Review by TheRomanDisease

Reviewed: 06/22/09

An astoundingly original and unique gem of a game. Plus, Sho!

Wake up, shaken up, plastered on asphalt
Phones can't block the voices of the masses
Seven days left between you and death
Better race, place, reapers won't give up the chase.

I'll admit it: when I first saw this game, I thought it was ridiculous. You can tell where the strangeness begins simply by looking at the title. No, not this title. If you think this title is strange, you won't be prepared for what this game used to be called - It's a Wonderful World. That's right. It's a Wonderful World. It sounds like the subtitle for some Sesame Street learning game. This happy description of a game brings to mind images of joy, peace, prosperity, and love. However, Neku Sakuraba, the angry, rebellious, teenage protagonist of TWEWY, doesn't seem to share the same opinion for the world. To him, the world is a cacophony of disruption, noises, chaos, and confusion. Neku's world is a bleak place. But for a short time in his life, the world is changed...his world changes...to a place where the weak are stepped on, and the remaining populace struggles to survive, as they live by one rule and one rule only: Survive.

Welcome to Shibuya. You have seven days.

---STORY 10/10

The game begins with a few cryptic words from your main character, Neku Sakurba. From this brief look inside the character's thoughts, you can tell he isn't a very friendly guy. Neku's apathy towards the world is his defining characteristic, and plays a big role as to what the title of this game is for. Neku is a loner, an individual constantly mad at the world. We hear him rant and rave about how stupid people are, then we see one last shot as the camera fades out captures Neku talking about his coldness towards the rest of the world...

Then things get weird.

Neku wakes up, dazed and confused flat on the ground of a Shibuya crossroads (one of Tokyo's three major subcenters). People all around him carelessly step over him, not so much as glancing at the fallen boy in the street. Struggling to his feet, Neku is surprised to open his enclosed fist, revealing a black pin with a skull design on it. Suddenly, a blue light shines from the skull pin and Neku is dumbfounded as he starts reading people's thoughts right of the street. Amazed at the new ability this strange pin as bestowed upon him, Neku is caught unaware, and is ambushed when a portal opens up in the sky, and strange, taboo creatures (known later on as The Noise) attack him. Thrown into a panic at these strange events, Neku rushes through the district and ends up bumping into the first person that notices him - Shiki Misaki, another girl apparently in the same situation as Neku. Together, they manage to repel The Noise. Afterward, their only clue to lend order to the chaos shows itself in the form of a text message: "Reach 104. You have 60 minutes. Fail, and face erasure.--The Reapers."

And from there the adventure begins.

The story drops the player of in the middle of nowhere and quickly takes them through a whirlwind of events that make little sense in the beginning. It's like the developers have handed you one piece to a puzzle, and slowly and slowly the pieces they continue to give you form up into a greater picture until, finally, the whole thing becomes clear. You may have played an RPG that copied every thing out of the "how to make a cliche RPG book" and guessed the ending after an hour of gameplay. Well, that will never happen here. The story is enthralling, and the characters that support it are some of the best in recent memory. I can't really comment too much on the characters without them being spoilers. However, each and every one of them is immensely enjoyable. From the optimistic and charismatic Shiki, to the let's-smack-down-now-and-talk-later attitude of the hilarious Beat, every character is fully fleshed out and it is always fun to watch them interact with each other. Best-new-character award goes to Sho Minimamoto, the crazed mathematician with a hip sense of style, and a "zetta" cool vocabulary that will leave you gobsmacked ("What the factor?!" "Lingering hectopascals!"). The script of this game is flawless, where never does one character seem out of place in a situation, or act out of character.

For those of you that like a deep, original, and unpredictable storyline, with a fantastic cast of characters, this game is for you.

