Review by acwonder
Where potential goes to die.
Square Enix has a knack for RPG's with really compelling plotlines, as demonstrated by its golden offspring Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. TWEWY doesn't dissapoint in that regard, but flops in just about everything else.
You play as Neku, a young teen who wakes up in the middle of the Shibuya shopping district, having no recollection how he got there. He is soon thrown into a mysterious life and death challenge that forces him and a partner to complete mundane tasks before the timer runs out lest they get "erased." On the way they'll have to defeat enemy monsters called Noise, try to unravel the mystery of the group running this mysterious game, and have Neku overcome his disdain for the entire human race.
The writing makes it difficult to sympathize with any of the characters. Neku is a somewhat likable but extremely cliche protagonist, and his various partners won't make you throw roses at Square Enix's writing staff either. Street Thug #4764364672 says "aight" every three sentences, and one particular villain speaks in nothing but math terms (not to be confused with the one that speaks only in cooking terms).
The driving force behind the game is its tangled plot, but, like an episode of Lost, the ending offers no resolution whatsoever, instead asking to play every chapter a second time to collect secret reports that explain the million loose plot points. Considering that the story was what kept me plodding on through most chapters, this was an extreme "suck it, players" moment that couldn't be forgiven no matter how the plot panned out.
The gameplay only really boils down to the fighting. You control Neku on the bottom screen of the DS, using various touch commands with the stylus. That would have been just fine, but you also have a partner on the top screen using a completely seperate (and poorly explained) style of combat, and if your shared health bar is depleted, you'll have to begin again. If that's too much for you to handle (it takes some serious effort to master), the computer will take control of the top character for you, leaving you to command Neku, the character with actual enjoyable fight sequences.
TWEWY seems like it is perfectly fine with playing the game for you. The computer controlled character will perform just as well as you would. When you lose a fight, you have the option of replaying it on easy mode. There were several battles that had no effect on the strory; even if you lost it would progress all the same. Even the alleged puzzles are solved for you in the lengthy (unskippable) cut scenes.
The auxillary elements, such as the Tin Pin Slammer minigame and fashion trends, feel forced and unecessary. Tin Pin itself is only a subpar game, and the few times you play it in story mode, no one actually cares whether you win or not. The trend system allegedly makes certain brands of clothes and pins more effective in different parts of town, but this makes almost no difference, and if you persist with the same pins long enough they'll become popular anyway.
You start out with some varied but basic attacks, but you'll soon find enemies dispensing pins like Halloween candy. You can even voluntarily lower your maximum HP to increase the rate that enemies drop items, so you'll soon find your inventory crammed with twenty copies of the same weak pins. Since you completely heal between each fight, there is nothing to discourage you from playing recklessly, and you can always try everything again on easy mode.
The real powerful pins can be obtained by "evolving" your weaker pins, which can be done in one of three ways, depending on the pin. One way is to constantly use the pin in battle, but that may very well equate to filling up valuable deck slots with a pin that is otherwise useless. Another way is by filling the pin up with "Shutdown PP" which accumulates as the game is turned off. "Mingle PP" is equally worthless, as it can only obtained by being in contact with another game console, or, consequently, leaving your game off for long periods of time. Christ, I know they want to make us earn those powerful weapons, but can't that be done by playing the game more, not less?
I can't really knock the game for its aesthetic appeal. The city and characters are colorful, with an almost comic book style of art. The soundtrack is particularly well-done, and I even shamefully downloaded one of the songs on i-tunes, and still kind of sort of like it. Still, coupled with its overly-written (but never fully explained) story, it feels like layers of fluff on what is really a very shallow game.
The combat (well, half of it) was fun, and the story had great potential if it were expanded and better paced. If they had made the combat the main focus without drowning it in unlikable details, TWEWY would've been a shining example of the RPG genre, but now it feels like a failed experiment. I don't want to discourage this kind of video game, but the developers don't seem to grasp what makes it enjoyable, and I hope for their sakes that they wise up soon.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: The World Ends with You (US, 04/22/08)
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