So. Heyyyyy.

We need to talk about the very beginning of this game. There's a content warning when you boot it up for a reason. Literally the very first scene is watching a young woman get graphically stabbed and her head bitten off, as a Bad End before it swings back to a point where you can prevent that from happening.

Like...Right out the gate, I need to warn you about that, because not even the other M rated bloody gorefests we do here usually put so much emphasis on the suffering. It's a stark scene, especially compared to the much more...restrained tone that comes after it.

But okay. We're through that scene. What's after that? A couple things, actually. Death end re;Quest, which I'm gonna need a more concise title for as we go forward, is a blend of a couple of genres in some interesting ways. It's one part visual novel, one part JRPG, one part horror, and one part...Billiards?

Let's start with the actual premise. Gonna spoil a few of the earliest surprises, but: a pair of coworkers, Shina and Arata, were working on a hot new VRMMO. Then, Shina disappeared, and the project was canceled. A year later, she wakes up inside the game with huge gaps in her memories and no idea where her physical body is, and no way to log out of a buggy, half-finished game that's essentially mutated under all the procedural generation and AI stuff just running in a corner unnoticed.

Arata finds this out, and thus begins the effort to get her out, and figure out what the hell is going on and what happened to her.

Gameplay wise, you're essentially split into two separate loops: The real world, and World's Odyssey, the fictional MMO that Shina is trapped in. In the real world, Arata has to do the visual novel thing of talking to people, bouncing around locations, and generally trying to put together information on this mystery.

In the game, Shina and a growing party have to work their way through the dungeons, running on the logic that the game's big end sequence with its forced logout and credit roll is the best option they have to try and get her out of there. Shina has to contend with all manner of monsters, plus the fractured, twisted nature that has befallen the world since it ended proper production.

If we sand off the specific details, we end up with a bit of a familiar premise. Not that that's a bad thing, of course. Death end does a lot with the premise, particularly with the steady contrast between its two worlds and the complicated nature of communication and connection between Arata and Shina.

Inside the game world, the battle mechanic is layered and interesting. Right out the gate, we have two pieces to talk about, the central attack mechanic and a corruption mechanic. We'll start with central attack, if only because it's simpler to get into. On your party member's turns, you can run freely around the battlemap, until you're ready to commit to an action.

You basically get one string of three to work with; so three basic attacks, skills/spells, guarding, etc. etc. The big thing is that you have to commit to the string from the start, and be able to do every part of it. So for instance, you can't down an elf tonic for the SP, and then do some high-SP-requirement special moves, because at the time you set it up you don't have the SP for them. Make sense?

The big schtick within this mechanic, though, is that certain strings will cause knockback. Enemies slammed back will knock into eachother, or go over buggy areas of the battlemap(we'll come back to that), or even into your other party members, who will respond with a free attack on them. So this is where the billiards comes in. One well placed shot can scatter half a dozen enemies and kill three...And shatter a whole bunch of buggy parts.

Because there's the other key piece on the battle system. Every battlemap has some degree of shining spots that are, in the in-universe game, glitched out. Touching these increases your corruption, literally corrupting the character's data...Which can do a few things. For one, it'll do some damage to whoever hits it, you or the enemies.

But it's what happens when the corruption gets high that's interesting. Enemies can be driven mad by it, getting a boost in power...And so can your own party members, opening up a glitched form that temporarily cranks your stats and gives you a huge super move. The risk, of course, is that while you can get the glitch mode if you get your corruption to 80%, if it ever hits 100, your character is downed instantly.

So there's these layered balancing acts of positioning and interaction in even modest battles. Sure, you might just be fighting some scrub enemies that can each be taken out in one string. But if you line them all up just like this, and strike just like that, you can take down a bunch of them and get a bonus for your troubles.

In terms of the visual novel style side of the game, there's a lot of meat to the story. While these segments are obviously light on the strict gameplay, the twisting conspiracy that begins to unfold presents a lot of stuff to pore over. This is clearly a title where you could put quite a bit of time and energy into it.

Of course, like all things, there are problems. The single biggest one that stands out to me here, is how unintuitive things are. The tutorials are slim, and often don't detail the actual mechanics at play: For instance, some enemies can counter you, and shut down any attacks of their opposed element...But the game never really describes this or how it works, or even that you need to use the search feature to check the elements of your enemies. It just happens in the first real boss fight all of a sudden, shutting down one of your characters quite thoroughly.

And there's that looming content warning. While I didn't see much in my time with the game that even began to approach the level of that opening scene, you don't put something like that in just one spot, and you don't put a warning in for just a single scene. There's more waiting, and while I can deal with it, if a potential player were to have traumas or reasons such content could adversely affect them...Well. That's there, and it could pop up at any time.

And, of course, this is pretty damn anime. Pretty damn fanservice anime. The glitch modes are near nude, there's a fair few cheesecake shots and the like. There isn't a lot that stood out, beyond the usual for a game like this, but...Well, much like the violence, if that stuff bugs you, you deserve to know.

All that said, it must be admitted that Death end re;Quest is going to be a bit self-selecting. This isn't exactly a title you're likely to go into without knowing whether or not you're the target audience. And from my time with it, I can say that it does a pretty solid job of being what it is. If that appeals, and if the darker elements don't bother you, jump in. I think you'll find it worth your time.