Review by Chocobahn

Reviewed: 09/08/08

The world ends with you, you and you.

If anyone has ever been to Japan, Shibuya will probably be on the itinerary somewhere. When you get off the train station, the first thing you will notice is the bunch of fashion-conscious youth hanging out near the station exit. The next thing you will notice is the 109 building in the distance. Shibuya might not be the fashion capital of Tokyo, but it is certain one place where you will find the latest trend.

Go further in, you will discover Tower Records and HMV, both offering the latest music, movie and maybe games as well. Shibuya is always full of different kind of people, different kind of vibe, different kind of thoughts. That is what The World Ends With You (TWEWY hereafter) is all about.

Plot

You play as Neku Sakuraba, an anti-social, spiky hair kid who has his headphones on all the time to block out all the rambling that went on around him. The story begins as he found himself in the busiest crossroad in Shibuya with no recollection of how he got there. He soon discovered that no-one could see or hear him. Before long, he was attacked by some unfriendly-looking frogs and was forced to scramble.

In the commotion that ensued, he met Shiki, a girl with serious eating disorder and obnoxiously short skirt (but admittedly good sense of fashion). Neku slowly discovered that he was in a different world from that of reality and together with Shiki, they needed to clear 'missions' that were sent out each day in order to survive in this world.

The setting of the modern-day Shibuya is refreshing for a RPG. No longer are you thrown into a fantasy world that always seems to be at war with neighbouring countries or under the watchful eyes of a galactic federation government with enough secret documents to bury a small country. Shibuya presents a clean environment where the only conflicting things are the thoughts of the inhabitants that populate the place.

The story is compelling and the dialogue is nothing short of brilliant. Some are humorous while others are serious. They all fit the situations at hand. The story is one that will keep you coming back for more until the end. And even then, you would want to play it again to obtain reports that will explain the events of the game further.

Most characters are likable, even those you hate initially. You would hate them less by the end of the game. You get to see the characters grow as you progress. There isn't really one character that annoys the hell out of you like some of other Square-Enix's offering (read Final Fantasy).

To say any more would be a sin. But rest assured that TWEWY goes much deeper than just clearing missions and survive.

Gameplay

TWEWY is no different from traditional RPG when it comes to exploring the world. You might be in Shibuya, but it is divided into areas that have its own characteristics. Treat Shibuya as the world map, and areas as places of interest, and you will get the idea.

As much as Shibuya is crowded with people, you cannot actually talk to them. There are other characters that you can interact with because they are in the same world as you are, but for the most part, you can only see the people, but they cannot see you. However, as part of the plot device, you have the ability to scan 'thoughts', and maybe influence that thought. A lot is irrelevant, but some of them can easily be made into an interesting sidequest, which is severely lacking in TWEWY.

Battles are initiated by the player, using the same scanning ability mentioned above. Scanning an area may reveal symbols that you can click on to start a battle. Battles are duke out on both screens simultaneously, with Neku on the touch screen and his partner on the top screen.

There are no swords or bows or rods in TWEWY. Instead, Neku uses 'pins' that he finds. Each pin is different, and all requires you to perform different gestures on the touch screen to activate them. Some requires slashing the enemies called Noise in-game, some requires scratching, or drawing circles, or touching an empty space, or press on a Noise, or even slash Neku. There are also several pins that require you to blow into the mic.

Each pin has a limited number of uses after which it needs time to recharge before it can be used again. During that period, you will have to make do with other pins in your deck. The problem I find is not waiting for the pins to recharge, but remembering how to activate a pin.

Indeed, there are over 300 pins to choose from. And likely that no two players will have the same deck (unless they are following the same FAQ guide to the letter). Each player will have his/her own playing style and there are certainly lots of combinations possible.

While Neku is fighting for his life on the bottom, his partner is doing the same on the top screen, which is controlled by the D-pad (or face button for lefties). The top character will engage in a button meshing session similar to Dance Dance Revolution where you have to hit the appropriate arrow key.

At first, it can be quite daunting, it requires good hand-eye coordination as well as the ability to multi-task. But the game holds your hand for awhile, and if you are still not up to it, you can set the top screen to fully automatic (or fully manual and anything in between) while you just concentrate on the bottom screen. The difficulty settings can also be changed on the fly.

If you think a Noise is too hard and you barely make it out alive, you can set the difficulty to an easier level. Noises do not drop money or equipment, they drop pins instead, which can be sold for money.

There is a slider on your phone (the in-game menu) that allows you to lower your level. Doing so will lower your HP, but improve the drop rates. Say you drop your current level from 25 to 20, that's 5 times more chance of getting something. If the base drop rate of a Noise is 20%, that's 100% drop rate (i.e. you WILL get a pin from the Noise after it is defeated).

Being set in Shibuya, it is only natural that brands are followed and trendy clothes are worn. Each area in Shibuya has it own set of famous brands. If Neku is wearing a certain brand, or using a certain branded pins, its stats might be affected by how famous the brand is. For example, D+B might be famous in one area which might result in an increase in attack power, while the same pin might only deal half damage because no one likes it in another part of Shibuya. You can influence the trend by using it in battle. So even if D+B is booed at in the area, you can propel it to top spot by using it over and over again in battle. The developer might use that to encourage players to use different pins, but for the most part, I just stick with whatever pins that I am most familiar with.

