I had very little knowledge of Death end re;Quest 2 when I started playing. The only thing I knew about it was that the previous game, Death end re;Quest was a JRPG about entering the world of a creaky old fantasy MMO. It was, like many games from Compile Heart, destined to become the kind of game that interested me, but I ultimately would not find the time to take up or even think about all that much after its initial release. That essentially ensured I went into Death end re;Quest 2 almost completely blind, and as it turns out, that was a great thing to be.
That’s because the game isn’t exactly a direct sequel to the original game. In fact, it hides what I can only assume to be connections to the previous game (which I have never played) for its opening hours, treating the initial experience as something almost completely unlike its predecessor’s elevator pitch. Where the first game billed itself as something like a darker take on Sword Art Online, Death end re;Quest 2 is a gothic mystery from moment one. A young woman named Mai Toyama is suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father. The scene doesn’t last long, as Mai, with the help of a hatchet, renders herself an orphan.
She’s sent to the Wordsworth Academy, an orphanage for troubled girls inexplicably located in the quaint European village of Le Choara. She’s not there by chance, though: Mai is searching for clues as to the whereabouts of her long-lost sister. But when some of her new schoolmates are mysteriously “re-homed” after nightfall, she begins investigating the cause. Gruesome secrets and unusual mysteries await.
The mystery angle of Death end re;Quest 2‘s narrative and the nature of the storytelling behooves me to not reveal much else. I don’t consider myself particularly spoiler-averse (unless you’re talking about Danganronpa), but there’s definitely a pleasure to seeing the twists for yourself that I won’t deny a potentially interested player. Let’s just say that the game explores its themes of trauma, abuse, and the role of a parent in a child’s life more effectively than some other recent titles I’ve tried that play in that space. It’s a far contrast with the cutesy, Neptunia-like style of the character designs and even the previous game (at least, based on my research). For a developer that’s firmly ensconced in the “JRPG comfort food” zone of appealingly mediocre experiences, Death end re;Quest 2 is surprisingly unafraid to go to some truly bleak places.
You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m talking about a pure adventure game or visual novel, along the lines of Corpse Party, but rest assured, Death end re:Quest 2 is a full-on JRPG, complete with a somewhat fiddly but innovative battle system. The game is structured into two halves. During the day Mai can move about the school and town, visiting her friends and investigating the mystery. The narrative is delivered by copious amounts of text and a decent amount of voiced cutscenes, delivered in the now-standard format of 2D cutouts over text boxes. The game makes the most of a clearly limited asset budget, by lavishing attention and detail on the lightly-animated models used by the main characters, and leaving incidental personas to tiny portraits in the corners. Even art is also somewhat sparingly used, but what’s there is well-done, and those looking for some gross-out thrills would be advised to stumble into a few bad endings every so often.
At night, though, the game changes to a more traditional JRPG format. You’ll run around the town as it’s slowly taken over by some unnamed corruption, battling monsters along the way. Battles take place in an enclosed circle, with the playing field littered with patterns of “bugs”. Using abilities to knock monsters around the arena and into the bugs and even your own party members will damage them, while collecting enough of the bugs allows a member to transform into a powerful alternate mode with enhanced abilities (not unlike a Neptunia Goddess Form transition). The battles are engaging, though not particularly challenging, since defeating enough monsters well will get you far enough ahead of the difficulty curve that you’ll start to steamroll most encounters. Not that that’s a big problem, considering the game’s storytelling is much more interesting than its battles.
Though I’m not done with the game yet, Death end re;Quest 2 took me by surprise, and might be ideal for a long Halloween weekend romp.
Death end re;Quest 2 is immediately available on the PS4 and PC.