Review by FiftyTen

Reviewed: 04/28/08

The World Gives Back What You Put In

I didn't expect this game to be an obvious contender for the best DS game made. Perhaps not for everyone--but at least for this writer, and many others.
The World Ends With You is compellingly deep and rich game among ANY system- forget that it's a handheld game. The experience this game will give you will likely be as good as most any console game you've played. Everything in the game, from the art style and the city you play in, to the innovative combat and item systems, works together to create something truly unique that almost any gamer will enjoy.

Story:

The story at first seemed only slightly intriguing; after an hour or two with the game it became increasingly interesting and difficult to put down. The protagonist, a loner emo teen named Neku that always wears headphones, wakes up on the streets of his home city, Shibuya. He finds an odd pin on his chest. He soon discovers that this pin allows him to possess the power of telepathy and read other people's thoughts--quite a gift for a character who doesn't care about anybody. But its not just the mind-reading pin that is strange. All of Shibuya seems to be different. After being attacked by some creatures called Noise, Neku encounters a young girl that becomes his partner to fight the noise. Neku and his partner are players in a creepy game that their lives depend upon. Each day they have a mission given to them by the game's moderators, a strange and colorful group themselves, and they have a time-limit to accomplish it in. If your heart just sunk from the thought of having a time-limit, do not fret. The time-limit is merely part of the story. You can take as much or as little time as you like on any given day, for any given mission. The story unfolds with enough twists and turns for you to eagerly play to see what happens next. It isn't the most spectacular story you have ever experienced, but undeniably one of the best you'll get on the DS.

Neku is, as stated, emo about every situation through a good part of game--which can be irritating for some players. However, he develops well as a character and you will likely be rooting for the spiky-haired introvert well before the end of the game. Character development is one of the stronger parts of the game's story. Each character has a unique personality and story, both characters you play with as well as those you don't.

The dialogue is aplenty here, adding lots of depth to the story and character development.

Graphics

Using a manga-inspired approach, the graphics and art style compliment the story and feel of Shibuya perfectly. Everything is very colorful and lively, each area of Shibuya feels unique and interesting. The attention to detail with the backgrounds, animations, and even the menu system is second-to-none. However as good looking as this game is, it takes a backseat to the gameplay, as should any game worth playing.

Gameplay:

The gameplay, though innovative and like nothing done in any game, can be difficult to adjust to for some people. Using both the touch screen and top screen, players must fight through Noise battles using both Neku (on the touch screen) and his partner (on the top screen). The Noise you fight appear on both screens, so both players are actually fighting the same enemies. Neku's movement and attacks are virtually entirely stylus controlled (with the exception of some moves which require blowing into the mic) while the partner's attacks are controlled via the directional pad (or abyx for lefties).

Battles are started by entering the psychic realm of Shibuya with Neku's first pin, displayed on the corner of the touch screen. Noise symbols float around the screen; touching one or more of them initiates a battle. "Chaining" multiple Noise symbols results in more battles without a break, but you are rewarded with more experience and better drop rates from enemies. Each Noise you face has a chance of dropping a pin that Neku can then equip and use in battle, cash in for money, or trade in stores for items (or other pins). Over 300 pins are featured in the game, an impressive amount. However, a good amount of them you won't use for more than a tiny fraction of the game, or not at all. You may find yourself using the same 10 or so pins for a good part of the game, but I found a lot of enjoyment from trying out different pin combinations. Once reaching their level cap, pins can also evolve into stronger versions of themselves or occasionally something different altogether by leveling them up with Pin Points through a variety of ways. You can gain Pin Points for your pins by battling with them (Battle PP), by letting time pass without playing the game (Shutdown PP), or by another strange method of "mingling" with other DS owners (Mingle PP) through a wireless signal. Some pins will require about 1/10 of their total experience to be from shutdown or mingle. This may have been an unnecessary complication. I like the idea of having a variety of methods to evolve pins, but it should have been something more intuitive that players could figure out rather than have to simply use guess work. Most people will simply find a FAQ and avoid the frustration of leveling a pin and not getting the evolution. Shutdown PP can be abused by setting the DS clock forward a week. Mingle PP can be earned easily by entering mingle mode and leaving the DS on overnight. Aside from mingling with another DS in mingle mode, or a DS playing another game, there is a chance to randomly encounter "aliens" which give a good chunk of MPP.

Pins allow Neku to perform an impressive variety of attacks. You can draw a path of flames, rain lighting bolts, boulders, or meteors from the sky, throw cars and other objects, create barriers, black holes, penetrating sound waves, shoot laser beams, boomerangs, charge shots, spread shots, slash enemies up, down, stab, charge, slam, lunge, send in a flurry of jabs, ecase enemies in ice or rock, and the list goes on and on. There are also pins that restore health or negative status effects, and pins with a fixed abilities.

The detail to the amount of attacks and the stylus executions for them is staggering. Players can run into problems, however, when pins have the same or sometimes similar stylus execution. Fortunately, the sheer variety of pins allows you to easily create a "deck" of pins that will not be in conflict with each other. For those that are, pins higher in the deck will execute first. You can also use a sub-deck, that allows players to press the R or L button during a battle to use pins that would otherwise conflict with another pin.

