually in the form of equippable accessories for World’s Odyssey that thematically relate to the various ways in which it’s possible to meet your demise.

The Episode List is stored in the game’s system data rather than your individual save files, so reloading a save after a Death end will acknowledge the fact you’ve seen it, even though it technically “hasn’t happened”. You’ll still have to go back through anything that unfolded between your save point and the choice that led to the Death end, but a comprehensive suite of replay features, including both slow and quick “fast forward” functions as well as an instant scene skip button, make this straightforward and not at all a chore.

Much as the Death ends you’ve seen are saved in the system data, so too are the choices you’ve made; reach a decision point you’ve already seen and an option you previously chose will be marked with a green checkmark. This is useful both if you can’t remember which option caused your untimely death, and also for subsequent playthroughs if you want to see all the possible dialogue variations for certain non-critical scenes. It’s also handy in the World’s Odyssey section of the game, as at various points throughout the narrative Mizunashi has the opportunity to engage in individual conversations with the playable characters while they are camping, and it’s useful to see which options you’ve previously chosen if you’re taking aim for a particular ending.

Which brings us more generally to World’s Odyssey, then. The first thing to note about it is that it differs from Compile Heart’s typical approach to RPG structure in that it’s not hub-based. In other words, the game doesn’t involve spreading out from a central location in various directions, running a dungeon from start to finish, then coming back to “base”. This is a noteworthy thing about the game, because the hub-based structure has kind of been a defining aspect of most Compile Heart RPGs over the years, whether it’s the Neptunia series, Fairy Fencer FOmega Quintet or even Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God.

Instead, exploring World’s Odyssey initially involves moving through interconnected zones, much like you would in a regular MMO. In the early game, each narrative chapter tends to focus on a single, large, complex dungeon with a clear objective to complete; later, however, the structure opens up somewhat, with various happenings in the mid-game narrative both necessitating some backtracking to previously visited zones to open up substantial new areas and unlocking the ability to “fast travel” via a world map.

Exploring a zone is where the game feels most “Compile Heart”, for those familiar with their PS3 output onwards — though as noted, there are a few twists on the usual formula. Exploration unfolds from a third-person perspective (though you can actually zoom right in and play in first-person if you wish) and takes place on maps that have clear, obvious pathways and transition points to other zones. Each map contains treasure boxes (which can be collected once, and which are then marked on the map to allow you to quickly see which treasures you’ve already found), collection points (which respawn on subsequent visits), event triggers, campsites, key items, gates, teleporters and enemy symbols.

Event triggers are straightforward: they appear on the map as an exclamation point icon and as a glowing flag in the game world. In a nice touch, you can tell if an event is unavoidable (usually meaning it will trigger a battle) by whether or not the map displays a “barrier” behind the event marker; this way, you can plan accordingly.

Campsites are also pretty much as you’d expect — reach one of these and “use” it and the party will take a break, restoring themselves to their full, uninjured, default status. Campsites also feature a save point, a warp point (allowing you to warp to the various zones in regions that encompass several distinct areas) and a shop; there are no “towns” as such in World’s Odyssey, so all buying, selling and questing is accomplished through the shop interface.

Quests are not a primary focus of the game; early on you’ll get maybe a couple in a chapter, then about halfway through you’ll get bombarded with a bunch of them that are clearly intended to be gradually completed over the long term during the rest of your time with the game. They’re worth completing, however, as the rewards are pretty good for relatively minimal effort — generally speaking, they tend to task you with defeating a couple of a specific enemy, or finding a couple of a specific gatherable item, and while you’re exploring you’ll almost certainly accomplish them without even trying.

Key items are an interesting addition to the usual Compile Heart formula. These are literally represented as glowing “key” icons in the game world, and represent one of several things: literal, collectible keys that will unlock doors and gates; events that provide the party with the knowledge they require to pass a specific challenge or obstacle; or interactive items that allow them to manipulate the environment in some way. Only the “event” type is marked on the map; others have to be spotted visually in the game world. This is a good, if slightly inelegant, solution to the problem many games have where the player spends all their time staring at the minimap rather than the actual game scenery. By concealing the keys in the environment — occasionally quite deviously — the player is forced to pay attention to their surroundings in order to progress.

