THIS REVIEW WILL HAVE SPOILERS
Dies Irae is a very interesting case of a visual novel that I just don’t know whether to give a positive or negative review.
Mercurius: “Wallow in Filth. Purity is but an illusion – discard it, and all doors shalt be open to thee. No matter the era, a singular choice may shift the cosmos, shaking the world to its very foundations. You will learn and achieve nothing while bound by the chains of seclusion.”
Overall, despite having completed it, I still don’t know what to think of it. I think my main contention is that Fuji Ren is one of the absolute worst characters I’ve ever seen. His motivations are inconsistent, incoherent with his inner monologues, and it becomes downright annoying when he just has “generic anime protagonist quote” as a response while never expressing any point within his inner monologues. As an example, he brings up Theresia’s background and how the concept of self-sacrifice in Christianity could be used to brainwash her into accepting memento mori in a very fatalistic way. This is an interesting observation, but all Ren actually says is essentially “Don’t give-up senpai!” in a very generic anime dialogue. It just doesn’t feel like there was any connection between his inner thoughts and his speech. A fellow visual novel player informed me that the entirety of the character’s point was to show the negative qualities of the standard hero archetype. As of yet, I can’t find any fault with that claim, but I still feel like the visual novel made a bad decision because the narrative would have been more interesting with Fuji Ren having more fleshed out dialogue with the rest of the cast. It feels like the generic anime dialogue is meant to be presented as subtext for something deeper, but I feel the message falls flat and often becomes an incoherent ramble because Fuji Ren’s thoughts and actions don’t always correlate well.
By contrast, this is actually never an issue for any of the side events and side character fights. I enjoyed the Marie route the most because it had one of the most phenomenal fight scenes between Kei and Samiel. I loved how the narrative showed us a total contrast between where Kei ended-up in her own route (a fairly generic storyline to be honest) and showcase one of the most brutal and devastating story arcs that I’ve ever seen a character go through in Marie’s route. She lost any chance to save her brother, realized too late that Beatrice was always there trying to protect her (unlike in her own route, where Beatrice saves her in the nick of time and is conveniently freed by Fuji Ren from the trapped collection of souls within Tubal Cain), has her sword shattered and is forced to use her family’s curse to survive, and is at the precipice of losing her life and becoming a mindless abomination as the next Tubal Cain and she still chose to fight despite the overwhelming power of the enemy forces.. She’s lost all her hopes and dreams, everything she wished to get back is forever gone, and her own freedom is now barred from her – yet she still chooses to fight. Kei’s story progression in Marie’s Route is so much more heartbreaking and interesting than in her own route. She became my favorite character ironically because of Marie’s route. Samiel’s words about war show just how cruel it really is, while Kei’s response is absolutely amazing. I loved that part. Shirou and Ellie vs Schrieber was also amazing but less philosophical in it’s underpinnings.
Part of my criticism has to do with Ren’s final fight in the Marie Route feeling just right in how over the top it is, it felt like there were set boundaries of what was and wasn’t achievable in a god-like state. But, the Rea route… it just became incoherent. The fight wasn’t even really a fight, it was people roaring final attacks or some strange phenomena happening when Ren also joined the fight, and I felt like it lost all coherence. I was trying to keep-up with the random deus ex machina at the end. My chief argument for this portion of the story is that it’s as if the battle could have had anything occur when you start shooting cosmic stars and summoning anti-matter.
I enjoyed the Kei route chapter 13, Marie Route chapter 13, and Rea Route Chapters 1-11. The “true” ending felt like it made the entire journey pointless though and I know they’re trying to say even the supposed bad guys in a war are human too… but when you have people saying how hot the Gestapo leader is while only mentioning the Holocaust in passing, I have to say I just couldn’t bring myself to care. I guess the Truth ending is more complete, but I couldn’t help but feel genuine disgust. Yeah, okay, Nazis were human beings too – they still supported policies that resulted in the mass genocide of their own people and others outside the country. I’m not going to pass that off as some background noise and I genuinely don’t know how to feel about the message of this game, or possibly it’s unintended message. I’m not going to sympathize with people who want other people dead for being a certain ethnicity. I found the part with them hanging out at the pub and speaking of how good looking the Gestapo leader was to be really unsettling. I liked the Marie and Kei endings, the Kasumi route is hilarious in how much she ruins everyone’s lives due to her ignorance. The Rea route endings I just flat out didn’t like because of the ridiculous Nazi humanizing and the fact that the ending means nothing really mattered. I really don’t like “time warp” endings like that and it’s always for the sake of celebrating middle class lifestyles as “normal”, which I find ridiculous. Moreover, Marie could rewrite the timeline… and still let the Holocaust happen? Like what? I don’t even get what they were trying to achieve or what the message was in the true ending of the Rea route.
That’s my take on it. I don’t even know what to give it as a score. Partly due to the fact that I don’t know whether to call Mercurius brilliant writing or a convenient deus ex machina to explain away potential plot holes.