---GRAPHICS 9/10

The art style for this game is very distinct. Immediately, TWEWY will stick out from any game you find in your local store because of its vibrant and sharp style of art. While the game isn't a technical masterpiece, the 2-d style of art remains on top of anything that can be replicated on the DS in 3-d. The backgrounds are simply breathtaking to look at because they are based on a real city - Shibuya, one of three main subcenters in Tokyo. The streets you are playing on actually exist. The character design (and art style in general) is something that could be hit or miss with people - if you are tired of playing through one too many RPG's featuring a spiky-haired, emo, teenager turned hero, you may take one look at this game and be turned off immediately. Please don't be. I can guarantee that while this game may feature one aspect of the cliche RPG foundation (Okay, fine then…two aspects. He has amnesia too), nothing else in the game copies from that same rulebook.

When going into battle you attack using pins (something I'll discuss shortly). These pins can do various things from lighting things on fire, to picking up cars and signs on the side of the road and flinging them at enemies. These attack animations are beautiful. There is never any slowdown or lag or glitches whatsoever (at least not for me). Again, the art style and gorgeous 2-d animation give this game a feel that is unlike anything else I know of that is available for the DS. I personally loved it, and I have a feeling that after ten minutes with this game in your hands, you will too.

---SOUND 8/10

Uh oh. Here is the one place that could seriously trip up any person interested in buying this game. The sound here is hardcore J-pop and hip-hop. Furthermore, almost every track boasts full vocal arrangements. If you don't like either of these genres you may have to be prepared to play this entire game with your volume turned off. But before you immediately write this off, let me just say that I dislike most hip-hop. Very, very rarely does the track come along that can keep me listening for more than thirty seconds. However, I managed to not only find this music bearable, but completely enjoyable. The music boasts over 30 tracks of music, which at times can be a little repetitive, but for the most part, do a great job of keeping the sound of this game fresh and new. With this soundtrack, it will probably be a love it or hate it thing.

The actual sound effects for this game are great. Nothing cheezy or distracting here. There is very little voice-acting here, but what is done is done very well. It makes me wish that there were more voice acting in the game. My general rules for RPG's is that if you can't have quality voice acting at all times, then don't even bother with voice acting at all. Here, TWEWY manages to have quality voice-acting, but not enough of it. Overall, though, excellent job.

---GAMEPLAY 10/10

Arguably the most important aspect of any game is the game play (unless you are Xenosaga), and when it comes to fast-paced, action-oriented game play, TWEWY delivers on both fronts - the top and the bottom one. You see, TWEWY is played with two people. No, not as in you and another person. Two people as in you and two characters onscreen. Enemies will appear on two different planes here - the top screen and the bottom screen. That means that if you fight a Mosh Grizzly (an enemy in the game) it will appear twice, once on the top screen and once on the bottom screen. However, this is the same enemy. It may sound confusing, but picture it this way: they can be two different enemies that share the same life bar. If you completely obliterate the Mosh Grizzly on the bottom screen, while ignoring it on the top screen, it will still disappear from both screens once the proper amount of HP damage has been inflicted on it. The same goes for your characters, however. Both Neku, and his partner share one life bar. It doesn't matter who gets hit - once that life bar is gone, you both are dead.

On the bottom screen, you play as Neku, who is controlled using solely the stylus. You touch Neku and then drag the stylus in order to run or walk. Neku's style of fighting is that of pins. Different pins have different abilities and effects. Eventually you can have up to six pins equipped at one time. An example of one pin would be shockwave. You activate it by scratching across an enemy on the screen using your stylus. Neku then jumps over and begins to do a slash-attack with every stroke of the stylus. Another example would be pyrokinesis, in which you simply drag the stylus across the screen as a trail of fire leaps up behind wherever draw. Every pin has a gauge that eventually runs out from over use. After however many seconds, a pin will normally recharge and become usable again, though a few pins can only be activated a number of time per battle.

On the top screen you control Neku's partner. When you first get Shiki in the beginning of the game, she acts as Neku's partner. Shiki's style of gameplay is very different, as her fighting style relies on the DS buttons. Don't fret if you're a lefty - this game is friendly to both right-handers and left-handers. Using either the control pad or the face buttons, players will use them to preform combos with button combinations. With Shiki, it is possible to pull off combination in order to earn fusion stars. When enough have been accumulated, they will allow you to release a massive fusion attack that does severe damage to all enemies. Fighting with Shiki isn't nearly as hard as Neku.

