Review by SuperPhillip

Reviewed: 06/03/08

Rock My World

Square-Enix isn't exactly known for cranking out new franchises and IPs yearly, so when a new one in The World Ends With You was announced the entire gaming world performed a spit-take. Well, maybe that's diving a bit into hyperbole, but you get the gist of things hopefully. Now very few were surprised to find out that the game would be an RPG, but what did interest folks was that the game would be placed in modern day Shibuya-- an urban setting. Really, I can only think of two titles of the RPG variety that were set in a metropolis: you had Earthbound's Onett and Persona 3's cityscape. Couple this with Tetsuya Nomura's character design, and you have an interesting little package. Is The World Ends With You's world one that you won't want to end, or is it one that should face erasure?

The story centers around the Reapers' Game, a seven-day. You see, there's two different versions of Shibuya. One is the tangible everyday Shibuya that folks live their lives in known as the RG or Real Ground. The other is The Reapers' playground, the UG, or Underground. The Reapers are a group of unkind folks who grab involuntary people from the RG, take what said people care for most as an entry fee, and put them through a week-long ordeal full of challenges and tests. Fail to complete a task on a given day, and you are permanently erased from existence. Yeah... I think I'll stick to a nice game of Connect Four instead, guys. Players in the UG cannot interact with folks in the RG. However, with a special pin each player receives they can read RGer's minds, help influence their decisions, and even view the negative thoughts of people turned monsters known as Noise.

Put in the middle of this is a bewildered, antisocial, young youth in Neku Sakuraba waking up in the middle of a busy crossing in the trend-setting part of Tokyo known as Shibuya. He's the type of 15 year-old who loathes people, would be happy to be alone, and sees no need to rely on other people. As par for Japanese RPG protagonists, Neku has completely lost his memory so he has no idea how he wound up unconscious or inside the game for that matter. Suddenly, he's attacked by a group of frog Noise. He escapes, but the Noise eventually surround him, blocking off all routes of retreat. With nowhere to go, Neku fears the worst, but a young girl named Shiki teams up with him in the nick of time-- eliminating the Noise together. The Reapers' Game requires players to partner up so Neku reluctantly decides to join up with Shiki, and thus this shaky partnership begins. Their goal-- to survive seven days in the Reapers' twisted game.

The game has a wonderful if sometimes cryptic story. As Neku teams up with new partners, you get to see different sides of him. Each of the main characters in the story evolve and mature by the end of the game. Neku's cold attitude about the triviality of having friends and Shiki's desire for an identity all change and alter to the player's satisfaction.

The aim of each day is to pass the task given to you by the GM-- the game master. The game master creates the missions each pair of players have to complete. However, only one player pair needs to accomplish a given mission, and sometimes the story will have Neku and his partner in this situation-- relying on someone else to pull through. Most missions are simple. They're either defeat a certain Noise or reach a certain area. Some missions evoke cryptic clues which Neku and his partner must figure out. Each mission has a time limit, but it's all for story purposes as you can take as long as you want to finish a task with no penalty.

Neku doesn't get the luxury of having all of Shibuya open to him until much later in the game. There's invisible walls set up by red-hooded Reapers that can only be opened by completing one of their tasks such as possessing a certain pin, wearing certain fashion, or clearing an area of Noise. Random encounters are a thing of the past, and since this game is set into modern times it certainly makes sense that the old-school way of doing things in RPGs is obsolete. By tapping the pin in the bottom right corner of the screen, Neku scans the area for Noise. By tapping on one, he and his partner enter into a battle.

