One of the more interesting things about Death end re;Quest, as we’ll discuss in more depth when we talk about its story in detail, is its dual-perspective narrative.
The “real world” unfolds from the perspective of main male protagonist Arata Mizunashi, while the “game” side of things is the domain of trapped director and lead heroine Shina Ninomiya, who initially has absolutely no recollection of how she found herself in a virtual reality game so realistic it’s difficult to distinguish from “reality”.
Shina is an excellent lead for the “in-game” side of things, for reasons that will become apparent shortly. Let’s take a closer look!
Our first encounter with Shina is pretty much immediately at the start of Death end re;Quest, where we seemingly witness her getting cruelly and violently killed by a giant monster. Besides providing a strong, shocking opening, this scene very much sets the tone for what we can expect from the rest of the game — this is not your typical light-hearted Compile Heart title.
The scene has another function, too; once we discover that this horrific incident apparently unfolded in Shina’s unconscious imagination, it gives us, the player, powerful incentive to help her on her quest. Was that a vision of an inescapable destiny, or can we help her avert it? There’s only one way to find out.
In the early hours of the game, we find a Shina who is unsure of who she is, where she is and why the world is in the state it’s in. She quickly demonstrates her strength, however, by adopting the identity beloved of RPG heroes everywhere — that of “adventurer” — and starting to gather information, when she could have quite easily simply locked herself away in the rather pretty cottage the game proper gets underway in and lived out the rest of her days in blissful unawareness of the chaos that is about to unfold.
Shina’s lost memories start to get triggered piece by piece as the game progresses. One of the first things to return to her, prompted by some gentle nudges from Mizunashi, is the fact that she is not presently in “reality” — and the fact that she has a “true” identity outside of the game.
Initially, we don’t see this true identity, and all we get is her avatar in the game, but as the game progresses, we get the opportunity to see the “true” Shina — or at least, Mizunashi’s recollections of her. At this point we have a fun little nod to real-life MMO culture: Shina’s in-game avatar bears more than a passing resemblance to her real-life self, but also represents certain aspects of it being “idealised” in some way.
In the game, she’s recognisable as Shina, but more stylish. Her hair is swept across her face dramatically and dyed a vibrant purple rather than the mousy brown of reality; her in-game outfit is clearly a means of her expressing her identity — quite literally, given the number of times her name actually appears on it; she overall comes across as much more confident. There are subtle differences, too; “real” Shina has an ear poking out of the side of her hair, for example while “game” Shina does not. This is not something you necessarily actively notice, but it helps draw attention to the differences between the two different representations of her.
As a person, it quickly becomes apparent that Shina is someone who stands up for what she believes in and doesn’t like being told “no”, but she’s nice about this. She doesn’t come across as spoiled or precocious; she simply has strong beliefs. And we get to see evidence of this in both “worlds”.
In Mizunashi’s recollections of the “real” Shina, he vividly recalls a heated discussion with her over whether or not they should kowtow to their corporate overlords and take things like panty shots out of her game. Shina, clearly attached to the character under discussion, strongly believes that the more provocative features should be left in and to her exacting specifications, while Mizunashi favours attempting to find a compromise. In this way, we see how much this pair mean to each other both personally and professionally; they both value each other’s opinion, and each help keep the other grounded.
In-game, meanwhile, Shina is in the unique position of being aware that she is “living” in a world of her own creation and design. At times, this is something wondrous that she finds herself delighting in; at others, it is frightening — most notably when the people, places and things she remembers designing don’t act in the way she expects them to.
Shina is, in many ways, a reflection on the fact that while modern games are, more often than not, a large group effort from a substantial team of people, there is still room for an “auteur” to express their creativity and artistic vision through their work. And the unexpected situations they encounter — along with the reasons for those unexpected situations — reflect how corporate interference can, at times, compromise a creator’s original intentions. But we’ll look at that in more detail another day!
For now, suffice it to say that Shina is an excellent lead character for your time within World’s Odyssey, and her desperate situation in a broader context gives plenty of drive to proceed through Death end re;Quest’s overall narrative and discover the truth behind what’s really going on in both the real and virtual worlds.
It’s certainly a far cry from worrying about microtransactions and loot boxes, I’ll tell you now…!
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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