However, using both of the characters simultaneously is where the challenge comes from. I can tell you now that learning to use both takes a little bit of practice. It isn't as hard as it looks, but those that lack a sense of coordination can put the top screen player on auto-pilot. I would not recommend relying on this technique too heavily, as you will suffer from it later on. Eventually you will learn to multi-task between the two players. One thing that helps considerably is the inclusion of the "puck". The puck is a green disk that surrounds one of your characters and multiplies damage dealt. To start it, simply finish a combo (with Shiki and Neku, just chain together several attacks in succession). An orb will appear and surround your character you pass it back and forth by chaining combos with one character, then another. You keep up this back and forth notion until the puck, at its largest size, ends up dealing 5X the normal amount of damage. Most battles can be easily won this way. It takes coordination and practice to get this going, but the beginning of this game is very easy to cope with. By the time things start picking up in difficulty, you should be well acquainted with the battle system by then, and be able to take on anything that comes your way.

Outside of the battles there are several more innovations from the brilliant minds at Square Enix. One of the things that I liked was the food system, where you are allowed to devour 24 bytes of food each day. Each food item boosts a certain stat. The more bytes it is worth, the higher the stat boost it will bring. However, you can't just stuff your face full with 24 bytes of food and then be done with it. To actually obtain the effects the food brings, you must digest it through battles. If you eat a hot dog worth 6 bytes of food, you must fight through six battles before you can digest it and reap it's benefits. Of course, you may not have more than one food item being digested at a time. Eventually you will fill your stomach with food, and have to wait 24 hours in real time before you can eat again.

Did you know that fashion can be a matter of life-or-death? There are 13 different brands that dominate every piece of clothing you wear. Clothing here acts as armor in other games, boosting your stats and giving you other bonuses and advantages. You can have up to four pieces of clothing on at a time. Shibuya is dominated by charts. In every area you visit there will be a chart of the three most popular brands, and the least popular brand. If you are wearing a brand that is popular you will get a significant stat boost bonus (20% attack boost for 3rd most popular brand, 50% for 2nd, and 100% for 1st) However, make sure you aren't wearing the most unpopular brand at the time, else you will suffer greatly (50% attack reduction). Note that the same thing goes for pins that are branded. If you have a pin that is popular are unpopular, you will be effected in the same way. Some pins are unbranded, meaning they cannot be influenced either way.

One of the great benefits of TWEWY comes from playing it slowly. While it may be a bit troublesome if you are like me (barreling through the game because you can't wait to see what happens next), whenever you leave TWEWY off for an extended period of time, your characters gain PP points. PP points are like experience points for the pins that you use. Once you gain enough and your pins "level up" they become much more powerful, making that boss's victory much more easier to obtain. Furthermore, you can gain PP from fighting battles and going into mingle mode as well. Mingle mode is where your DS will interact with any other DS that is being played within a certain distance of yours. It doesn't matter what game the other person is playing, as long as their DS is on, you will gain PP points from making "contact" with them. Whenever certain pins gain enough PP, they will evolve, into different much more powerful pins. There are over 300 different pins to collect (if memory serves me right) and collecting them will take any completionist a very, very long time.

If you find the game a little too easy, or you just want to bump up the challenge, you have the ability to lower your level. "Why in the world would I lower my level?", you probably just asked. Well, lowering your level does only two things - it decreases your total amount of HP, but in return, it increases your enemies drop rates. In doing this, it is possible to gain more powerful pins by fighting monsters at a lower level. Of course, you never have to do this, but it is there if you ever wish to use the feature.

As you can see, TWEWY has many gameplay features that elevate it above normal RPG fare. The battle system is fun, unique, and original. No matter where you look, I can guarantee, you won't find anything like TWEWY elsewhere.

One minor complaint I have here is that at the end of the game, random battles start appearing. They only happen when you enter and exit from an area, but the same old dialogue pops up with ever battle, meaning you have to scroll through it and then fight a battle. It get annoying, especially when you are on the opposite side of Shibuya from where you need to be. Luckily they are end-game only, so they aren't really a big deal.

