Review by 9NineBreaker9

Reviewed: 05/08/08

Welcome to Shibuya! You have 7 days.

RPGs be a very peculiar bunch; they either feature extremely effeminate or angst-filled teenagers will ungodly geometrical hair, amnesia and a need to save the world a few times over. Otherwise, they feature a person you make, as RPGs of the Western variety tend to be and go largely unnoticed. Perhaps the exemplar of the spiky haired men is SquareEnix, famous for this little series called “Final Fantasy,” which only has a small collection of a few dozen games. One of their latest departures from the tried and true formula was a joint venture with Disney in Kingdom Hearts, a very interesting game with a large fan following. Now, the design team from the Keyblade adventure tackles on the new project of It’s A Wonderful World, or rather, The World Ends With You.

Once you plug in the game, the first thing you will notice is the brilliant art direction from the same character designers of Kingdom Hearts fame, Tetsuya Nomura and Gen Kobayashi. Each and every person has a look all of their own, from the simple, yet oddly sophisticated shirt of Joshua to the hip style of Shiki – even the civilians are well done. The locals are rendered faithfully to their settings, the monsters very imaginative, colorful and well animated, and the various items, attacks and pins full of detail as well. Truly, the game is alive when the game breaks for some well done, screen spanning animations.

Another strong suit is the phenomenal soundtrack. Very rarely does a handheld game feature as much sound content as this one, but some technical wizardry packs something like 35 songs and a wide array of sound bites for you to hear. All of the town and battle themes are almost infectious and range from rock, j-pop, rap, techno and even 16-bit. All of the various character voices are great as well, adding some additional colour to the main players and even to the faithful shopkeeps as well. Is it also okay to say that I purchased the soundtrack? Like, paid for it with money? Yeah, it’s pretty good.

Our story begins with our main character, Neku Sakuraba, awaking in a busy crosswalk in the Japanese shopping district of Shibuya with no recollection of the events prior or why he even is in Shibuya to begin with. He stands up to realize that no one can hear or see him, but that Neku can indeed see and hear not only the surrounding people, but their thoughts as well. A text appears on his cell phone: “Reach 104. You have 60 minutes. Fail, and face Erasure – The Reapers.” Suddenly, a timer appears on Neku’s hand, and the warning “You have 7 days” on the big screen. Before he can make sense of it, Neku is attacked by strange creatures with no way of defeating them. His life in peril, Neku meets Shiki, and together, they take out their opposition and start on the crazy journey of the Game as Players.

One of the most interesting features about WEWY (The World Ends With You) is the realistic setting. So long are the fantastical locations of Ivalice in favor of the present-day location of Shibuya, a real place in Japan. Alongside this and the refreshingly modern cast, everything seems so much more realistic. It is a lot easier to fall in love with characters who text people on their cell phones and eat fast food, and whose problems extend beyond external events with internal feelings and personalities indeed creating a fair share of the Players problems.

As the story progresses, you are introduced to a number of other Players, searching to complete the missions as well. And, during the story, you may and will likely find yourself getting to know everyone and feeling genuinely touched by some of the moments. I’ll admit that I’ve laughed, gasped, gritted my teeth and had my eyes grow moist – due to some sharp writing and deep characterization, the story seems so much stronger than typical JRPGs, whose events oftentimes just feel scripted. Even with the praise, I have one complaint; events that are oftentimes very critical to the story are sometimes underplayed, particularly on at the end of the second day.

Gameplay is where, as any other game, WEWY shines. With some very innovate features and an addictive combat system, you’ll find yourself stuck playing this way into the morning hours… which is good, by the way.

As you walk around Shibuya, you can touch the Player Pin in the lower left corner to scan your surroundings for people’s thoughts and the Noise, the monsters that you will encounter, created by the Reapers who run the Game and the missions to do in the Players. When you engage one of these creatures, combat is split into two screens – Neku’s battlefield and your current partner’s arena, as are the foes – to do battle in.

On the bottom screen, you control Neku with the stylus and use various Pins to attack. Each Pin has a different Psych that can be controlled with varying gesticulations, unleashing the attack. While some, like a physical rushing attack, are pulled off by ‘slashing’ enemies with the stylus, others are performed by touching enemies, empty spaces, dragging the stylus, and so on. As the attacks are used, the Pin starts to run out of juice – once fully used, you must wait for a period of time for the attack to become available again. With a maximum deck of six Pins, you can pull off some seriously awesome combos.

The complaints on this screen are fairly minimal, and most can simply be attributed to the combat system itself and physical limitations. If you have two Pins that are activated by scratching, either empty space or on a target, the lowered number attack must be used entirely before the next can be used. While this can be remedied by setting a Pin on standby so it can only be used whilst pressing ‘L’ or ‘R’, it can sometimes be annoying. Also, some of the actions can be cumbersome to perform, as they do not register immediately. Not game breaking, but still an issue in the heat of battle.

However, while you are doing all of this down below, you must also control your partner on the top screen with the control pad (or buttons, WEWY is lefty-compatible). You press the control pad in the direction of an enemy to initiate the attack, then can branch the combo up or down to deal different combos, or to the side for some good olde spammin’. Each partner also has a little mini-game to play – correctly playing this will enable the use of powerful tag-team attacks that deal out damage to the entire battlefield.

