Review by Crono09
Innovative in both its setting and gameplay
A lot of major game developers have been focusing on their well-established, popular franchises. Square Enix has enough time invested in its myriad of sequels and spin-offs of properties like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts, not to mention its Western acquirements like Deus Ex and Tomb Raider. It's comforting to see companies like this take a chance on something new and innovative. That's certainly what they did with the uniquely-named The World Ends with You, and it was a risk that has certainly paid off.
The World Ends with You takes place in the Shibuya district of modern-day Tokyo. That's right, instead of a fantasy or science fiction setting, you get an ordinary shopping mall. That's an odd locale for an RPG, but it surprisingly fits well with the theme of the game. Having never been to Japan, I do not know first-hand what this district looks like, but I have heard that the game is a reasonable reproduction of the area and faithfully replicates major landmarks of the shopping district.
The main character is Neku, a teenage loner who vocally expresses his dislike of other people and his desire for independence. He wakes up in the middle of Shibuya one day with no memory other than his name and sees a digital billboard telling him that he has seven days. No one around him seems to be able to see or hear him, but he has a pin that allows him to read their minds. He soon learns that he has been involuntarily thrust into a competition called the Reapers' Game. Each day, he or the other players in the game must complete a mission that will be sent to them on their cell phone. Failure to complete the mission will result in their erasure from existence. Their antagonists in this game are Reapers, who are attempting to erase players for points themselves. While reapers are usually not allowed to attack players directly, they can summon beings called Noise to attack players.
Players are provided psychic powers to defend themselves, which they execute through pins. Unfortunately, players are incapable of using pins on their own. They must make a pact with another player, and the two partners must compete in the game together. Neku quickly meets a girl named Shiki who talks him into making a pact. While Neku is untrusting of his partner at first, he must learn to trust her if the two of them are to win the game. Throughout the course of the week, they also meet and form alliances with other players, including two named Beat and Rhyme.
Combat in The World Ends with You is some of the most unusual that I have ever seen in an RPG, and it makes great use of the Nintendo DS stylus. Combat occurs on two screens. Neku fights on the bottom screen with the stylus, while his partner fights on the top screen and is controlled by the directional pad. Neku can take up to six pins into battle. Pins activate psychs that are performed by certain stylus controls. For example, one psych might require simply touching the screen while another may involve making a swipe on an enemy. Some psychs actually require you to blow or yell into the microphone. Pins have a limited number of uses, but they recharge over time.
Top screen combat is much simpler and just involves tapping directions on the directional pad to determine which direction your partner aims the attack. Most of the attacks are the same, but there is a combo map allows you to select cards with an attack. Selecting the right combination of cards will allow both players to perform a Fusion, an extremely powerful attack that involves both characters. Neku and his partner also have a puck that gets passed back and forth whenever one of them performs a combo. This increases the attack multiplier for whoever currently possesses the puck.
Fighting on both screens can be very confusing, and the puck exists so that the player can focus on only one screen at a time. If you don't want to bother with this, you can set the top screen to auto-play. This is what I chose to do most of the time because I found Neku's combat to be more fun and didn't want to bother with the top screen. However, the auto-play AI is very poor, and most of the damage I would take from combat came from my partner. This made the top screen a liability in difficult encounters. However, I still thought that it was an interesting addition to combat, and players that are more competent may be able to use both screens to their advantage.
The combat is very fast-paced, especially if you are watching both screens. It was fun figuring out the best way to touch, swipe, draw on, or yell at the screen to defeat the Noise. This made it one of the most action-oriented RPGs that I've ever played. My only gripe is that using some pins, especially those with similar commands, can get confusing. The game is supposed to give priority to pins on the left side of the list, but it would inexplicably use other pins when I tried to use a pin's command. There's also a "scratch" command that I never could get to work properly. Overall, the variety of commands that you use to activate psychs makes the game a lot of fun, and battles never get boring.