While Neku is handling the bottom screen, players can string together a chain of attacks with his partner by simply repeatedly pressing left or right on the directional pad, depending on which side the enemies are on. Jumping, dodging, and blocking are assigned to up and down on the directional pad. When starting an attack, a combo meter is displayed on the screen, with various branches that end with symbols. Finishing enough combos with an appropriate symbol will enable the player to use a powerful attack that hits every enemy on both screens.

While fighting between the two players, you will notice a green aura called the Light Puck floating between them after attacking. This is a simple damage multiplier thats power is determined by the "sync" rate between Neku and his partner, ranging from 0-100%. A sync rate of 0% will only allow double damage, while 100% can get it as high as 5 times the power. Sync can be raised through a relatively simple food system. After assigning a food to Neku or his partner to eat, the sync rate will increase depending on the characters tastes, and will be digested after a specific number of battles, at which point the player will be awarded an extra bonus. This bonus can be an additional increase to the sync rate, or a permanent increase to health, attack, defense, and so on. The sync rate automatically depletes as you battle Noise.

In virtually every section of the city you play in are stores that sell a variety of items that you can equip to your character. Through buying more items, store owners will continuously warm-up to you throughout the game, allowing you to purchase new items and unlock special abilities that each piece of clothing has. Abilities can be simple such as an added stat increase or status effect immunity, while others can be more interesting, such as changing the shape of your partner's combo branch or displaying the elapsed time during battles. Some abilities allow the Light Puck to stay in play longer, move faster of slower between the players, or start of with a higher multiplier.

Each pin and article of clothing belongs to one of 13 different popular brands in Shibuya. Depending on which area of the city you're in, different brands will be popular. Some will be unpopular. Using pins that correspond to the popular brands will reward the player with an added bonus to damage. Use an unpopular brand, and your damage will be cut in half. You can use the brand system to make brands you prefer more popular simply by battling with them in the same area repeatedly.

Finally, we come to the sub-game called Tin Pin. Using your equipped pins, you must slam them into opponents' pins, knocking them off of a playing field. Each pin in the game has its own unique Tin Pin stats, complete with weight, spin, and the number times each of four special attacks can be used. The game can be played with friends or against the computer. After finishing the game there is an extra chapter with an entertaining sub-story related to Tin Pin.

Most of the little things in this game can be largely ignored, such as the clothing and food, grinding out experience for leveling and evolving pins, even using both screens during battles. The game's designers did a wonderful job balancing everything so that a player could progress through the game and either take full advantage of the games intricacies or leave most of it untouched. It's completely at the players discretion--virtually nothing is forced, including random battles (there are none!) Players who don't want to bother fighting on two screens, or find it too difficult, can set Neku's partner to autopilot, or even change the game's overall difficulty at any time from easy, normal, or hard (and ultimate after finishing the game.) But the game gives those willing to put in the effort and get the hang of keeping an eye on two different fights a genuine sense of accomplishment after each battle, especially on harder difficulties. There is also a "level bar" that players can use to sacrifice health for higher drop rates from enemies. The game allows players to make it as difficult or easy as they choose, and at any given time with unprecedented ease, which is something that is near impossible to find in games today.

Sound:

The music is pretty much take it or leave it. I would rather listen to my own tunes while playing this, but the game's tracks aren't terrible either. Some of them are catchy; but it's mostly a handful of J-pop and hip-hop. You'll either love the music or easily ignore it, but manages to fit very well into the whole atmosphere of the game. The sound effects are also very good.

Replayability

Aside from the enormous amount of collecting to be had between items and pins, there is still a lot left to do after the game is over. Upon completing the game, you are able to warp yourself to any chapter of the game and play it over. Each chapter has approximately 4 different objectives that you can complete, one of which is collecting a "report" that will reveal more elements to the story or give insight to unanswered questions. Also available after beating the game is the highest level of difficulty and the ability to chain up to 16 battles, though I haven't been able to find a place in the game that has that many symbols on the screen at once.
A extra chapter is also open with a few side stories, the main one involving Tin-Pin.

Overall

I could go on and on about why this game is worthy of any DS owners attention. It is a truly unique experience that can't be found in any other game, on any other system. The art style, story, characters, gameplay mechanics, and music all tie in with each other so well that the game becomes increasingly captivating as you play through it. It can be easy enough for a kid to play, yet difficult enough to frustrate even the most hardcore gamers. The game gives back what you put in. For those who find themselves brushing off most of the extra gameplay mechanics, they may not get as much enjoyment or satisfaction out of the game. But for those willing to invest a little effort, I can say with confidence that they will be hard-pressed to find another game that offers such a rich and rewarding experience.

No matter how you decide to play the game, with minimal effort or a gung-ho give-it-all attitude, you're very likely to genuinely enjoy the story and overall experience The World Ends With You has to offer.

I rate games almost entirely on the experience that is had from playing them. As I said, the experience you'll get from this game largely depends upon how much you dig into the game. That said, I rate this game a solid 10 out of 10.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: The World Ends with You (US, 04/22/08)

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