The World Ends with You (DS) review
"One of the biggest criticisms of post Final Fantasy 6 Square-Enix titles is Tetsuya Nomura, that being the character designer for pretty much every Square-Enix title that isn’t Dragon Quest related. Criticisms of Nomura include that he has a fetish for belts and zippers, and that he loves making bad emo protagonists (Cloud and Squall from FF7/FF8 respectively). The World Ends With You was supposed to be proof that Squaresoft could make something that wasn’t a standard JRPG with Nomura’s designs...."
One of the biggest criticisms of post Final Fantasy 6 Square-Enix titles is Tetsuya Nomura, that being the character designer for pretty much every Square-Enix title that isn’t Dragon Quest related. Criticisms of Nomura include that he has a fetish for belts and zippers, and that he loves making bad emo protagonists (Cloud and Squall from FF7/FF8 respectively). The World Ends With You was supposed to be proof that Squaresoft could make something that wasn’t a standard JRPG with Nomura’s designs. While it’s definitely innovative, it is still very much designed by Nomura, a fact that brings the entire game down at least a peg.
The World Ends With You is the story of Neku, a standard Nomura protagonist who is trapped inside Japan’s Shibuya district and forced to fight monsters called “The Noise” for a mysterious group called “The Reapers”. If this sounds anything like the plot to Bleach or Gantz, that’s probably because it essentially is. Neku fits the generic Nomura design to a T. He has an eccentric outfit which would never work in real life, spiky hair that defies the laws of physics, and an emo personality somewhere between Cloud and Squall. Oh, but Neku doesn’t fight using overly large swords. Instead, he fights with fashion. Yes, you read that last line correctly.
Combat is done by equipping Neku with a series of “pins”, each of which grants him different psychic abilities, all of which are performed using the DS’s touchscreen. One of the first abilities you get is Pyrokinesis, which lets you burn enemies by drawing lines on empty space around them. Also included at the start is Lightning, which lets you zap enemies by repeatedly tapping them with the stylus. Each pin has its own attributes, including a brand name (which gives you a bonus or penalty depending on which area of Shibuya you’re in) a quality grade, and a “boot” and “reboot” time. The “boot” time governs how long it is before you can initially use a pin after getting in a fight, and the “reboot” time is how long the pin takes to recharge after X amount of uses. Pins can be levelled to increase certain stats and evolved. This is the first major problem with World Ends With You.
You see, pins cannot evolve unless most of their experience comes from a certain area. There are three ways you can get pin experience – either from normal battles, from leaving your DS shut off for extended periods of time, or from using “mingle” mode. Mingle mode is essentially the same thing as trading trainer cards in the later Pokemon games. The problem here is that many of the better pins require Mingle experience to level, and Mingling is extremely difficult to do (considering that you must use the DS wireless to Mingle and cannot use wi-fi). Mingling also requires that you connect with many different people to earn experience. Even with a game made by a big-name developer like Square-Enix, I honestly doubt most people will ever find enough people to Mingle with to get the pins to evolve, and some of the pins require huge amounts of experience (one of the higher-level ones requires you Mingle with like three hundred people) to evolve. Honestly, rewarding a player for either not playing the game or requiring some stupid wireless crap is just, well, retarded. The sad part is, these pins are practically required later on, thanks to the Reaper system.
The Reaper system is a required event to advance the storyline. Most areas are walled off and require you to talk to a Reaper, who gives you a task that you must accomplish in order to break down the wall. In some cases, these tasks require relatively rare drops off various monsters. There are only two ways to change the rate of drops – either you can set your difficulty level higher, or you can reduce the level of your characters in order to gain a higher drop rate. Even then, drops are calculated based on the ranking you get after every battle or chain of battles (chains are accomplished by dragging groups of Noise onto other groups of Noise, which increases difficulty but also increases droprate). The rankings are based off several factors, two of which are how long it took you to complete the battle and how much damage you took off enemies. Naturally, the only way to get a high ranking is to use high-tier pins, most of which require either Mingle or shutoff experience. If you can’t achieve a high rank, the only way to get the materials you need is to grind like a chinese gold farmer. Even though grinding was supposed to be nonexistent, it’s still there.
Naturally, there’s other elements to the game’s battle system, including stickers that give you various powerups for your partner or for yourself. There’s also a clothing and food system. The clothing is basically useless except for the stats it provides. Sadly, the whole objective of the clothing system seems to be getting Neku to crossdress. The food system is equally lame. Food raises stats, most notably bravery, which is required to wear higher tiers of clothing. However, food takes time to digest, which requires you to (what else) grind battles.
On a final note about the battle system, the controls are horribly wonky, and require an insane ability to multitask if you want to even be decent at it. For instance, all of your partner’s abilities (your partner being on the top screen while Neku is on the bottom) are done by navigating through a combo with the D-Pad or face buttons. There is no way to move the partner, and getting hit once means you lose your combo in its entirety. Also, the partner starts a move that is required in order to succeed, whereby you must match a series of cards on the top of the top screen with the finishing moves of the partner’s combos. This requires that you can rapidly navigate through button presses and can somehow memorize the constantly-changing locations of the finishers. Also extremely bad are Neku’s attack controls, all of which are done using the stylus. Each of Neku’s pins has a different activating movement. The pyrokinesis one, for instance, requires you to press on an empty area of the screen and drag around to create fire. If you combine this with, say, the psychic sword powerup, which requires a slashing motion on enemies to make, you will have an impossibly hard time selecting your attack, as the game will be constantly trying to figure out which attack to register. On the other hand, if the pins have radically different controls, you’ll probably not be able to do both of them either. I would say this was an intended gameplay mechanic, but it just doesn’t feel that way at all.
There’s one other place that points absolutely must be docked from this game, and that would be the horrible, horrible soundtrack. The entirety of the soundtrack was done by various bad J-Pop artists, the kind that are two levels under Hyde and Gackt. Most notable is the background music for 75% of the areas in the game, which is an extremely squeaky and artifical sounding Japanese woman singing the following line over and over:
“IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII’M NOT CRAAAAAAAAAAZYYYYYYYYYYYYYY”
She may not be, but I certainly was after about thirty seconds. For the love of god, I know Square-Enix might not have the best musical tastes but this crap was terrible.
Actually, I lied. The true last complaint I have about this game is that the whole thing feels like a tutorial. The game is incredibly short, and yet you’re still learning the game mechanics up until the very end as more and more things get added. It feels too much like there’s no way to lose.
Final Word: The World Ends With You is another generic Square-Enix JRPG. If you have a flashcart, it’s probably worth playing, as you can use the cheat editor built in to most flashcart firmware to skip the stupid pin evolution crap. If you’re honestly thinking of buying this – don’t. While the game may be fun simply for the small innovation it brings, it just stops being fun after a while. Also, the game is relatively short and probably not worth $35.
Rating: 4/10. -3 for required grinding, -2 for the horrible idea of mingling, and -1 for the way that gigabytes upon gigabytes of bad slash fanfiction and poorly drawn pictures of Neku in female underwear will pervade the internet after the fangirls get to it.
Community review by timrod (April 17, 2008)
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