The difficulty of the game is up to you. The game offers four different difficulty levels that can be changed at any time outside of battle, and you can also temporarily lower your level. This only affects pin drops. Enemies drop a different pin at each difficulty level with better pins usually at higher levels, and lowering your level improves the probability of a pin drop. Furthermore, almost all battles are voluntary, and you are only forced into boss battles and a few other encounters. If you simply want to experience the story, you can cruise through the game on Easy difficulty. Players who want a challenge can ramp up the difficulty to Ultimate and drop their level to 1.
There is a wide variety of pins available for Neku to use. Pins also have the ability to improve through battle by gaining Pin Points (PP). Gaining enough PP will cause a pin to raise a level, and when a pin reaches its maximum level, it will be mastered. Some pins will also evolve into different (usually stronger) pins once they get enough PP. While there are over 300 pins to attain, many of them have the same psych with differences only in their stats, number of uses, or recharge time. I stuck to the same pins throughout most of the game, rotating in others only as necessary. Mastering all the pins has a "Gotta catch em all!" feel to it since most of the pins will go unused. This can be tedious, but I personally enjoyed completing my pin collection.
The pin evolution system has a twist to it because there are different types of PP. Battle PP (BPP) is the most straightforward and comes from fighting battles. Shutdown PP (SPP) comes from not playing the game. When you continue your game, you get SPP for the amount of time you spend not playing, up to seven days. Mingle PP (MPP) comes from connecting wirelessly with other devices. This is the most difficult to obtain if you don't have a partner to play with. The game provides a way to obtain MPP when you're alone, but it's random and unpredictable. Pins will only evolve if they collect the right type of PP. If you're not using a guide, this requires a lot of trial and error, especially in the case of SPP, which would take months to obtain if you do not cheat the system. I have mixed feelings about this odd use of PP, which rewards you for not playing the game. It is annoying to have to figure out which type of PP to use, but they make things spicier than grinding PP through battles, and SPP and MPP both fit with the underlying themes of the story.
About halfway through the story, you will come across a minigame called Tin Pin Slammer. In spite of my general dislike for minigames, this one was actually fun. It requires you to use your pins to knock you opponents' pins off of a board. Each pin has its own set of Tin Pin Slammer stats, including "whammies" than can temporarily stun your opposing pins. The game is tough at first because the computer AI can react much faster than you can. Once you learn the strategy behind the game, it's easy to get into. Fortunately, this game is mostly optional. You're only required to play the minigame twice in the main story, and winning is not required. You can get some unique pins later on by playing the game, and the optional bonus level that you access after completing the story revolves almost entirely around Tin Pin Slammer. In addition, you can wirelessly connect to other players to compete in the minigame, and doing so nets you MPP.
The game does a great job of integrating the setting into its story and gameplay. The soundtrack is one of the best I've ever heard for a handheld game, consisting of songs from existing pop musicians in Japan. Many of the songs would stick in my head long after I had quit playing. Fashion is also incorporated into the game. Neku can shop at various stores in Shibuya to purchase pins or "threads" (clothing). Threads will change the stats of characters who wear them, and most of them offer passive abilities. Furthermore, each area of Shibuya has trends that cause certain brands of pins to receive bonuses while one brand is penalized. However, the player can alter these trends by fighting battles in the area while having threads and pins of a brand equipped.
The game's story is as engaging as its setting. Neku learns more about himself and the game he's in as he progresses through the week. There are some surprising twists that you discover, and you eventually learn that every character--even the villains--are much more complicated than they first seem. Nearly every character has issues that need to be addressed, and they develop in ways that seem appropriate for teenagers caught up in drastic situation. There is also much more to the Reapers' Game than first appears, and the lore behind it is fascinating. Once the game is over, you can play an unrelated bonus mission that is much more comical than the rest of the game. You'll also have the option to go back to any previous level of the game with your current stats, items, and abilities.
The World Ends with You breaks new ground by introducing a setting and gameplay that you rarely see in video games. The story incorporates a modern pop-culture setting seamlessly into an RPG setting. It has a story that seriously handles emotional baggage that teenagers deal with while including a fair share of humor and lightheartedness. There are plenty of things to pull the player into the game world, but anyone who just wants to see the story can do so as well. RPG fans will not want to miss this brilliant execution of a pioneering gaming concept.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: The World Ends with You (US, 04/22/08)
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