Review by Joe the Destroyer
Reviewed: 02/04/09 | Updated: 06/02/10
"Work for you?" "What do you think?"
RPG's have come a long way since the days of Commodore D&D games, or even since the original Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, or Phantasy Star. Originally, it was believed that RPG's consisted of knights in shining armor fighting off dragons and hordes of skeletons, saving princesses, and a lot of nonsense involving dwarves and elves. Companies have since tried, and many have succeeded, in getting away from the Medieval setting for RPG's. The belief was that people who played RPG's wanted to step into roles outside of our time and reality. Unfortunately, there's only so much of being a different knight in a different time that one can take before someone decides it's time to go modern; and there you have The World End With You. It's an RPG set in modern times in downtown Shibuya, Japan. Players never leave the city, limiting the environment to the concrete jungle, but somehow not limiting the gameplay. It features a battle system very much like Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, except revamped. These pieces make up an very well done RPG.
In The World Ends With You, you take the role of Neku, who wakes up in a crowded intersection in downtown Shibuya to find that he suffers from amnesia. No one seems to notice that he's there. At the same time he is attacked by strange creatures known as Noise, which are mostly derived from animals like wolves or frogs. Unlike regular animals, these creatures can perform some devastating attacks, and have parts of their body done up like tattoos or graffiti, fitting the urban setting of the game. He winds up teaming with a street smart girl named Shiki, who teaches him how to fight the Noise, and informs him of their situation; that they are trapped in a brutal game that regular citizens cannot see. Their prize is that they will be restored to their normal lives once again. For failure, however, they will face the erasure of their existence. And how does the story pan out? It's very well written. It's no Shakespeare, but the dialog suits the characters, and the cliches in the game befit the type of game it is. The arrangement of them also makes the game feel much less hackneyed than one would suspect. While the idea of Neku falling for Shiki is a might predictable, the way that the writers went about it actually makes sense. Some of the surprise twists that occur were also foreseeable, but didn't lessen the game's integrity. Given the environment, the characters act as one would want them to, and are people should be able to relate to them more than a spiky-haired soldier or a knight that commands a fleet of airships.
The game is played a lot like Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. One major difference is that it takes full advantage of DS's multiple screens. When in battle, you must control two characters: Neku and whoever accompanies him.
On the bottom screen, you control Neku. Unlike KH:CoM's card system, you have a pin system. Rather than having to cycle through a ton cards, you can equip up to six pins on Neku, each of which give him a different battle advantage or ability. Some pins will heal him or allow him to do different attacks which can be performed by doing certain actions with the stylus. For instance, some pins will allow you to fire a bullet by slashing across Neku in a certain direction, and others will even allow him to fire a bullet by simply touching a part of the screen. There are also pins that will automatically activate, giving your enemies status ailments at the beginning of battle, and others that will even give other pins extra bonuses. Each pin has a certain number of uses before it becomes unusable for a time, but become usable again once they've been given time to recharge. Others, mostly the healing ones, are only usable for a certain number of times per battle and do not recharge.
The only confusing thing about this half of the battle system is that you also have to move Neku using the stylus by dragging him around. There are pins that can only be activated by dragging Neku, or by even touching him. Sometimes, you'll want to move Neku and he'll perform an attack you might have equipped. The opposite can also be true. This makes the battle system frustrating at times, and has caused many expletives to come out of my mouth. I feel bad for my neighbors. They probably think I'm schizophrenic, especially after hearing me yell things like, Where are you going? No, don't do that! I didn't tell you to do that! No, stop that! What are you, a moron? Not over there!
Getting Neku's moves down is a big part of the game. You mainly need to figure out your level of aggression against certain enemies. The key is beating them quickly enough so you don't take much damage, and learning to avoid certain attacks. At the end of battle, you get a grade based on how much time you spent and how much damage was dealt to you. The higher your grade, the more PP you'll get. What's this PP, you ask? PP, or Pin Points, are basically experience points. The more PP a pin gets, the more powerful it becomes. It can be gained through winning battles, but also through competing in a crappy mini-game called Tin Pin Slammer which is like Bedaman meets Pogs, or by turning the game off. Yes, the longer you leave the game off, the more PP you will accrue. Some pins will also evolve if they have enough of a certain type of PP. For instance, if you level one pin up using mostly Battle PP, it may not evolve when it reaches max level. However, if you level it up using most Shutdown PP, it may actually evolve. Some pins, however, don't evolve at all. The game does tell you in the pin's status screen which ones can evolve, but it doesn't tell you what kind of PP is needed.
Another problem with controlling Neku is that sometimes the battle screen can get so crowded that you're reduced to randomly swiping and tapping the stylus across the screen. You get little time to react, and even then reacting feels impossible at times. I've found that going nuts on the enemies seems to be one of the best ways to do it, as it has netted me many star grades, which are the best grade you can get for a battle.
You may wonder why you can't use the D-pad or buttons to control Neku, and that is because those have been reserved for his partner. As if controlling one person in some of these crazy battles isn't enough, you also have to control the person on the top screen. The same enemies that Neku is fighting will appear on either side of the character, and pushing different combinations of directions or buttons (corresponding directions and buttons do the same thing, so the X button and Up on the D-pad are exactly the same; they did it this way with right- and left-handed people in mind) will result in different attacks. Each character has a different psychic ability that can allow players to access a devastating combo attack called a Fusion Attack that involves both Neku and his partner. For instance, Shiki must reveal three different cards with shapes on them. Different attack combos will allow you to reveal a different card. Once she has revealed all three shapes, your team will gain a Fusion level and a pin will appear at the top right of Neku's screen. Tapping it will allow you to do a Fusion attack, which will damage any of the enemies on either of the screens. Enemies that appear on both screens take double the damage.