Much like every other RPG out there, shopping is part of the fun. But being in the fashion-conscious ward of Tokyo, all you will ever find is mountains upon mountains of clothes (and food and pins as well), ranging from very cheap to prohibitively expensive. Clothing is like amour in the traditional sense. It affects various stats.

Each article of clothing has a special ability, such as increased attack or HP, but they are not revealed until you have befriended a shopkeeper to a certain level. The quickest (and only) way to befriend someone is to buy from the shop. You do not need to befriend the same shopkeeper who you bought the article of clothing from. So in order to uncover all special abilities, you will need patience and a deep pocket.

Despite being able to wear different style of clothing, they are not reflected in the game. Neku is still wearing that white/blue outfit regardless of how many dresses you put on him.

You can wear anything in any combination. Nothing is stopping you from cross dressing Neku in short mini skirt with a see-through blouse (no, the see-through blouse is not in here, but the mini skirt is), provided that Neku is brave enough to wear it. And this is where food comes in.

Consuming food can affect many stats. Some food increases attack / defence, some affects HP while others affect bravery points among others. Each day in real-time, the character can chew 24 "byte" of food. Fighting one battle is considered as one byte. Each food requires a different number of byte to digest, after which the effect, uh, takes effect.

If you eat more than 18 bytes, you will be limited to 6 byte-food for the rest of the day until the next day roll over at midnight. For example, a 12-byte food for 4 bravery points means that after you have eaten the food and fought 12 battles, you will gain 4 bravery points, making that tube dress a step closer for Neku. Each character also has his/her own taste.

If there is one complaint, it will be that you are only allow to store 200 pins in your stockpile of unmastered pins (you can hold 99 of each mastered pins). Once you reached that limit, you must sell some to make room for others. I was able to reach that limit relatively early on in the game, and has slowly and lazily stop levelling up, which made later battles slightly harder than it really was. It's not a major concern. The game clocks in at roughly 12 hours, so levelling up is not fundamental to your survival in the game. There is always an easy way out (lowering the difficult setting).

Overall, the gameplay provides an engaging experience that should satisfy both hardcore gamers and new comers alike.

Graphics

Truth be told, when I first saw the screenshots, I did not like it, with the graffiti-like style and the dark black borders around objects. I thought it looks messy. But with all the raving reviews, I thought I must give it a try, and I am glad to say that I did.

At first, it might seem messy with a lot of things going on at once. But as you will discover, there are only so many things that you can interact with, so you are not being bombarded by choices. The screen might seem crowded with people, but they can be largely ignored.

The environment is lush, and the foreground combines nicely with the background to give you a 3D feel to the environment, even though they are only 2D sprites. Colour is used appropriately. While the underpass might use a dull dark palette, other areas in Shibuya are vibrant and full of colour.

Characters are well drawn. Even shopkeepers are very detailed. Cut scenes aplenty, and even though the developers opted for sprites instead of animation, they are smooth and lively. Shibuya is a trendy place, and it shows in TWEWY. Shopkeepers are fashionably dressed, from normal everyday wear to Lolita to rock punk, it has them all. And the best part is, you can actually see those fashions in real life. Sometimes it makes you wonder where you can buy them.

I have, unfortunately, one minor dislike about the graphics. Despite the crowded streets at the crossroad of Shibuya, you will notice a lot of palette swap. Same people, same clothes, same hairdo, just different colour. The same goes for Noises. A different colour scheme, and viola, a strong foe.

Sound

Sound comes as a surprise package. It was amazingly done. Not since Ouedan have I heard so many BGM. They range from Jpop to J-rock, and even some blast from the past with 16-bit retro. Every time you exit from your phone menu, a new tune is played. It might sound repetitive after a while, but they are not excessively intrusive and it will grow on you.

The voice acting are also nicely done. Not every word is said, but sometimes players are treated with a complete sentence or two. You also get to hear the grunts and 'ohh' and 'ahh' and laughs, etc. Even shopkeepers have their lines, though they are only limited to variations of 'welcome' and 'thank you'.

Replay value

TWEWY packs a lot in terms of replay value. Once you have beaten the game, you have access to play any chapter. You can collect secret reports if you meet the conditions set for the chapter. The reports explain a lot of the events further.

You also get access to "Another Day", which is a side story. You still get to play as Neku, but not the same Neku you played as in the main game. This Neku wants to be the Tin Pin wiz kid.

Tin Pin is a mini game in which you use the pins that you are wearing to knock your opponent's pins off a playing area. Each pin has different stats such as weight or speed among others, as well as special abilities that can help you to dispose your opponents. It is an interesting concept, but not a very fun one at that. It is TWEWY's answer to Blitzball or Sphere Break in Final Fantasy.

Overall

TWEWY has received a lot of hype before its launch, and rightly so. The narration is brilliantly told. The gameplay is engaging, utilising every function that the DS has to offer to good effect. The sound is crisp and entertaining. The art work might take you aback at first, but you will soon appreciate its elegance.

The World stands up quite well on its own. It is perhaps ironic that a game that talks about being different is quite different itself. After millions of remakes that are now Square-Enix's stable diet, it is nice to see that they are still capable of producing a gem.

Good:

* Great story
* Beautifully music
* Great voice acting
* Addictive gameplay

Bad:

* Colour swap
* Art work might not be for everyone
* No side quest to speak of

Score (out of 10)

Plot: 9
Gameplay: 9
Graphics: 8
Sound: 9
Replay: 8

Overall: 9

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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