Review by UltimaterializerX
More like "The world is loaded with terrible game design".
There are games I've played that are so bad, it took me ages to find the motivation to write about them. The World Ends With You is one of those games, due to the sheer volume of terrible design decisions this game makes. When I go to write, I want to be interested in what I'm writing about. Even games I've given bad scores to over the years were at least interesting enough for me to want to explain why they got those scores. The World Ends With You is just.... bad. So bad that it took me years to get motivated enough to write this review.
Before anything else, let me give Square some credit for trying a bunch of new things with The World Ends With You. I always give credit where it's due, and in a gaming climate where the biggest companies aren't taking many risks anymore, it's always to see someone take the leap of faith. When it works, it's great, and sometimes you'll even get a new genre or archetype out of it. But when it bombs completely, you get games like Knights in the Nightmare, Shadow of the Colossus, or The World Ends With You. Square threw a ton of things at the wall when making this game, and the only thing that stuck was "no random battles". The game being terrible doesn't mean I don't appreciate the effort.
That being said, there are two camps of people -- those who think The World Ends With You is some revolutionary video game cult classic that changed Japanese RPGs forever, and those who think this game is awful. I understand why some people would like this game, but I'm definitely in the latter category of people who largely think this is one of the worst video games ever made. Virtually nothing in it is defensible.
"I don't give a rat's ass if you think I'm rude!"
Every now and again you come across a video game that gets cute with its plot by breaking the fourth wall in very unclever ways. Usually, these games are pseudo-intellectual "the characters know they're willing participants in a game" type stuff. We'll ignore live theater for the sake of argument and say that the Deadpool movie or House of Cards are among the pinnacle examples for breaking the fourth wall properly. Now imagine the literal exact opposite. That's The World Ends With You's plot in a box.
The World Ends With You is a Japanese RPG where you control a character named Neku Sakuraba. Neku is one of those loner teenagers who thinks he's cool by being a loner and largely being a jerk to people. In the real world we expect these types of people to eventually man up and get a job, but in video games these characters are somehow glorified. For reasons I will never understand, Neku is lauded as a great character with great storytelling even though he acts like a spoiled brat right from the jump. For some reason, Neku has friends. Their names are Beat and Rhyme. That alone should tell you how cheesy this game's storytelling is, but moving on.
The entire game takes place in Shibuya, which is loosely based on the real-life shopping district of the same name in Tokyo, Japan. In the very beginning, Neku dies. He "awakens" in Shibuya as a ghost of sorts, and before long he's told he can return to the world of the living by playing the Reaper's Game. It's literally called this in the game, and I can't do justice in a review for how cheesy it all is. Just trust me on this one. The real world Neku wants to get back to so badly is literally called the "Realground", and the ghost world is called "Underground". The basic idea is Neku gets one week to beat the game the reapers have come up with, and on each of the seven days he gets some new task to do on his phone. He gets one partner, but we'll get into the atrocity of that nonsense in the gameplay section.
If it stopped there the plot would already be bad enough, but the game tries to get super deep and play on how we act in the real world. Some games do this fairly well, but The World Ends With You's writing doesn't convey this at all. It tries to give us a huge overarcing story about social trends and how people are consumerist followers, but it falls terribly flat. There's also a narrative about how the Underground people try to mess with the Realground people and how people in the Realground let the noise get to them too much. This also falls flat and comes off as incredibly lame, but you'll never guess what The World Ends With You calls all the noise in our heads as the ghosts interfere with real people.
You guessed it. "Noise". How incredibly original. We even get to see a play on giving up your humanity when making deals with the devil, which could have been done with better storytelling from better writers.
The only part of the plot that's interesting in any way is learning about the reapers, as well as the composer masterminding all the events in Shibuya. But you can go learn all that from a plot synopsis online instead of suffering through actually playing The World Ends With You. It'll be the best decision of your life.
"Seven days with you? Kill me now."
I've played a lot of bad video games with atrocious gameplay over the years, and The World Ends With You's gameplay puts it on the short list of worst gameplay experiences of all time. It's right there with Lunar Dragon Song, Warcraft 3, Shadow of the Colossus, and Hearthstone. If The World Ends With You had random encounters instead of what we got, the case could be made for The World Ends With You having the literal worst gameplay in gaming history. Thankfully they spared us that hell.
Each day your character wakes up, they're given a task to finish by day's end by the reapers. The task might be a fetch quest, changing a trend around town, helping a guy with his soup, or finding some Noise and a boss and killing things. Each day is typically split up into a big exploration section before you find your quest target, and from there you do your task and go back to bed. After a week of suffering through playing this game (both on Neku's end and the one actually physically playing The World Ends With You, since you both suffer from playing through this atrocity), things happen. I won't spoil anyone in a review, but just go look up the plot synopsis and read it instead of actually playing this game. I beg you.
The exploration sections are largely uneventful if not outright terrible, but then The World Ends With You hits you with some of the worst combat gameplay design of all time. It won't be long before you're meant to scan for Noise and fight them -- this is how the game's combat starts, and while no words can properly convey how awful the combat is, I'll do my best. Battles take place on both screens of the DS. Neku is at the bottom, and his friend for the week is up top. In a perfect world, you would control Neku fully while your partner kind of did their own thing, with some periodic teamwork. That would make sense, right?