If an enemy is defeated in one screen, it dies in both. It almost makes the game sound easier, that you can use two characters to simultaneously weaken an enemy, and it sure does add an element of strategy to the game. However, the same goes for your two characters. They also share one life line, so when Neku takes damage so does his partner, and vice versa.
The battle system may sound hectic, but once you get the hang of it it becomes loads of fun. Addictive even. You begin to realize how simplistic it really is, but how complex it can be if you want it to be. All it really takes is the right arrangement of gear and pins.
The graphics in the main map are nothing special, but they work. You can move on the main map using either the stylus, the control pad, or the buttons. There are crowds of people all over the place, and not a single one of them can be interacted with directly like in most RPG's. Instead, you are given a pin called a player pin that will allow you to scan your surroundings. Scanning can reveal many things in the area, including the thoughts of the passersby, or secrets that are vital to discover to further the game. This is also your chief means of engaging battle with the noise, as they will appear all over the screen. For the most part in this game, you actually must engage battles yourself. You only encounter random battled towards the end of the game, and besides that are a few storyline battles. It's a very different way to take an RPG, and I have to admit it's refreshing. It's nice to be able to take the battles at your own pace rather than feeling like you either can't find enough battles, or that you are being overloaded.
Perhaps the strongest point of this game is the soundtrack. Unlike many RPG's that feature either MIDI or similar quality of music, or a synthesized score, The World Ends With You features a fully recorded soundtrack that captures the feel of the urban environment. The blend such urban genres as hip hop, electronic, rock, metal, and pop makes the game vibrant. The music made feels as though it has real heart and soul pumped into it, and not as though it's more of an obligatory stand in for popular music. Now, if only the full soundtrack were available here in the States
It's not only the music that brings the game to life, but some of the voices. Okay, I'm being a bit dramatic there, but they accentuate the attitudes of the characters, from Joshua's arrogant and sly voice to Beat's mentally deficient one.
Character growth in this game is different. You can still gain levels, but there are other ways to promote stat increases. Characters can be equipped with clothing that comes with different bonuses, and especially with different brands. Pins also come with brands similar to the clothing. Wearing and using different brands and fighting with them in certain sectors of the city can generate interest in the brand. When a brand becomes popular in a certain sector, pins of that same brand gain bonuses. For instance, if Happy Puppy is popular in one area, then any Happy Puppy pins will do extra damage or heal for more HP. Other brands that are runners up will also receive bonuses, though theirs will be less.
Clothing, like many RPG's with their armor, requires a certain stat to use called Bravery. What keeps male characters from wearing female clothing is low bravery. There are ways to boost bravery as well, so if you want Beat to fit into that pair of lavish girly boots, just feed him cordyceps.
Characters can also receive permanent stat bonuses by eating. Eating also builds up your characters' synthesis percentage, allowing them to fight better together. The actual act of eating doesn't beget the bonuses right away. Different items are digested after so many battles, and that's when the bonuses are gained. However, your characters have a certain amount of fullness, meaning they won't be able to eat constantly. Their fullness will go back down after 24 hours of real time.
The game's usage of urban environments and concerns brings together a kind of allegory for humility. By the end of the game, you feel that Neku has either gained a sense of empathy or misanthropy, depending on your take on the game. Each of the characters and the Noise seem to represent something key to urban living, and each enemy has a name inspired by different musical ideas and genres, like Death Metal Minx or Carcinoska. It really felt like the developers went that length to keep the urban theme both inside the game, and conceptually.
The World Ends With You is a breath of fresh air. It's been a while since an J-RPG can make such waves, especially since we haven't seen a phenomenal one come out on the current systems. This game shows that Square Enix can step outside themselves, and that RPG's are not inherently doomed to the same settings and characters that have caused the genre to stale. It also shows that clichés are not always a bad thing, and that the right arrangement of them can result in something great. It's smart marketing. Cliches became so for a reason: because they were ideas that the masses loved. Putting then into a game that has to potential for every day folk to relate to them, but mostly to inner city kids, is what makes this game work. The feel of the game, combined with the hectic battle system that accentuates the hectic inner city life builds to make a game that many will enjoy. The developers did their homework, and have made a game that is both fun and enthralling.
Graphics- Not the strongest point of the game, though they are adequate 7/10
Sounds- One of the best soundtracks in recent time, not to mention decent voices 10/10
Control- Hectic, and part of what generates the moderately high learning curve 8/10
Plot/Storyline- Very well written, but nothing can't already find in animes like Shana or Fate/Stay Night 8/10
Gamplay: Addictive and chaotic, making full use of the stylus feature 9/10
All Together: 9/10
*Breath of fresh air
*Awesome urban theme
*Makes full use of the stylus
*Neku can be a little hard to control at times
If you liked KH:CoM or are looking for something new in J-RPG's, look no further. Some people might be put off by the game's urban theme, but others will find this a great getaway from all the other stale ones that have come out of over the last four or so years.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: The World Ends with You (US, 04/22/08)
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