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Review – The World Ends with You

posted on June 26th, 2008 by horatio

Set in present-day Shibuya, a Tokyo ward is famous for its fashion, The World Ends with You (TWEWY) is an RPG that follows the story of Neku Sakuraba as he wakes up in a busy intersection with no memories. A text message informs him that for the next week he will be a participant in the Reaper’s Game; failure to participate risks erasure. Players follow Neku’s journey of self-discovery (turning from emo-punk to… less of an emo-punk) as he meets other players of the Reaper’s Game and tries to discover the stakes of the game, why he’s playing, and how to win.

Now, I may be a bit biased since I can sing along to an unfortunate amount of Utada Hikaru and Rachel Yamagata tunes, but the aesthetic of TWEWY is delicious and expertly executed. The game’s soundtrack revolves around a combination of trance and j-pop style music with heavy hooks that make you feel like you’ve slipped into a mall with your friends. I actually shelled out the 10 or so bucks to buy the soundtrack on iTunes, and based on the album’s popularity I’m not only person to do so.

Shiki attempts to exorcise this Noise with the power of Christ while Neku sticks to the traditional beat-the-shit-out-of-it-with-a-sword technique.

The overworld and battle sprites are simple but sharp and the gameplay is very smooth. The graphics really shine in the cut scenes; I’m a big fan of the art director’s work in the Kingdom Hearts series and even though some of this seems a bit of a ripoff everything feels much more at home because of the game’s Shibuya setting. I won’t spoil anything here, but the nature of the plot does a great job of explaining away the problem of walking around a shopping district while simultaneously fighting hordes of evil monsters.

The game also has a sharp script with a number of pop culture references and send-ups of other videogames. In the end TWEWY simply creates an immersive world by implementing its unique, Japanese pop-culture aesthetic in every part of the game.

As players explore Shibuya attempting to complete the missions assigned by the Reapers they can choose to participate in random action RPG battles. The two components that set TWEWY apart from other games are its fashion system and stride cross battle system. Eschewing traditional armor (unlike $300 raw indigo selvage denim, adamantium mail isn’t popular in Tokyo these days), TWEWY has players don articles of everyday clothing from thirteen different clothing brands.

Of course, just like that awesome pair of black and hot pink shoes you bought three weeks ago, unless you have a high enough bravery stat, having good clothing won’t matter because you can’t wear it. Unlike you, however, Neku can down a few delicious treats in order to increase his bravery and wear more daring, helpful clothing.

Furthermore, having clothes that confer good stat bonuses alone isn’t enough, each section of Shibuya has its own trends in clothing brands, and wearing the popular threads will net you bonuses like double damage while wearing the unpopular brands can halve the strength of your attacks. Of course, what you wear will also influence trends, and so players can determine how much of their wardrobe they want to diversify or concentrate in order to be prepared.

While I find this system intriguing and the addition of a bravery stat as a prerequisite to wearing clothing, I rarely paid attention to the trends of which clothing was popular except in the few rare instances in which the game forces you to increase their popularity. And finally, purchasing items from a store will build you affection with the clerk, who will then offer you new items and unlock special abilities in certain articles of clothing. It’s OCD heaven.

TWEWY takes some serious risks with the battle system, which in some ways pay off, but in other ways are incredibly frustrating. To begin, you fight the game’s monsters, “noise,” on both ds screens at once with Neku and his partner. Neku’s partner will be on the top screen and is controlled by tapping either the d-pad or buttons, with certain combinations granting you stronger attacks, while Neku is controlled with the stylus on the bottom screen. Neku has access to a deck of up to six pins that form his different attacks (which possess a nice variety, from projectiles to earthquakes caused by blowing into the DS microphone to telekinetic powers that allow you to throw in game objects at enemies) and new pins can be acquired by defeating monsters. Pins can be leveled up in a number of ways (including use in battle, mingling via your DS’s wireless function, and actually shutting down your DS and not playing) to become more powerful and sometimes evolve into new Pokem… er pins, entirely.

You think the iphone is cool? In Japan, cell phones let you save, examine what monsters you’ve fought, change clothing, and play a minigame that is the modern equivalent of pogs. Take that Steve Jobs!

In theory, you only attack with one character at a time as the other defends, passing a “power puck” which increases attack strength between the two. I found this to be both undesirable and impossible; battles go much more quickly if you just wail on the enemies with both characters at once. Effectively guarding with either character is nigh impossible when you are focusing on landing blows with the other character.

Attacks frequently use too similar a stylus command and you will find yourself using the wrong pin at the wrong time, or simply moving Neku around on screen instead of attacking. While the game attempts to alleviate the pin confusion problem by allowing you create subdecks where you have to hold a button while using the stylus, I found this too frustrating to be a helpful addition to combat.

The learning curve of the battle system is tough, and I find that most of the time the damage split is probably a 75/25 split favoring Neku. In the end I still applaud Square Enix for trying something different. When your game is on and both characters are doing a good job taking town mobs of enemies the result is quite satisfying.

Finally, the plot and feel of this game are phenomenal. Square did a great job of setting this game in the present-day and developing characters that feel like teenagers; angst, melodrama and all. The characters are distinct and lovable, and the mystery behind the Reaper’s game and the constant feeling that you are one step behind everyone else as you try to figure out what the hell is going on are all great.

TWEWY occasionally overuses dramatic irony, purposefully keeping the player in the dark while the characters all know what has transpired, only to slowly feed you bits and pieces in flashbacks to fill you in. In the end, the twists and turns the game takes are satisfying and watching Neku and the other characters grow up is a fulfilling experience.

In a medium that is increasingly filled with sequels and formulaic games that refuse to buck the trends of what has been proven successful, TWEWY shines as an example of a game that is willing to take risks and innovate on existing genres to produce a genuinely fun, creative experience. Combined with a great aesthetic that is seamlessly woven into all aspects of the game to create a believable world, The World Ends with You is easily the best DS game I’ve played in a long time.

6 Comments

  1. Tyson said on June 27, 2008:

    Just so everyone knows, if you are a collector and you see this game, GET IT. Square did a limited release of this in the US and didn’t think it would go over very well. As a result, this game is a pain in the ass to find and already worth more than retail in some places.

  2. Christian said on June 27, 2008:

    I saw copies in my local walmart.

    Um…shit?

  3. SAGExSDX said on June 27, 2008:

    squeenix did a reprint about 3 weeks ago. that’s why you see it in stores now.

  4. Golden Jew said on June 27, 2008:

    I can attest to the OCD heaven this game is. Not from me, but from the fact I saw Horatio play it about 20 hours of the 48 hours he was visiting me from college. 2 of these hours he was so drunk he did not remember them, and woke up the next morning with better pins. He told me that these were special pins that only level up when the player is drunk and the Breathalyzer function of the DS microphone is active, but I do not believe him.

  5. TrueTallus said on July 2, 2008:

    Your review definitely makes it sound worth a purchase, Horatio. I see a save function on the menu in one of the screenshots. Can I assume that this is an honest to goodness save anywhere game? I’ve sort of gotten spoiled playing through the latest Ace Attorney adventure recently, enough that it’d be irritating to go back to save points when I’m playing on the run.

  6. Paulo Jacinto said on October 24, 2010:

    The sequel of this game should also be for Nintendo DS Lite aside from the Nintendo 3DS

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