Love Is The Sharpest Knife
HIGH The main character’s best friend is named Rotten Dollheart.
LOW The grim reaper is more annoying than threatening.
WTF To reiterate, there is a character named Rotten Dollheart.
Death end Re;Quest was the bleakest JRPG I’ve ever encountered thanks to nightmarish subject matter, creepy monsters, and text descriptions of unspeakable gore. It was a solid game, though — amazingly accessible to newcomers with an engaging story and great characters. It was absolutely worth playing for anyone who could stomach the descriptions of violence.
Death End 2 has brought back everything that worked about the first, but done something far different with its horror — where the previous opened with a first-person description of being torn apart by a monster, this one kicks off with the main character chopping her abusive father up with a hatchet. This clearly sets the tone — this time around, terror doesn’t come from the physical threat of violence, but rather from the way people destroy one another psychically, emotionally, and yes, sometimes literally.
After the aforementioned patricide, main character Mai is sent to an orphanage in Le Choara, a city apparently nestled away in the French Alps. I say “apparently” because Death end doesn’t do a great job of explaining why a Japanese orphan is being sent to another country, or why her sister was sent there some time earlier. The strange nature of the town is just one of the mysteries that the player will unravel over the course of the story.
Gameplay follows the same Visual Novel/JRPG dichotomy that the first Death end offered, although it’s more strictly regimented. Where the first cut away to the real world periodically for Visual Novel sequences between dungeon crawling, DE2‘s gameplay is clearly segmented into two halves.
Days begin with VN sequences as the player sees a conversation or two related to the plot, then is given the opportunity to check out different locations and activate other scenes to deepen their understanding of the world and its characters. Of course, they can always choose to end the day immediately and fast-forward to midnight, when the traditional RPG content kicks in.
As their curfew begins, the town’s streets are filled with twisted creatures and strange digital effects, suggesting that a bizarre virtual world is intruding on reality. The player must fight these creatures in stylized turn-based combat that vaguely resembles pool or pinball — characters can be moved around the map to ensure their attacks – which often have penetrating qualities or circles of effect — hit the largest number of foes possible..
While physical attacks and spells are effective, the real damage lies in bouncing enemies over traps and against other heroines, who automatically get a free hit in before sending them flying back the way they came. There’s a basic rock/paper/scissors system of elemental resistance and weakness, but it’s the billiards-style knockback attacks that provide depth to Death end‘s combat.
The story is top-notch. In stark contrast to the high fantasy trappings of DE1, DE2‘s Le Choara is a grounded, fairly believable location. While everything is heightened and creepy, the central premise — that a strange church runs an orphanage and a new arrival explores its secrets — is much easier for players to suspend their disbelief for.
That’s not to say that things stay grounded for long, though. There are beasts, twists, and horrible acts of violence spread throughout the narrative. Particularly notable is the focus on how badly parents can damage their children. In this cynical worldview, children’s dependence on parents makes them easy victims, and the presumption that parents want the best for their offspring is used over and over again as a dagger to twist in the characters’ guts.
I can’t stress enough what a bleak experience Death end Re;Quest 2 is. There are bright moments and the gameplay is tight, but players will always have the sinking feeling that wrenching emotional agony is just around the corner.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Compile Heart and and published by Idea Factory. It is currently available on PC and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 40 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated M and contains Blood, Violence, Language, and Suggestive Themes. Trigger Warning for Violence, Gore, Suicide, Child Abuse, Sexual Assault, Suicide — no kids here. No kids anywhere near this.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without sound and encountered no difficulties. All information is displayed via text, which cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Players use face buttons and the thumbstick to navigate menus in the VN part of the game, and the left thumbstick to move characters and the right thumbstick to control the camera in the JRPG portion.