Gates come in a few forms. Firstly and most simply are locked doors that you need to find a particular key item to open. These can be identified by a “door” symbol on the map, darkened when locked, bright when unlockable. If you walk up to a door and an interaction prompt appears, you need a key; if no interaction prompt appears, then it is a one-way door that must be opened (often, though not always, also requiring a key) from the other side. This latter type are usually “shortcuts” leading from the end of a complicated section of dungeon back to the beginning, meaning that you won’t have to repeat the same puzzles or run the same enemy gauntlets again and again if you just need to get somewhere.

The second type of gate involves special field abilities that each of the playable characters possess. These operate similarly to the character skills in Omega Quintet, where each playable character is able to bypass a particular type of obstacle. Shina can use her spider legs (more on why she has spider legs when we talk about the narrative in more detail!) to fire out a “thread” to grapple up to higher ground, for example; likewise, beast girl Al can summon a shield to prevent damage from poisonous floors; and magical half-elf Lucil can make invisible pathways visible (and tangible). In many cases, these abilities simply allow access to treasure, but there are a few instances where they are necessary to progress, perhaps by allowing you to access a key item or simply by getting in the way if you don’t deal with them.

The third type of gate involves bugs in World’s Odyssey, and these are typically represented by corrupted graphics or level geometry preventing Shina and her comrades from progressing further. When you encounter one of these obstacles, it’s a cue to switch back to Mizunashi in the real world, particularly if you’ve found one of the seemingly out-of-place “reality objects”. Mizunashi and his friends will then proceed to investigate the subject the object represents, and in most cases find a fragment of source code that can be implemented back into World’s Odyssey to fix the bug and allow progression.

The first couple of times you encounter this latter type of gate, you’re given explicit, dialogue-based cues to switch from Shina’s viewpoint back to Mizunashi; as the game progresses, however, you’re expected to just recognise that you’ve encountered a bug that Mizunashi needs to fix. You’re not completely blind, mind you; an objective display in the main menu notes when Shina thinks it might be a good idea to get Mizunashi to investigate something the group has found, and an exclamation point symbol on the button in the menu that returns to “reality” notes that there are new events to trigger. You’re just not told directly.

Teleporters aren’t found in every dungeon, but the Rizaria Forest dungeon makes extensive use of them. Passing through one causes both it and its twin to appear on the map, helpfully colour-coded to help you figure out where to go when returning to the area later. Sometimes you’ll need key items to activate portals, and sometimes a single portal structure has different teleports on either side of it, meaning you’ll end up somewhere different if you enter from one direction to where you’d go from the other. This makes for an interesting and satisfying environmental puzzle similar to something you’d find in a grid-based dungeon crawler like MeiQ or Dungeon Travelers 2, but with the feeling of “freedom” a 3D environment provides.

Finally, enemy symbols wander the map and show where “random” encounters will unfold. These will chase you if you cross their line of sight (with the beginning of a chase marked by an audible cue — helpful if the enemy is off-screen) but can be avoided or outrun; an unlimited “Dash” function allows you to double the speed of the character you’re currently controlling, making it very easy to skip battles you’re not interested in having right now.

When you’re ready to fight, how you come into contact with an enemy symbol determines how the battle begins. Hit the symbol with a ranged attack from afar and you’ll begin with the advantage of your party surrounding the enemy forces, who will all be bunched together in the middle of the arena. Run into the enemy without “attacking” them and you’ll be on equal footing — your party on one side, the enemies on the other. And mistime your attack or let an enemy hit your back and you’ll be at a disadvantage — this time the enemy surrounds you!

As for how that fight unfolds… well, we’ve got to save something for next time, now, haven’t we?

More about Death end re;Quest

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.

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