The World Ends With You Review

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The World Ends With You Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix / Jupiter

Platform: DS
Reviewed on DS

Neku Sakuraba is a 15-year old boy who enjoys wandering the streets of the trendy Shibuya shopping district in Tokyo and gazing at graffiti. He's not much for human company, though, so he tunes out the crowds by constantly wearing headphones and affecting disinterest in other people. Then one day, he awakens in the middle of Shibuya with no memory, and no one can see him – save a few strange and trendy folks bearing pins or mysterious, tattoo-like wings. A message arrives on his cell phone letting him know that he must complete a series of missions or be erased from existence. Now part of some unknowable game, Neku must learn the rules as he goes and be victorious, just to survive.

Kyle Ackerman

I am neither young enough or cool enough to play The World Ends With You. The game carefully distills youth culture, fashion, music, social trends, social cliques and even ramen into a playable game filled with combat. Of course, to qualify, I'd need to be a Japanese teenager with the time and the budget to stay on top of the latest trends in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. Fortunately, I may not be cool enough to play The World Ends With You, but I'm certainly gamer enough to really enjoy it.

How About a Crepe and a Trip to Pegaso?

The World Ends With YouThere's a lot of depth in The World Ends With You that will appeal to gamers, but it's staggering how well the game manages to turn the process of being a hip youth into an engaging game. Even as a teenager, I had no interest whatsoever in following the latest brands of clothing, let alone something like collecting trendy pins. Yet, I can apparently be coerced into following fashion when it changes my prowess in battle against fictional monsters. And in The World Ends With You, I was damn well enthusiastic about collecting pins to ensure I had the finest assortment of psychic combat powers available. I was even willing to use my influence to change fashion so that I could reap bonuses by making the trendiest pins the ones I most enjoyed using.

Fashion in The World Ends With You is not limited to clothes and decorative pins. Food is a big part of the game. Only by purchasing and eating snacks and meals from Shibuya's trendy eateries can Neku and his partners permanently improve their skills. And different characters like different foods. Some prefer a salad or corn chowder, while others like ramen and still others prefer ice cream or deluxe hot dogs. The window dressing in The World Ends With You really is like a teenager's life. Food. Music. Clothing. (Pins? Well... maybe in Tokyo). By the end of the game, I felt ridiculous that I was enjoying the pop music so inexorably linked to the game and wandering around in search of specific fashions.

My Fingers Ache!

The World Ends With YouOnce you get past that dressing, The World Ends With You is a role-playing game with lots of action-heavy combat. Combat is the best thing about the game, and makes particularly good use of the DS to offer something fundamentally different – combat in which competent multitasking is more important than tactics or equipment. The characters have equipment, stats and a variety of moves, but a different battle takes place on each of the two DS screens. The top screen is Neku's partner, controlled with the various buttons, and the touch screen is Neku's battlefield, controlled with the stylus and touchscreen. As is explained early in the game, both are fighting aspects of the same foe, so Neku and his partner share a health pool, as do the enemies.

Both screens require different skills. Neku builds a collection of pins (that themselves can level up or transform into more powerful pins) that determine his abilities in a fight. He can run around the bottom screen using different flicks of the stylus to control his actions. Pins might require him to slash enemies, poke empty space or even shout into the microphone. (The DS screen will get a lot of action, and possibly scratches, if you play this game for long.) The top screen uses different buttons (or parts of the directional pad) to dodge or control attacks. Neku gets three different partners, all with different play styles, but each allows players to manage attacks on the top screen to build up devastating attacks unleashed in a partnership with Neku. Someone with quick reflexes will do fine in combat, but a gamer needs the ability to pay attention to both screens simultaneously to really succeed.

Fortunately, The World Ends With You has well-differentiated difficulty levels. Easy can be defeated by nearly anyone. Medium shouldn't be much of a strain for most DS users and Hard requires the ability to focus on both screens. Beyond the three difficulty levels, one can lower the effective level at which you fight (making battle harder) to get better loot from battle. Personally, I found that the Hard level was quite manageable (even if it took longer to complete), and on those occasions when I died, I was given the option (which I stubbornly refused) to retry on Easy. The only battle that I truly found impossible on Hard was the final battle, but perhaps my gaming skills were weak that day.

Everything in Moderation

The World Ends With YouThe World Ends With You made a fascinating (and successful) effort to convince me to spread out my play. Neku and his partners can only eat a certain amount of food in a (real-world) 24-hour period, so to really crank up the stats, I had to put down the DS. Also, the game awarded experience to the pins that represent combat abilities for the time that I didn't play. Because pins need a balance of experience to evolve (become a better pin), it's important to leave the DS alone (as well as play "Tin Pin Slammer") in addition to combat to get access to some of the better pins.

Tin Pin Slammer is a mini-game within The World Ends With You in which those same pins that represent psychic powers can be knocked into one another for fun and profit. It's an entertaining enough mini-game, although little more than a diversion from the main RPG storyline.

Making a Fashion Statement!

The World Ends With YouSometimes the cutting-edge trendiness in The World Ends With You goes over the top, in a silly way. The Reapers that control the game are slightly older looking teenagers surrounded by tattoo-like symbols and dressed like Marc Ecko cultists. More senior Reapers look like they dressed entirely at sexual fetish shops. Or looted their clothing from music executives. Also, the monsters that Neku has to constantly battle are "noise" generated by negative thinking and looking like graffiti or expansive tattoos.

Other elements are just interesting, not necessarily bad. Neku partners with other teenagers, both male and female, and the shops of Shibuya are filled with clothing and accessories for Neku and his partners to purchase, equip and improve their stats. Such equipment is, of course, trendy fashion rather than shields and armor, but serves much the same purpose. To wear more powerful items, characters must increase their "bravery" statistic. Neku's female partner has a bravery stat far higher than the boys, and female clothing requires a much higher bravery stat.

In what seems like a significant and conscious choice on the part of the game's developers, clothing is only limited by bravery, not by gender. That means that as I neared the end of the game, Neku could wear stockings and a mini-skirt instead of the rebellious leathers he seemed intended to wear. And throwing a few top-end female articles of clothing into the mix made Neku even more powerful in combat than sticking to the solely male clothing lines. It's as if the developers wanted everyone to learn that (at least in Shibuya) no one is more powerful than a transvestite.

Time to Explore Shibuya

Despite its quirks, The World Ends With You was a lot of fun to play. Neku may have been forced to play, but I played through The World Ends With You entirely of my own free will. Like many of Square Enix's games, completing the main story just unlocks a lot of backstory and additional quests, along with an unrelated episode that uses the same characters to further explore Tin Pin Slammer.

The World Ends With You is easy to recommend to most gamers, but anyone with an interest in taxing their mind and digits through multitasking combat risks becoming obsessed.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 8, 2008 8:38 AM.

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