Complaints here are effectively non-existent. The only minor one is the difficulty in correctly playing the mini-games, but that can be out-done by simply forgetting about them and just spamming a side attack. And, really, that’s all you have to do. Thank God for that XD

As one might expect, fighting on both screens is a tough thing to learn, though a few features are implemented to make the transition into dual-combat easier. As you pull off finishing moves with attacks, a green orb, called the Puck, is created and sent to the opposite partner. As you continue to juggle the puck around, your attacks become stronger and stronger, and this tactic is in fact needed for a few fights. You can also set it up so that an idle partner is taken over by the game should he not attack for a set period of time. The two characters also share a health bar, ensuring that if Neku takes a beating you can still survive thanks to the partner’s reservoir of health.

Sure, all of this may seem confusing, and it is; when you first start out playing, you’ll find yourself scrambling about, getting used to the controls. However, once you get the hang of passing the puck about and using Neku’s various Psychs, the combat system is a barrel full of fun. So much so that you might just find yourself getting into battles just for the heck of it – the game starts to become addictive as you grow stronger and stronger. It’s for that that I enjoy WEWY so much, because it’s just so damn fun playing the game.

To converse about the Pins in depth requires talking about the cell phone, or the simple start menu. From here, you can switch out your attacks, manage your collection of items, change up your equipment or eat a foodstuff, check out what Noise you’ve fought, mingle with some other DS players, and save. Thankfully, all of these features are introduced as the game progresses, meaning that you’re never overwhelmed with the menus. And, as they are given to you, you get a handy little guide for them all, a thankful improvement over the horrid design and unfriendliness of some other RPGs.

As you use Pins, they gain experience and will in turn level up. With each level may come stronger attacks, more uses or a faster recovery from depleting your uses. However, some Pins have the ability to evolve in accordance with the three types of experience you can obtain. Firstly, you can find experience from simple battles. But, as you spend time away from the game, you literally earn experience for the time that you did NOT play the game. You can also earn experience in Mingle mode by discovering other players or simply people in DS Wireless mode.

It’s the multitude of experience points that add a great pro and con. In favour of it, you have an array of strengthening your Pins and ensuring that, no matter what you do, you’ll always have an arsenal of great attacks. On the same page, however, Pins that upgrade always require a certain type of experience. So, that means that, if you want that great upgrade, you’re going to have to put the game away and just sit it out. Or, you’re going to have to find people playing wirelessly on the DS. It’s a pain that it has to be like this (DS date settings are your friend, remember that), because that means that you may never see the 300+ Pins because you can’t find anyone with another DS.

Moving on to the items section, you can find all of the various equipments that you’ve collected over the days in Shibuya. Each character can wear up to four pieces of clothing – Head, Body, Legs, Feet and Accessories are all candidates. Each item may boost your health, or your attack power, but, as you begin to befriend the shopkeepers, you can find that each item has an Ability, such as health regeneration or extended combo timeframes. Once you get some nice threads and abilities, you can really pimp your characters out, should they be brave enough to put on that Bikini…

Characters can also grab a bite to eat, as well, thanks to a number of foodstuffs available for purchase. Consuming these takes a number of “bytes,” and each character can consume 24 bytes per day. For each battle, you remove one byte from the food’s total, and, when digesting the food, gain a boost, like additional health. If you eat more than 18 bytes, you’ll be limited to 6 byte-food for the rest of the day, as, at midnight, you can consume 24 bytes again. It’s an interesting system for character improvement, plus hearing “It’s a party in my mouth!” never gets old. Ever.

Many games feature a static difficulty – this is not the case in WEWY. Beyond the typical normal, easy and hard modes, you can also choose to forcefully lower your level. In doing so, you’ll lose HP and some other stats, but, at the same time, you increase your drop rate. For every level you weaken yourself, the drop rates add the base rate onto itself, meaning that, for an item at 10% drop rate, lowering yourself ten levels would make that a comfortable 100%. However, as the game is fairly easy and money is in short supply, you will almost always find yourself fighting at least five, maybe even ten levels below your maximum to keep the money rolling in, possibly even on the harder difficulties.

Later into the game’s first chapter, you will also unlock a mini-game called “Tin-Pin,” a sort of top battle game wherein you pit your Pins against another player’s, attempting to knock them off the arena. Each pin has varying weights, speeds and strengths, but also an arsenal of weapons, like a hammer or a meteor impact, that can turn the tides quickly. It’s a fairly simple game, but not particularly fun – you’ll play it for a few minutes, then move on. Thankfully, the only time where you MUST play a mini-game, it’s only one match, and it’s stacked heavily in your favor. Still, it’s either this or Blitzball – take your pick.

Mentioning chapters, it’s no spoiler to say that, after beating the Game with Shiki as your partner, you’ll find yourself in the shoes of Neku once more, playing with a different partner. It’s great that the story is extended, because the ending with Shiki would be far too an unsatisfactory ending. By continuing the story, you can learn more about Neku’s past, more about the Reapers and their game, as well as more about the supporting cast of characters. Time wise, the story is pretty lengthy – lacking a measure of total time played, I’m placing it at about at least 12 to 15 hours to barrel (roll) straight through the game, many, many more if you’re going to collect the staggering number of Pins, threads and Noise reports…which, more likely than not, you’ll find yourself doing.

Beyond any problems mentioned above, this game is perfect. An amazing art direction, a fantastic collection of music, sound pieces and sound effects, a very strong and well written story populated with genuine emotions and memorable characters all alongside a very entertaining and addictive battle system make this game a winner. A handful of fairly minor issues keep this from being an absolutely perfect addition to the gaming world, but, as far as DS entries go, this is a prime example of how to properly use the system’s features and make a great game.

In fact, this could stand to be an example for RPGs in general, an attempt to deviate from the now-sickening and overpopulated cookie-cutter JRPG. Hopefully, SquareEnix will smart up and launch this into a new franchise, because these characters, events, and settings are too good to pass up.

“Remember kid. The world ends with you.”

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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