Shibuya is a town built upon fashion, and it certainly shows in The World Ends With You. Rather than helmets and armor, you equip handbags and jeans. Each character has four slots of goods to equip them with. Each piece of clothing as well as the pins you use have a clothing label tied to them. Certain clothing labels are hotter in some areas of Shibuya than they are in others, and these will affect your attack and defense. Some will give you double the power, while others will substantially lower it. By the midpoint of the game you can actually influence the fashion trends yourself to give you a succinct advantage in battle. Then there's food. Food gives Neku and his partners increased abilities like HP, attack, and defense, but the catch is that they need to be digested first through battle. Pins get regular experience when equipped in battle, but they can also get experience from the time you last played to the time you resume your data. You can also either reduce the difficulty of the game or your own level in order to increase experience and the likelihood of your enemies dropping rare pins. There's even a cool feature that you unlock later in the game that allows you to retry battles that would normally give you a game over. This is great for battles you just lost, but don't want to sit through a cutscene all over again.

The gameplay focuses on fast, fun, and frenetic battles that take place on both of the DS' screens. Your partner is on the top, and Neku is on the bottom. You both share the same life bar, but fortunately defeating an enemy on one screen eliminates them on the other. You use the stylus to move Neku around and initiate attacks while at the same time using the D-pad to attack enemies on the top screen as Neku's partner. Take it as rubbing your belly with one hand and patting your head with the other except not as easy to get a grasp of. It is possible, but thankfully you can have the computer take over and attack automatically. You can pass a green ball from one person to another to boost attack strength. You'll most likely get into a groove to keep the ball in play to keep attacking foes with boosted power. You can also set each other up for powerful dual-screened attacks which harm every Noise on both screens.

Pins are simply attacks and abilities. They're either support (healing) or attack. There's a wide variety of them, and they gain experience along with Neku. Some can even evolve into even more powerful pins. You can only hold a meager amount at the beginning of the game, but towards the end you can have more than five in your arsenal at a given time. Pins are activated by drawing a certain symbol over empty space, dragging the stylus across enemies, slashing Noise with the stylus, shouting (or blowing) into the mic, and a variety of other ways and abilities. Pins can only be used a certain number of times before they need to reboot which takes just a few seconds normally. New pins are constantly added to stores as you play through the game, defeat Noise on higher difficulty levels, and win them from completing missions. I have had some difficulty with inputting various stylus pin commands. I would correctly draw a symbol or whatnot but the game wouldn't register it-- I'd have to redo the symbol or attack. I also had problems using the wrong pin, but thankfully an item is earned which lets you switch between active and inactive pins with the hit of the L or R button.

The first game I thought of when playing The World Ends With You is the Dreamcast classic, Jet Grind Radio. Both have a Japanese "street" aesthetic to them, and both work very well. Environments are nice and detailed taking sometImes exaggerated views of buildings and streets. Townsfolk mingle around with a large number of different-looking sprites. Character models can occasionally get lost within the bustling denizens of Shibuya-- it gets so packed. The Noise themselves are colorful and are well-designed with clever tattoo designs for wings or tails.
Battle chugs at a nice pace with little in the way of framerate drops. Cutscenes involve the top screen where 2D character portraits shooting off comic book-styled cartoon bubbles with the rare voice clip/grunt. Big cutscenes are usually short, use a quick animation of some sort, and utilize both screens.

The soundtrack is a mishmash of various styles-- mostly Japanese hip-hop, pop, and electronica. The music very much syncs with the world of Shibuya, and even if some of the songs are grating at best, overall there's a very good collection of music here. There's no "one" battle theme for the game or "one" Shibuya theme. There's just a mix of songs that plays for battle and for exploring Shibuya. There's some funny dialogue exchanges during battle such as "Follow my lead", "Screw that". I laughed a few times. The voice work is good, and it serves its purpose well. Even without headphones the entire sound package is well above average. It just sounds great, and with headphones, it's even better.

The World Ends With You is an incredibly original game with a fresh and interesting story, characters that start as annoying but grow on you, a fantastic and fast battle system, well-implemented stylus controls (for the most part), a pumping soundtrack, and hours upon hours of time to invest towards completion. It may not be without its caveats, but they don't hinder the experience enough to ruin the package for any DS owner. This is a must-own game.

Overall: 9.0/10

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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