Neku gets controlled almost entirely by the stylus. We can't have you using things like buttons or d-pads or legitimate controls to use your character properly, because those are reserved for controlling the combat on the top screen. The way it basically works is you input attacks with Neku on the bottom screen with the stylus, all while watching the top screen and inputting various quick-time event chains. If you stay alive long enough to kill things, eventually you'll build up a meter that lets you unleash a tag team move to hit both screens.
It's a gigantic mess, and it made me dread doing any combat in this game whatsoever. It's like any game that gets put on one of Nintendo's gimmicked up systems has to have the most obnoxious control schemes possible to take advantage of a bunch of bad hardware that need not be there in the first place. Battles in The World Ends With You are nothing like actual RPG fights. It's simultaneously two rhythm games with a hint of a puzzle game, none of which add up to fluid combat. Can't we just grab a weapon, walk over to an enemy, and bop it on the head? Is that so hard to design anymore? These types of games, where genres get mixed together that have no business together, simply do not work. Knights in the Nightmare used to be my go-to example here, but The World Ends With You was bad enough to be the new standard for what not to when mixing oil and water.
The saving grace is random encounters are almost 100% optional and you can just stick to the story sections, which will get you more than enough buttons and gear to beat the game. I learned very quickly that this combat was garbage and wasn't going to seek it out intentionally, and never once needed to level up to clear the actual game. It was nice to see, and it's the lone reason The World Ends With You gets a 2/10 instead of a 1/10.
And yes, I said "buttons". Your attacks and abilities in The World End With You are a result of your pieces of flair, a la Office Space. I am in no way making that up. When I call the aesthetics of this game completely lame and force fed, this is the kind of nonsense I'm talking about.
"And this is where this all goes to hell."
Normally when I make a graphics and music section, I give scripted responses. "Graphics are good because it's impossible to get them wrong these days", "music is subjective and not worth writing about much", and so on. Not so with The World Ends With You.
Tetsuya Nomura is just like the Dallas Cowboys. He had a few good years in the 90s and now everyone gives this guy a pass no matter how many things he's gotten wrong for the last two decades. It's past time to force this guy to retire, because he doesn't have it anymore. I'll try to avoid the full career debacle with this guy and just focus on The World Ends With You. Go google "TWEWY character models" and get ready to puke. Too many belts and buttons are to be expected with Nomura, but collectively, The World Ends With You's cast is among the most badly drawn casts in gaming. What was Nomura hoping to accomplish with those character models? A skater boy stereotype? A skinny jean advertisement? A lolicon devil wing fetish show? I legitimately don't get it, and maybe I don't want to.
All I know is these characters are drawn terribly, and I felt embarrassed playing through this game having to look at these characters. The setting is no better, either. The various cities and areas are not drawn well at all. Usually this sort of thing gets made up for in monster design, but not so in The World Ends With You. Outside of some very rare exceptions, the monsters are rendered as badly as the characters.
Which brings us to the soundtrack. Chrono Cross ate a lot of crap for the Hurricane battle theme, and rightly so. It was garbage. The theme we hear the most in a video game cannot sound like trash. Chrono Cross was saved by the rest of its soundtrack being A+ material, and many gamers consider it the best soundtrack of all time in games even with Hurricane ruining large sections of the gameplay experience.
Now imagine an entire 5 hour soundtrack loaded with songs so embarrassing that you'd rather have people walk in on you watching porn than playing The World Ends With You. The soundtrack is that bad. In doing some research for this review, I went and listened to the entire soundtrack just to make sure I wasn't missing anything. The only song that's even remotely bearable is "Calling". That's it, and even then the vocals in that song are subpar.
Everything else is the type of stuff I'd put on full blast if I wanted to convince annoying neighbors to move out. Virtually every song with vocals is an embarrassment to anyone with real vocal training, and it floors me that this soundtrack even got off the ground. Did no one listen to any of this and realize how obnoxious it was? Music isn't the most important thing in a game and in a perfect world it just augments what's already there. But in a historically bad game looking for any selling points, bad music standing out as "the worst part of the game" makes things so much worse. I can make the argument that for as bad as everything in The World With You is, the soundtrack is by far the worst of it. I can't even list all the bad songs with reasons behind why they're bad, because I'd have to list almost 100 songs. Just trust me, this soundtrack is historic levels of bad. I seriously challenge anyone to find me anything worse.
Seriously, go on youtube and search "The World Ends With You OST". It's a five hour video with timestamps. Go see for yourself exactly what I'm talking about, and challenge accepted if you can find anything worse. I doubt anyone can.
"Sometimes all people need is a good listener."
I get why people like this game. I really do. Some people are very forgiving when a game tries new things, and some people even liked a lot of the stuff The World Ends With You threw at the wall.
And that's great. Good for them. I have different standards for video games, and I look for things like functionality, aesthetics, atmosphere, good storytelling, intuitive gameplay, music, and fun. The World Ends With You gave me absolutely none of these things in any acceptable level, and if anything it gave me historical levels of "How on earth did a producer or director sign off on this?".
The World Ends With You is a complete train wreck. Save yourself the effort and go play something that's actually good.
Rating: 1.0 - Terrible
Product Release: The World Ends with You (US, 04/22/08)
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