---CONTROLS 9/10

If you are the kind of person that plays a game for 15 minutes, then quits based on immediate impressions, don't even bother with this game. This game, while it might be more difficult for some than others, can be mastered through practice. Controlling two characters is a blast, but you won't be able to simply pick it up and become an expert at it right away. The controls here are perfect for playing as two characters, and if there is something wrong with how you keep losing battles, it will be you, not the controls. Playing as Neku down on the bottom screen is almost completely customizable. The only two features here that are permanent are the walk and dash feature, both easy to use. After that, the rest of the controls depend solely on what pins you bring to battle. If you don't like how one pins action command is used, then find a different one, although there are very few pins that I had trouble activating throughout the course of the game. Controlling Shiki is easy to do. If you choose to condone any strategic playing on the top screen, randomly mashing buttons works as well. Once you get used to the concept of controlling two screens, the controls fit in nicely.

---REPLAY VALUE (good) - {15-20 hours of content, easily.}

I don't really like giving point scores in this category because of two thing. First of all, I'm a completionist. I like to search every nook and cranny, find every hidden item, and fight every hidden boss in a game. As such, my opinion may differ from others. Secondly, I just find it hard to assign a numerical score to this category, because replay value is hard to calculate. It depends on what is worth doing to each individual person. As such, there are two main objectives to shoot for after you beat this game. Going through the campaign again you can find something called secret reports. These super-secret reports written by a super-secret someone possess much background story and fills in plot holes that weren't fully explained in the main game. To get these secret reports, most missions have about four bonus objectives that must be completed to view these reports. Getting them all also yields an extended ending that can be viewed after beating the game a second time. Also, there is a bonus chapter that can be completed after the main game. All I have to say is that this chapter is HILARIOUS! I found myself laughing out loud every couple of minutes at the absurdity of it. It takes place in an alternate universe, so all of the characters have different personalities. This allowed the game designers to do pretty much whatever they want with the characters in order to have fun, without it clashing with the storyline. The end result is something akin to crossing the twilight zone with an episode of Saturday Night Live. Strange, but very, very funny.

Once you beat all those, a perfectionist may want to collect every pin, along with ever secret item, but these hardly yield anything other than extra symbols on your save game screen, so they probably aren't worth doing (even to someone like me.) Ah, yes, I should mention that this game has only ONE save slot. A big bummer for people that have friends and sibling that want to play this game also.

Overall, it has some good replay value. Although if you didn't enjoy the game much the first time, you won't have much reason to go through it a second time, therefore dropping the replay value to about an F+. If you did like the game, the secret reports warrant going through the game a second time, and the extra side-mission is an absolute blast (and very long as well. To do everything may take you several hours for just that one mission.) The main game should last you about 15-20 hours, but with the extra reports and mission, it could easily stretch to 30-40.

---CONCLUSION

You should look at my score and be able to tell that I feel this game is simply amazing. And that's because it is. Square Enix has manage to prove that they can make a masterpiece of a game that doesn't include "Final" or "Fantasy" in the title. Some people might dislike this game for it's complex battle system, it's soundtrack, or it's urban Japanese art style, but to me, these are all the things that make this game one-of-a-kind, and something very special that deserves to be played on your DS.

THE PROS
--Fun, innovative battle system
--90% of the game is without random battles
--No grinding for levels. Ever.
--None of the added on features, such as the food and brand system, feel gimicky.
--Great cast of characters
--Deep, unpredictable, and original storyline
--Writing is spot-on
--Art style and soundtrack...

THE CONS
--...Art style and soundtrack (I told you, it's a like-it-or-love-it thing)
--Steep learning curve
--The last 10% of the game features random battles.
--Somewhat short for an RPG at 15-20 hours
--Only one save slot

One last thing I would note. People seem to take issues with games being rated a 10/10 because there is no game that is absolutely "perfect". I know this, but I rate games based on what I got from them. From this game, I got an experience I haven't enjoyed from any other game. It isn't perfect in the technical sense, but to me, it was something very special among the video game realm. That's why I choose to give it a 10/10 score.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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

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